Enlightened Absolutism

catherineEnlightened absolutism was a phenomenon in the eighteenth century concerning European absolutist rulers, who embraced certain enlightenment ideals. Many of these rulers were personally acquainted with prominent enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire and embraced some of their ideas. These ideas focused on rationality and a break from the common grounds of tradition. Two absolutist rulers who exemplified prominent thoughts of the enlightenment are Catherine the Great of Russia and Joseph II of Austria. These leaders showed their enlightened absolutism through certain policies

For instance, the previous mentioned monarchs extended a large amount of religious toleration that had not been seen for a while if not ever in their respected countries. Catherine allowed Catholic and Orthodox churches to live side by side in Russia. Likewise, Catherine allowed the entry of Jewish people into Russia while Joseph lifted many restrictions on his Jewish population. It can be clearly seen here that Russia and Austria were trying to break away from the traditional ground of religious skepticism.

joseph 2Moreover, enlightened monarchs focused on reforming their judicial system. It was their contention that their punishment for certain crimes was out dated therefore they instituted new reforms. In Austria, if an upper-class citizen was found guilty of a crime Joseph II would contrive something so demeaning as sweeping the streets, which was a big deal and extremely humiliating for a wealthy socialite. The idea here is that joseph was focusing on the enlightenment idea of rationality. His goal was to find the most rational punishment for the Austrian criminals.

Hence, the major ideas that steered absolutist thought in eighteenth century were a focus upon rationality and a break from tradition through means, such as religious toleration and legal reforms.

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