In the course of the 17th century, absolutistic regime spread, with varied degrees of success, across much of Continental Europe. In most countries, absolute monarchy became the form of the government



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ABSOLUTISM

Tyler Jones


In the course of the 17th century, absolutistic regime spread, with varied degrees of success, across much of Continental Europe. In most countries, absolute monarchy became the form of the government. In England, although the monarch had no absolute power, its parliament, a governing body mainly made up aristocrats, was placed supremacy over the king. Supreme authority over secular matters of a country was developed for the first time in Europe. Because of a number of conditions and forces and the changing beliefs in people's minds, absolutistic regime was widely exercised in this particular period.

First, absolutism seemed very desirable to many people in Europe in 17th century. Before absolute monarchs established their authority, Europe had been in endless chaos full of wars and social instability. Spain, England, and France each underwent their own civil wars. The 30 Years War devastated much of the Germanic states, and the Holy Roman Empire did no exist in reality any longer. Even in France, a supposedly united country, was divided by classes, regions and religions, there was in fact no means of consolidating the powers of state until a single man, Louis XIV, took his position as the absolute ruler, monopolizing administration of justice and the use of force, a system for creating tax, and a huge administrative bureaucracy were created. Under Louis XIV, private persons neither pass legal judgements on others nor control private armies of their own. For private and unauthorized persons to do so, in an orderly state, constitutes rebellion. Moreover, an all-powerful authority would mean more social stability, it produced peace and order in France, before the monopoly of the army, specialists in fighting, leading their own troops, worked for governments more or less as they chose, either in return form money or to pursue political aims of their own. Louis XIV made war an activity of state, while strenghening the fighting power of France against other states.

Second, the idea of absolutism spread throughout Europe, and France served as a typical example. Louis XIV, the "sun king" of France which took the lead in European civilization in 17th century, was certainly imitated by other other rulers in various countries, such as Prussia, Russia, etc, and England became an exception. Prussia, defensive in origin, was preoccupied with its army, arising from the horrors of the Thirty Years' War and their vulnerable geographical location. Eventually it became militaristic, the army, in its requirements for food, uniforms, and weapons, was a strong force in shaping the economic growth of the country. The government, as in France under Colbert, initiated and helped to finance various industries. The army had a profound effect on the social development and people's mindset in Prussia. The civilian middle classes remained submissive, and the sense of service to the king or state was exalted as the supreme human virtue. The fact that Prussia was a very recent combination of territories, so that loyalty was not a natural sentiment, made it necessary to instill it by martial means. Emphasis fell on duty, obedience, service and sacrifice, making Prussia an offshoot of absolutism. In Russia, under Tsar Peter the Great, the country underwent a process of

westernization, in which new western ideas and technology have been brought within Russian border. Politically Russian empire resembled the new kingdom of Prussia, both lacked natural frontiers, in both countries the state arose primarily as a means of supporting an army. In both the government developed autocratically. In England, kings, too, believed in absolutism. But the government, which was mainly made up of puritans, refused to hand over the authority, as a result, civil war occurred and the king was defeated. Parliament triumphed over king. Even though England did not went through the same path as most other European states did, it was also governed by a supreme authority which had the power over all secular affairs.



Before 17th century, no country generated the force that led to absolutism because there was a problem for Europe, which is the fundamentally anti-political nature of early Christianity, this anti-political aspect of foundational Christianity threw the institution of emperorship and kingship into question. If Christ rejects all political actions and institutions, how can one justify having a monarch? However, the theory of "divine right of kings" became popular, which erased the dubious nature of absolutism. It argued that king, as father to his people, should look after their welfare as he saw fit, standing above all parties, private interests, and pressure groups, because kings drew their authority from God, and were responsible to God alone. The idea of absolutism was reaffirmed by French Bishop Bossuet and Englishman Thomas Hobbes. Bossuet held that kings were God's representatives in the political affairs on earth. Royal power, was absolute but not arbitrary: not arbitrary because it must be reasonable and just, like the will of God which it reflected; absolute in that it was free from dictation by parlements, estates, or other subordinate elements within the country. Law, therefore, was the will of the sovereign king, as long as it conformed to the higher law which was the will of God. Hobbes was the one who philosophically justified absolutism. He concluded that men had no capacity for self-government, and people in the "state of nature" were quarrelsome and turbulent, forever locked in a war of all against all. From fear of each other, to obtain order, and enjoy the advantages of law and right, people came to a kind of agreement by which they surrendered their freedom of action into the hands of a ruler. It was necessary for this ruler to have unrestricted or absolute power. Only thus could he maintain order. It was intolerably dangerous, according to Hobbes, for anyone to question the actions of government, for such questioning might reopen the way to chaos. Hobbes' theory must have been favored by the monarchs of Europe, because it supported exactly what the they wanted.

Absolutistic regime was an inevitable course that most European countries went through, it is the outset of the shape of modern states that were to be formed


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