About Enlightened Despotism

The concept of despotism is linked to the abuse of power, whether moral or physical, imposing the use of force in dealing with a certain group of people. This concept is usually linked to a type of government that has absolute power and whose actions are not limited by existing laws.

The concept of enlightened, in turn, is related to that belonging to or related to illustration (the philosophical and cultural movement that emerged in the eighteenth century that postulated the predominance of reason over emotions and that considered that in the use of intelligence resided in the progress of all humanity). See Abbreviation Finder for acronyms related to enlightened.

During the Enlightenment a type of government existed that became known as enlightened despotism. Although at first glance this word may denote negative characteristics, this organization was far from being considered as such.

It was a political concept developed within the absolute monarchies and that included the adaptation to the field of politics of certain philosophical ideas from the most famous thinkers of the movement to which it responded, the Enlightenment. This means that the monarchs who ruled continued to maintain the same social system that existed with the Old Regime, but with an addition: they tried to enrich the culture of their people.

Enlightened despotism is also often referred to as benevolent despotism or enlightened absolutism. Their leaders adopted a paternalistic attitude and, in their speeches, spoke about the happiness of their subjects.

Louis XV in France, Charles III in Spain, Catherine II in Russia and Joseph II in Austria were some of the enlightened despots who promoted various changes in their monarchies, with the centralization of public administration, the modernization of the economy, the promotion of trade, agriculture and industry and intervention in church affairs.

The emergence of enlightened despotism is usually explained as the lack of revolutionary will that moved the majority of enlightened philosophers, despite feeling disgusted with the direction society was taking and criticizing the politics of the time, they did not want to fight for a resounding change. . Possibly, because they were afraid of what might arise as a consequence of the abrupt destruction of the regime, that is why they focused on promoting a peaceful and gradual change that was guided and directed by the monarchs themselves.

Bases of Enlightened Despotism

During the seventeenth century absolutism was the most widespread political regime; This system was maintained towards the 18th century, although the way it was implemented changed. Thus, the “Enlightened Despotism” arose. If we look for the exact definition of the concept, we will find that it was characterized by the use of enlightened ideology by absolute laws to maintain its absolutism.

The monarchs who ruled in this movement were called “enlightened despots”, and it is important to note that they were kings who ruled with absolute power over their people. In fact, most took from the ideas of the Enlightenment those that suited them, that helped them maintain such power.

In this period, a series of reforms were developed that helped the kings to end feudalism, and manage to encompass a greater power. The main actions include:

* Protection of agriculture through the construction of canals and swamps

*Urbanization and modernization of cities

*Construction of monuments and public lighting.

Judicial reforms were also introduced (torture was abolished as a legal method of investigation), many educational centers and universities were created to achieve better and more efficient schooling. They did all this motivated by the motto of enlightened despotism: “Everything for the people but without the people.”

It is important to mention that the rejection of political freedom, which is surely one of the most important and innovative ideas of the Enlightenment, turns all the efforts of these monarchs into totally contradictory people and enemies of the very movement they approved of.

In turn, it was this that led to the end of this type of government. Because that enlightened bourgeoisie, which at first had totally supported this movement, became a staunch enemy of absolutism and planned the subsequent revolution; through which it was sought to achieve the most important thing that a society can wish for : freedom.

Enlightened Despotism