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Enlightened Despotism.docx

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Department
History
Course
History 1401E
Professor
Terry Webb
Semester
Fall

Description
Enlightened Despotism  • The concept—formally delineated by German historian Wilhelm Roscher in 1847 —remains controversial among scholars. Roscher was presaged by Voltaire, the prominent Enlightenment philosopher who felt enlightened monarchy was the only real way for society to advance, and by Mozart's The Magic Flute, whose libretto was written by Emanuel Schikaneder, which can be regarded as an allegory advocating enlightened absolutism. • Enlightened absolutists held that royal power emerged not from divine right but from a social contract whereby the ruler had a duty to govern wisely. • The difference between an absolutist and an enlightened absolutist is based on a broad analysis of how far they embraced the Age of Enlightenment. For example, although Empress Catherine II of Russia entirely rejected the concept of the social contract, she took up many ideas of the Enlightenment, being a great patron of the arts in Imperial Russia and incorporating many ideas of enlightened philosophers, especially Montesquieu, in her Nakaz, which was 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. Implicit in this philosophy was that the sovereign knew the interests of her or his subjects better than they themselves; her or his responsibility to them thus precluded their political participation. • However, historians debate the actual implementation of enlightened absolutism. They distinguish between the "enlightenment" of the ruler personally, versus that of his or her regime. For example, Frederick II, "The Great," of Prussia was tutored in the ideas
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