• Critically examine the main features of Enlightened Despotism in 18th century Prussia.
The Enlightenment refers to an important cultural and intellectual movement of the 18th century, whose goal was to establish knowledge based on an enlightened rationality. Enlightened Absolutism or Enlightened Despotism as it is more often called can be defined as a form of government strongly influenced by the wide propagation of ideas and the political philosophy of the Enlightenment. It is a term first used by the Philosophes in the second half of the 18th century that manifested to describe a particular phase in the development of absolutism. The term ‘Enlightened Despot’ refers to those 18th century monarchs who were familiar with the ideas of the Enlightenment and distinguished themselves from regular despots by the way they governed. The title of Enlightened Despot has been bestowed on many monarchs such as Frederick II of Prussia, Catherine II of Russia and Maria Theresa and Joseph II of Austria. Their policies vary in general because each enlightened despot took very different views of their position and thought of enlightened rule in very different terms. However, there are certain distinctive features, which mark the regimes of almost all enlightened despots. These include the implementation of religious tolerance, reforms in the education system, improvements in legal procedure, rationalization and centralization of the administration, the raising of the standard of living of the working classes and the improvement of the economic situation of the country.
The first time that a debate was aroused on the essential character of Enlightened Despotism was not until 1928, when the French scholar M.Lheritier made a critical study of this term. He found that there was no special study of Enlightened Despotism in existence and regarded it as an urgent task that an investigation is made. His contribution was purely based on French conditions and according
Bibliography: • Anderson, M.S. – Europe in the eighteenth century. • Rude, George – Europe in the eighteenth century. • Anderson, Perry – Lineages of the absolutist state.