Absolute Monarchy • Based on the theory of the “divine right of kings.” • Further justified on secular grounds by the arguments of Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan. • Absolute monarchies were holdovers from the medieval period, and unsuited to the challenges of the rapidly changing world of the 17th and 18th centuries. Louis XIV of France, the “Sun King”
Limited Monarchy Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) Charles I of England (1600-1649)
Limited Monarchy in England • In contrast to France and most of Europe, England had a history of limited (or constitutional) monarchy rather than absolute monarchy. • Charles I, who was more absolutist in policy, was executed during a revolt led by the military commander, Oliver Cromwell in 1649. • Cromwell declared England a republic, but in reality he was a dictator. • The monarchy was eventually restored, but gradually lost more and more power over the centuries. • John Locke lived during this period, and his political writings were heavily influenced by the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which deposed then-king James II (an absolutist and Catholic) in favor of William and Mary, who were Protestants and committed to limited monarchy.
Enlightened Despots • Certain absolute monarchs read Enlightenment philosophy, and realized that the success of their reigns and their legacies depended upon meeting the challenges of the age.
Frederick II “the Great” of Prussia (1712-1786) • “The sovereign is the representative of his State. He and his people form a single body... The sovereign stands to his people in the same relation in which the head stands to the body… If we wish to elevate monarchical above republican government, the duty of sovereigns is clear. They must be active, hard-working, upright and honest, and concentrate all their strength upon filling their office worthily.” – Frederick II, Essay on the Forms of Government
Frederick the Great • An effective and hardworking administrator and military commander. • Referred to himself as the “first servant of the state.” • Enacted programs to help Prussia recover economically from Seven Years’ War. • Provided relief to the serfs, promoted new industries, passed legal reforms, and decreed compulsory national education.
Frederick the Great • An admirer and student of Voltaire. • Abolished torture as a means of obtaining criminal confessions. • Promoted civil equality for Catholics in a largely Protestant country. • Praised by Kant. • Distributed farming resources and equipment to struggling serfs.
Frederick the Not-So-Great? • Didn’t actually abolish serfdom. • Appointed aristocrats to government positions rather than members of the middle class. • Didn’t fund his educational initiatives properly. • Jews were still officially discriminated against.
Frederick on Religion • “Catholics, Lutherans, Reformed, Jews and other Christian sects live in this state, and live together in peace. If the sovereign, actuated by a mistaken zeal, declares himself for one religion or another, parties spring up, heated disputes ensue, little by little persecutions will commence and, in the end, the religion persecuted will leave the fatherland, and millions of subjects will enrich our neighbors by their skill and industry.”
Frederick on Religion • “It is of no concern in politics whether the ruler has a religion or whether he has none. All religions, if one examines them, are founded on superstitious systems, more or less absurd. It is impossible for a man of good sense, who dissects their contents, not to see their error; but these prejudices, these errors and mysteries, were made for men, and one must know enough to respect the public and not to outrage its faith, whatever religion be involved.”
Catherine II “the Great” of Russia (1729-1796) • “The Sovereign is absolute; for there is no other Authority but that which centers in his single Person, that can act with a Vigour proportionate to the Extent of such a vast Dominion… it is better to be subject to the Laws under one Master, than to be subservient to many…What is the true End of Monarchy? Not to deprive People of their natural Liberty; but to correct their Actions, in order to attain the supreme Good.” – Catherine II, Proposals for a New Law Code
Catherine the Great • Like Frederick, an admirer of Voltaire and corresponded with him. • Advised by Diderot. • A patron of the arts. • Was permissive of controversial works. • Established hospitals, libraries, orphanages. • Emphasized education. • Sought to modernize Russian legal system.
Catherine the Less-Than-Great? • Education was more like indoctrination; strict control by state. • Aristocrats controlled local government and prevented true legal reform. • Extended serfdom and crushed peasant revolts. • Became very autocratic and conservative in response to French Revolution; censorship. • Widely believed that she conspired to overthrow and assassinate her husband, Peter III, who only reigned for six months before she claimed the throne.
Catherine’s Political Philosophy • “A Man ought to form in his own Mind an exact and clear Idea of what Liberty is. Liberty is the Right of doing whatsoever the Laws allow: And if any one Citizen could do what the Laws forbid, there would be no more Liberty; because others would have an equal Power of doing the same.”
Catherine’s Political Philosophy • “The political Liberty of a Citizen is the Peace of Mind arising from the Consciousness, that every Individual enjoys his peculiar Safety; and in order that the People might attain this Liberty, the Laws ought to be so framed, that no one Citizen should stand in Fear of another; but that all of them should stand in Fear of the same Laws...”
Catherine’s Political Philosophy • “No Man ought to be looked upon as guilty, before he has received his judicial Sentence; nor can the Laws deprive him of their Protection, before it is proved that he has forfeited all Right to it. What Right therefore can Power give to any to inflict Punishment upon a Citizen at a Time, when it is yet dubious, whether he is Innocent or guilty?”
Joseph II of Austria (1741-1790) • “[I]t is Our purpose to make the Jews more useful and serviceable to the State, principally through according their children better instruction and enlightenment, and by employing them in the sciences, arts, and handicrafts…” – Joseph II, Edict of Toleration for the Jews of Lower Austria
Joseph II • Well-educated, philosophical, and intelligent. • Model example of an enlightened despot. • “I have made philosophy the legislator of my empire.” • Anti-superstition, anti-ignorance. • Called the “peasant emperor”; disguised himself as a commoner to travel among his people and learn about them.
Joseph II • Sought to abolish monasteries and take over church land. • Proposed separating religion from education. • Advocated civil equality for Jews and Protestants in a largely Catholic country. • Wanted to abolish serfdom and heavily tax the nobility, as well as enact legal and economic reforms.
Joseph the… Ineffective? • Joseph’s radical reforms were protested by the nobility, clergy, and even peasants (due to requiring military service from them). • Though he tolerated Jews, they remained unequal to other citizens legally. • His goal to centralize his empire lead to disputes with local authorities who did not want to cede power to him. • Ultimately, his reforms failed to achieve real progress due to such protests.
Voltaire (1694-1778) • Exiled from France to England in 1726 after insulting a nobleman. • In England, became a follower of Newtonian science. • Champion of freedom of thought and expression.
Voltaire • Corresponded with various monarchs, including Catherine II. • A literary legend in his own time. • Wrote hundreds of works and thousands of letters in his lifetime. • Used wit to get his philosophy across.
Voltaire • Rational, free thinking, progressive, deist, satirical. • Impressed with limited monarchy in England. • Influenced the trend of enlightened despotism. • Candide satirized philosophical optimism, irrational social customs, superstitious beliefs, militarism, slavery, and other elements of Voltaire's society.