We explain what absolutism is, how was the beginning and end of this type of government. Also, its characteristics, society, economy and more
What is Absolutism?
Absolutism was a form of government and political regime typical of the Old Regime (historical period prior to the French Revolution of 1789), whose ideology dictated that the political power of the ruler, that is, of the King, was not subject to any limitation such as not they were those of the divine law or of God .
This means that the sovereign’s power was formally unique, indivisible, inalienable, uncontrollable, and full . In other words, it was an absolute power, hence the name given to it as an ideology, that is, absolutism.
Absolutism proclaimed that the monarch was the State , so the public powers emanated from his will and were subordinate to his considerations. There was no authority greater than the word of the King, so the majesties were not subject to any possible law.
Origin of the term
In absolutism the law adheres to the will of the King.
The term absolutism should not be confused with other more contemporary uses, such as totalitarianism or dictatorship , since in these cases the organization of the State is hijacked by a party or a determined military leadership.
In absolutism the State as such does not exist , nor separation of powers, much less political parties : the law simply adheres to the will of the King.
The origins of the political use of the word are uncertain, but could come from the Latin expression princeps legibus solutus est (“the prince is not subject to the law”), coined by the Roman jurist Ulpiano.
Beginnings of absolutism
The first absolutist monarchies occurred at the end of the late Middle Ages , as the foundations were laid for the evolution of what would later become the modern State. The tendency to concentrate all the powers in the King was the product of the loss of prestige of the papacy and the Church as institutions of moral and social control, whose divine legitimacy was gradually invested in the monarch himself, whose will represented the will of God on earth. .
The authoritarian monarchies of medieval Europe did not become “mature” absolutisms or royal absolutism , however, until the seventeenth century, with the reign of Louis XIV in France .
End of absolutism
The bourgeois revolutions could not completely get rid of the figure of kings.
The French Revolution that put an end to the absolutist monarchy in that country in 1789 and gave rise to the ideas of the Enlightenment , paradoxical as it may seem, coexisted with absolutism in other European nations in what was called Enlightened Despotism .
The bourgeois revolutions that swept away the remnants of medieval feudalism and imposed the foundations of the future early capitalist order could not completely get rid of the figure of kings, and in some cases, such as tsarist Russia, they lasted well into the 20th century (The Revolution Russian was in 1917).
However, the revolution of 1848, called The Spring of the Peoples, abolished the Holy Alliance and undid the return of absolutism that characterized the nineteenth century (from the Congress of Vienna of 1814-1815). It was a gradual process of downfall from absolutism, however.
Limits of absolutist power
The king was subject to the moral laws of religion and the Church.
In absolutism there were no limits, in principle, for the will of the monarch, the highest jurist and authority in all matters, social, political, economic and moral. However, there were limits that were not explicitly expressed, but somehow framed the real power, and they were:
- God’s law. The King was subject, like every good Christian, to the moral laws of religion and of the Church.
- Natural law. Certain parts of the law, which concerned the most fundamental aspects of culture and which were therefore not considered by the King, were preserved in absolutism. Laws such as inheritance, mayorazgo, etc. that were considered “natural”.
- The fundamental laws of the Kingdom. Laws inherited from the political history of the Kingdom and that formed a kind of intangible Constitution , based on tradition and that were not necessarily written, such as the law of succession of the monarchs themselves.
In absolutism the economy used to be mercantile and have a total intervention of the monarch . Probably on the alliance between the feudal politics of the aristocracy and the insurgent bourgeoisie , it depended that this model of government lasted so long despite having already laid the foundations of the coming capitalism .
Religion during absolutism
The influence exerted by the absolutist kings on the clergy was subtle and discreet.
In theory, the absolutist King was the temporary head of the church , whose strings he had to manage. However, the clergy were too large and still powerful to control directly, so the influence exerted by the absolutist kings on the clergy was rather subtle and unobtrusive. In some cases, the most Catholic, the Pope remained an institution with regard to religious affairs. In others, the King could appoint, remove and interfere in clerical positions.
The absolutist regime did not contemplate public powers of any kind , except the designs of the monarch, whose word was law . However, there were bodies of civil servants in charge of the treasury, the bureaucracy , diplomacy, and the army, who enjoyed the benefits of being close to the ruling class.
The nobility was made up of aristocrats and landowners.
The absolutist society was strongly stratified, separating the citizens into three strata:
- The royalty. The aristocrats and landowners, who acted as advisers or allies of the king, all protected by military force.
- The clergy. Constituted by the ecclesiastical class, that is, priests and nuns, who lived from the tithe and from their proximity to the political powers.
- The common people. The mass of workers, peasants and merchants.
The main political scholars interested in absolutism as a political method were Jean Bodin (1530-1596), Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), and Jacques Bossuet (1627-1704) .
Examples of absolutist monarchies
The reign of Louis XIV culminated with his death in 1715.
The great example of a full absolute monarchy was the reign of Louis XIV in France , also called the “Sun King,” who ruled until his death from 1643 to 1715.
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