Catherine, Frederick And Louis Unenlightened Despots In An Enlightened Age

1257 words - 6 pages

Catherine, Frederick and Louis - Unenlightened Tyrants in an Enlightened AgeIt is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.-- Niccolo Machiavelli, - The PrinceThe Enlightenment is touted by modern historians as a time of intellectual and social advancement, an era of optimism and freedom unheard of in earlier times. The era of absolutism is seen as a time of mounting liberty that contributed to the rise of democracy in the Americas and elsewhere. In reality, the "Enlightened Despotism" of the absolutist leaders was more in keeping with the tyrannical rulers of the pre-reformation Holy Roman Empire than with the democratic republic of modern America. Three of the most prominent ...view middle of the document...

The dissatisfaction of the majority of the Russian population is visible through the number of peasant rebellions throughout Catherine's reign, the most important being the aforementioned Pugachev uprising of 1773 . Pugachev's army consisted of the most disaffected and oppressed of Russian society, mainly Cossacks, Bashkirs, Tartars, and serfs of all religions and ethnicities . A great majority of the Russian population suffered greatly under Catherine, forced into slavery and trapped in a never ending cycle of poverty caused by crippling taxation, only the very rich could afford to attend her newly-constructed schools and universities. Liberty was non-existent for all but those in bed with Catherine and her militaristic, imperialist foreign policy left Russia with huge expanses of land but no money with which to develop it.Unlike most other absolutist leaders, Frederick the Great actually developed his nation for the people, his policies actually benefited the government and the people it governed. The Prussian economy and population thrived under Frederick. He "did not rule by his own personal whims, but always under the guidance of what was most beneficial for Prussia... ". What was most beneficial for Prussia however was not necessarily beneficial for Europe or the world as a whole; Frederick was known as a brilliant military strategist and used his talents many times throughout his reign, invading and conquering territory in Austria, France, Russia, Poland and the German Empire . While violent empire-building may have been more internationally accepted in the sixteenth century, Frederick's policies of unprovoked invasions of sovereign nations is far from the ideals of the modern, relatively stable states that are said to have been inspired by Frederick and the other Absolutists. While a strong military and aggressive foreign policy is an important facet of any tyrannical, authoritative government, it is especially important for the Enlightened Despots, particularly Prussia under Frederick the Great, with fifty percent of the state's revenues going straight into the army. This strong militarism started a tradition that will last for centuries in the German psyche, this is readily apparent in later conflicts, namely the two World Wars.Louis XIV is widely known as one of the most extravagant of the Enlightened Despots. After being deeply affected by the Fronde in his youth, Louis went to great lengths to establish himself as the ultimate sovereign power in France, no matter the consequences to the state or its people. During Louis' reign, the poorest of society suffered under very heavy taxation, which then went to fund France's many foreign wars and giant public edifices. It is suspected...

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