Introduction: The Problem of Enlightened Absolutism

  • H. M. Scott
Part of the Problems in Focus Series book series (PFS)


Few historical concepts have had their obituaries written more frequently than enlightened absolutism, yet so obstinately refuse to die. In its classical form, the theory of enlightened absolutism asserted that during the second half of the eighteenth century the domestic policies of most European states were influenced and even dictated by the ideas of the Enlightenment and were therefore sharply distinguished from what had gone before. Government became a systematic and rational attempt to apply the best recent knowledge to the task of ruling, while the main aim of internal policy came to be the improvement of educational opportunities, social conditions and economic life.


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Notes and References

  1. 6.
    See, e.g., G. Rudé, Europe in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1972) pp. 97–101.Google Scholar
  2. 12.
    Herbert H. Rowen, ‘Louis XIV and Absolutism’ in John C. Rule (ed.) Louis XIV and the Craft of Kingship ( Columbus, Ohio, 1969) p. 312.Google Scholar
  3. 14.
    See R. Koebner, ‘Despot and despotism: vicissitudes of a political term’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 14 (1951) 275–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 17.
    Alfred Cobban, In Search of Humanity: the role of the Enlightenment in modern history (London, 1960) pp. 161–7, for the way many eighteenth-century thinkers, particularly in France, rejected ‘enlightened despotism’. For a more extreme statement of this view, see Peter Gay, The Parry of Humanity: studies in the French Enlightenment (London, 1964 edn) pp. 274–5.Google Scholar
  5. 22.
    F. Hartung, Enlightened Despotism (Historical Association Pamphlet, London, 1957). This first appeared in German in theGoogle Scholar
  6. 33.
    Helen P. Liebel, Enlightened Bureaucracy versus Enlightened Despotism in Baden, 1750–1792 (Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 55:5; Philadelphia, 1965) pp. 47–50.Google Scholar
  7. 43.
    Cf. Krieger, An Essay on the Theory of Enlightened Despotism pp. viii—ix.Google Scholar
  8. 53.
    Lawrence J. Baack, ‘State service in the eighteenth century: the Bernstorffs in Hanover and Denmark’, International History Review, 1 (1979) 323–48, especially 330–48.Google Scholar

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© H. M. Scott 1990

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  • H. M. Scott

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