Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Absolutism is a political theory which argues that one person (generally, a monarch) should hold all power. This is often referred to as the "Divine Right of Kings", implying that a ruler's authority stems directly from God. Prominent theorists associated with absolutism include Augustine of Hippo, Paul of Tarsus, Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, and Thomas Hobbes.
Hobbes, in his philosophy of natural law, believed that absolutist rulers emerged according to the baser instincts of humans, specifically their fear of death and their need for power. In his philosophy, there could be no social order without the ceding of power to a single individual who would use power to restrain the violent and anti-social tendencies of the people.
To those who believed the absolute ruler was chosen by God, rebellion against the monarch was tantamount to rebellion against God. Hence, rule was considered "absolute," in that the ruler could not be challenged.
Later absolutist rulers sometimes tried to rule according to Enlightenment principles, and so are called enlightened absolutists. They attempted to allow their subjects to live more freely in their day-to-day lives, while still maintaining the autocratic monarchy.
Absolutism, as a term, did not appear until the 19th century, when the traditional "age of absolutism" had passed.
Some historians see the Absolutist Monarchs as a direct consequence of the centralization of the state under the New Monarchs.
The seventeenth century Kings of England, James I and Charles I of England are often cited as Absolutist monarchs. This is a popular misconception; in actuality both operated in the context of regular parliaments. Were it not for their empowered subjects, however, both were said to have had designs on the title of 'Absolutist' monarchy.
- Louis XIV of France
- Catherine I and Peter I of Russia
- Frederick Wilhelm I of Prussia
- Charles XI and Charles XII of Sweden
- kings of Denmark (with Norway) 1665-1848 (though some of them enlightened)
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