How can we define enlightened absolutism?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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We can define enlightened absolutism as a political ideology that held that a monarch should have complete power but that the monarch should use that power for the benefit of his or her people.  Frederick the Great of Prussia is seen as a ruler who exemplified this idea.

This idea was absolutist because it held that monarchs should have absolute power.  It did not accept Enlightenment ideas to the extent of allowing for democracy.  However, it was enlightened because it accepted the Enlightenment idea that the government should work for the benefit of its people.

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bmrasmussen | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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Enlightened absolutism is sometimes called enlightened despotism.  An "absolute ruler" or "despot" is someone who believes that the ruler should have all the power and no one should have any right to question or challenge what the ruler does.  Generally, "despot" is a negative term.

An "enlightened" despot was one who bought into at least some of the ideas of the Enlightenment.  For example, the Enlightenment stressed reason, rather than faith, as the basis for human action.  Enlightened despots often allowed people to worship as they chose, own land, and and have freedom of speech.  Many also stressed education and libraries. 

Catherine the Great of Russia was an enlightened despot.  She was an absolute ruler with total control, yet she allowed many freedoms Russians didn't previously have.  She also fostered education and was a lifelong student herself.

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