Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Enlightened absolutism (also known as enlightened despotism) is the absolutist rule of an enlightened monarch. This is a reference to the so-called Enlightenment, a historical period of the 18th and early 19th centuries. The main Enlightenment-era proponent of this system was Voltaire, who regularly corresponded with several of the rulers of this time.
Enlightened monarchs were monarchs who distinguished themselves from traditional monarchs in the way they governed. Specifically, Enlightened Monarchs ruled their subjects using the principles of the Enlightenment. In order to be considered "enlightened", they must allow religious toleration, freedom of speech and press, and the right to hold private property. They must foster the arts, sciences, and educations. Above all, they must not be arbitrary in their rules; they must obey the laws and enforce them fairly for all subjects.
Although their reigns were influenced by Enlightenment ideas, their beliefs about royal power were often similar to those of traditional monarchs. Many enlightened monarchs believed that they had the right to govern by birth.
In effect, the monarchs ruled with the intent of improving the lives of their subjects in order to strengthen or reinforce their authority.
The modern successor to "enlightened absolutism" is the so-called "benevolent dictator." See dictatorship.
Some enlightened monarchs
- Friedrich II of Prussia (1740-1786)
- Maria Theresa of Austria (1740-1780) - Note that her status as an enlightened despot is debated
- Charles III of Spain (1759-1788) (Charles VII of Naples; 1734-1759)
- Catherine II of Russia, "Catherine the Great" (1762-1796)
- Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor (1765-1790)
- Gustav III of Sweden (1771-1792)
- Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor (1790-1792)
- Napoleon I of France (1804-1814/1815)
- William I of the Netherlands (1815-1840)
- Marquis of Pombal, Prime-minister of Portugal
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