Absolutism vs. Constitutionalism

Topics: Protestant Reformation, Renaissance, Protestantism Pages: 99 (36747 words) Published: March 20, 2011

1. The Dynastic Territorial State (DTS) in Early Modern Europe: Absolutism vs. Constitutional Monarchy. Early modern Europe – defined approximately as the period between 1450 and 1750 – was a revolutionary era during which political, economic, social, and intellectual upheavals abounded. The late medieval period witnessed political struggles between monarchs and nobles and between church and state. Renaissance ideas and ideals stimulated political debate and furthered conflict between political contenders. The Reformations of the sixteenth century – both Protestant and Catholic – exacerbated political realities as religious movements required monarchs to defend a chosen religious status within their realms as well as to deal with religious issues and choices in adjacent areas. Financing many of the conflicts was an influx of wealth taken from non-European areas during the Age of Exploration and Conquest. This money allowed some monarchs – and encouraged others to attempt – to establish increasingly effective and authoritative central governments. The influx of specie also led to a more relevant middle class, a relatively less powerful upper class, and a price revolution, all of which added to the turmoil. The best definition of a sovereign state is one that is ruled by an authoritative government and is independent of external control, has the power to pass laws, and preserves order by enforcing those laws. The goal of an early modern monarch was to acquire absolute power within his/her state. The concept of the absolute authority of the state was one of the most prominent Roman influences on Western Civilization. According to this concept, the state can do no wrong and the individual has no rights except those that the state confers upon him or her. Countering this was the medieval legacy which resulted in diversity of many kinds: language, laws, customs, weights and measures, et al. In all of the important countries, the feudal nobility was able, in different ways and with some difficulty, to maintain itself in a position of strength into modern times. Just as had happened in the late medieval period, the strength of the monarchs grew in the DTS, as rulers attempted to subject not only the nobility but also the church to their wishes. Although there is no such thing as complete absolutism, its real significance becomes more real the closer a ruler comes to unquestioned authority for as was the ruler, so was the country. Not all subjects agreed with these desires, however. The average prince of a DTS of the sixteenth century was limited in his actions by ancient rights and liberties enjoyed by certain corporations, cities, provinces, social classes, and the Church. These ancient rights and liberties meant that kings and princes were forced to be careful, even Machiavellian, in their political activities if they wanted to get around those impediments to their claims of absolute authority within their kingdom. Most European kings of the sixteenth century exercised a personalized (not institutionalized as in a dictatorship) despotism over their subjects. In this period there were thousands of DTS’s, ranging in size from Monaco to the Holy Roman Empire. Until the 17th century most of the cultural and political developments of the emergent modern world centered almost entirely in Europe’s western regions, including those German and Bohemian lands composing the Holy Roman Empire. Between 1550 and 1650 all states of Western Europe were involved in war, either civil or international, often both. The most important element in the extension of monarchical power was the standing army. Late medieval wars vividly demonstrated to monarchs of emerging dynastic, territorial states that the feudal style of warfare was ineffective. The advent of paid, lower class soldiers accelerated the process of change. Equipped with...

Links: Colbertism was the French version of mercantilism. Colbert (controller general of the finances from 1662–1683) built up the nation’s exports and curtailed imports, resulting in increased government revenue.
Charles I, 1625–1649: short monarch who became shorter
British Civil Wars, Parliamentary Dictatorship, 1649–1660
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