Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Enlightened absolutism (also known as benevolent or enlightened despotism) is a form of despotism in which rulers were influenced by the Enlightenment, a historical period. Enlightened monarchs embraced the principles of the Enlightenment, especially its emphasis upon rationality, and applied them to their territories. They tended to allow religious toleration, freedom of speech and the press, and the right to hold private property. Most fostered the arts, sciences, and education.
Enlightened absolutists' beliefs about royal power were often similar to those of absolute monarchs, in that many believed that they had the right to govern by birth and generally refused to grant constitutions, seeing even the most pro-monarchy ones as being an inherent check on their power. The difference between an absolutist and an enlightened absolutist is based on a broad analysis of how far they embraced Enlightenment. In particular, the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II can be said to have fully embraced the enlightened concept of the social contract. In contrast, Empress Catherine II of Russia entirely rejected the concept of the social contract while taking up many ideas of the Enlightenment, for example by being a great patron of the arts in Imperial Russia and incorporating many ideas of enlightened philosophers, especially Montesquieu, in her Nakaz, to a committee meant to revise Russian law.
In effect, the monarchs ruled with the intent of improving the lives of their subjects in order to strengthen or reinforce their authority. For example, the abolition of serfdom in some regions of Europe was achieved by enlightened rulers. In the spirit of enlightened absolutism, Emperor Joseph II said, "Everything for the people, nothing by the people."
Other enlightened absolutists, such as King Frederick the Great maintained the ideals of the Enlightenment while also permitting the practice of serfdom. The governing political philosophy of "rationalism" under the enlightened ancient regime, permitted these hereditary monarchs to commit hypocritical, yet rationally justifiable actions. Unlike the absolutist King Louis XIV of France, Frederick viewed himself as the "First servant of the State," rather than the state itself.
In modern times, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman has been characterized as an enlightened absolutist, as while he maintains an absolute monarchy he also seeks to improve his country and rule with a light hand.
Posted by iamyrfans at 9:43 AM