Today, a salon is somewhere you go for an expensive haircut. However, it had different meanings during the age of European Enlightenment, a salon was a gathering of knowledgeable people under one roof to congregate and discuss new ideas and philosophies. The Salon was an Italian invention in the16th century which flourished in France in the next two centuries, the16th and 17th respectively. Salons continued to flourish in Italy until the 19th century. The word “salon” first appeared in France in 1664 (from the Italian word salone, itself from sala, the large reception hall of Italian mansions). During the Enlightenment period, the purpose of the salon was to converse and talk about literature, politics, and the arts in France and ideas pertaining to the separation of Church and State emerged in those Parisian salons. Salons commonly associated with French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th and 18th were carried on until recently in urban France.
The history relating to the salons of France is far more straightforward. It was deeply studied by a mixture of feminist, Marxist, cultural, social and intellectual historians. Most western historians and intellectuals believe that the salons of France led people of France to revolt against the reign of King Louis XIV (1643-1715), ultimately resulting in the French revolution, which changed the whole world. In a more precise manner it could be said that the ideas discussed in the salons of France were later used as a justification for the French revolution. Parisian salons provided a place to the women of France to come into the floor of discussion over politics and philosophies. During the age of Enlightened, the women of France were denied basic rights, found unequal to men in order to participate in social development. The salons of France helped women to participate in debates in salons and allowed them to share their views and ideas freely. The emergence of salons allowed for leadership and involvement for women in intellectual areas in Paris in the early 18th century.
Parisian salons gave an opportunity to lay French people to interact with nobility. Most salons in Paris were led by prominent women of Paris. Women were given the opportunity to set the topic for discussion in salons. This way the participation and role was given in various walks of life in France. The western historians believed that salons were informal universities for women and men of France where they exchanged ideas, receive and give criticism and read their works and work of other intellectuals of the world. Women were the ones that selected their guests in salons. In Rosenblatt, Helene. French Historical Studies, Vol. 25, No. 1. “On the ‘Misogyny’ of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Letter to d’Alembert in Historical Context.” Duke University Press, 1961 it is stated that “the popular political activist of the 18th century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, argued enthusiastically against salons in his misogynistic writings, causing a brief disappearance of salons in the 1780s. Arguing for women’s “dismissal from political life, their banishment to the domestic sphere, and their ultimate silencing”, the Rousseauin ideology rejected the idea of female-governed salons. Rousseau frequently described women as “the moral centers of family,” with a “status unavoidably dependent on a man’s”. He explicitly promoted the exclusion of women in the political realm because of his “belief in the power of women to influence men,” stating that, “all perish through the disorder of women.” Prior to revolutionary times, women’s civil rights depended on their marital status and class, and once a woman married she was no longer considered an individual but as part of a “partnership.
The avid criticism by the western philosopher Rousseau got lesser attention and salons in France kept flourishing. The French society ignored criticism of salons and went on to interact, and exchange ideas in salons. The leading idea that was exchanged in the salons of France was the separation of Church and State, as mentioned earlier.
I think such type of salons are fundamentally needed in Pakistan, where people can go and share and exchange ideas relating to politics, arts and literature. Salons, or rather work community centers may lead Pakistani society to develop some sort of tolerance and acceptability to different forms of opinions and ideas. The French people exchanged ideas and later on led the whole country to a revolution to revolt against the monarchs. The salons of the18th century acted as informal schools and universities where people had education and understood the pros and cons of the Republic.
In Pakistan, there are no such salons for lay people where they can have interactions with the nobility and other citizens of Pakistan. Pakistani society is an isolated society where differences of opinions and ideas cannot be tolerated and accepted at all.
Some of the intellectuals of recent times believe that the salons of France actually led all of Europe to revolutions. The air of interaction and exchange originated from the salons of Paris due to which we can see secular liberal France in recent times. The salons of France influenced the whole of Europe. I now write off in the hope that such sort of salons emerge in the third world countries where people of all walks of life can go and interact freely without having any fear of persecution.