Enlightened Despotism

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  • Topic: Frederick II of Prussia, Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, Enlightened absolutism
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  • Published : January 6, 2013
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Enlightened Despots
12/2/2012
AP European History
Also known as benevolent despotism, the form of government in which absolute monarchs pursued legal, social, and educational reforms inspired by the ideals and philosophy of the Enlightenment, enlightened despotism spread throughout Europe during the 18th century. 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 his, or her, subjects better than they themselves. Therefore, his responsibility to them thus precluded their political participation for the state. Among the most prominent Enlightened Despots were Frederick II of Prussia, Joseph II of Austria, and Catharine II of Russia.

“The great” as he is often referred to, Frederick II (born January 1712, died august 1786) was one of the great leaders of the militaristic state of Prussia. Frederick generally supported religious toleration through his reign (1740-1786), including the retention of the Jesuits as teachers in some of the major regions of Prussia. He recognized the educational skills the Jesuits had as an asset for the nation. Frederick the great also encouraged the movement of Jewish citizens from the cities to the Polish border where they would be completely free to trade under the protection of the state. In addition to religious tolerance, the enlightened despot was also renowned for modernizing the nation of Prussia from a small relatively insignificant country into an economically strong and politically reformed state, basing its political significance to a militaristic society. Frederick II’s personal life almost reflected the enlightenment directly through his education, musical and artistic interests. A gifted musician who played the flute, composed over a hundred different sonnets and four symphonies, Frederick could speak French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian; he also understood...
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