The crisis of the old regime: enlightened despotism –

To better understand how enlightened despotism arose, we must first start with the crisis of the ancien regime, a political crisis arising from the ideas of the Enlightenment in the mid-18th century. Today we are going to better understand this period of history in The crisis of the old regime: enlightened despotismall the keys that gave rise to a new type of monarchy such as enlightened despotism and you will know in depth what the Enlightenment is.

When you talk about Crisis of the Old Regime, We are not only talking about a political crisis but it was a general crisis, since it had a strong impact on Western society. The crisis was the product of the three great revolutionary processes, as they were the Bourgeois Revolution, the Liberal Revolution and finally the Industrial Revolution.

Learn more about:

However, the term Old Regimecould only be understood and applied to countries such as France, Spain and Portugal, where there were still absolute monarchies in the eighteenth century, while other European countries already enjoyed a government governed by a parliamentary monarchy such as England and Holland. Europe

Other countries maintained a regime based on empires with different characteristics, as was the case in Eastern Europe. However, the crisis of the old regime had consequences throughout the European monarchies and even affected another continent, America, as they gave way to the Independence from both the US and the Spanish colonies.

The spirit of the Enlightenment

The illustration was a cultural, ideological and political movement emerged in Europe, as a consequence of the progress and diffusion of both New Ideas and new knowledge around science. The Enlightenment reached its peak during the century XVIIIa century known as the Century of the lights.

reason versus ignorance and therefore the light of reason, a new organizational system which will replace the Old Regime. It is a century in which man raises new questions, despises the past, does not accept old beliefs, directly confronting ecclesiastical doctrines, turns to a new way of thinking, a thought based on knowledge.

Their main features, are:

  • Reason as the fundamental basis of everythingthe reason becomes a guide for the man of the eighteenth century, seeking knowledge and knowledge in addition to focusing on the study of both their culture and their time.
  • Arises criticism of the established order avoiding everything abstract, that is, everything that is not understandable by science.
  • It departs from what was understood as truths by the Catholic Church, advocate for tolerance
  • He denies what was political traditionabsolutism
  • You want to learn and at the same time teach learned, advocates expanding knowledge based primarily on the scientific progressdefinitely achieve cultural development.

enlightened despotism

arises to mid 18th centuryas a consequence of enlightened thoughtare a consequence of the criticisms received by different Enlightenment philosophers towards the political tradition, that is, the absolute monarchya monarchy that clearly benefited the upper classes and created both inequality and injustice.

These critics called for a regime transformationbut a peaceful, non-violent transformation like the revolutions were, it was a slow and peaceful change of the structures to achieve a modern and rational society.

A change that I should leave from the highest echelons that would educate the uneducated masses. These ideas were accepted by different monarchieswho accepted the ideas of the Enlightenment, giving rise to a new regime called Enlightened Despotism.

Converting an absolutist monarchy into an enlightened one was going to need the help of qualified people with new ideas, people who were willing to reform both political and economic development, giving them the necessary impetus.

The illustrated kings they are monarchs who not only accept the enlightened principlesbut also want to put them into practice, in this way a greater efficiency in the Stateboth in favor of the State itself and the subjects of the kingdom.

Faced with the fear that there was of change, a belief appears in the possibility of being able to achieve more prosperity, this change could not be produced all at once, but through a slow educational and legislative work for which the help of the enlightened would necessarily be needed. The illustrated ideas would become true government programs to put into practice.

A late 18th centurya phrase emerges that would serve as motto of despotism Illustrated “Everything for the people, but without the people”. The use of this phrase denoted a paternalistic character, radically confronted with the ideas of the Enlightenment. These advocated the intervention of the people in all political affairs, the people is the protagonist.

The phrase totally deviated from the enlightened ideals, since it would be the government and not the people who carried out the measures for their well-being, but decisions were made without the intervention of the people.

We can say that the main features that defined Enlightened Despotism were:

  • the absolute power remains in the hands of the monarchy
  • adopt the ideas of the Enlightenment
  • The goal is happiness from town
  • Try of improve education and culture of his subjects
  • believe in the importance of reason as a motor in making decisions-
  • advocate by a government that takes measures to improve the lives of the subjects, but the people do not participate in making these decisions.

The Enlightened Despotism, declined at the end of the 18th century. The most disadvantaged classes did not see substantial changes in politics as well as in society and in the economy. Were the Enlightenment’s own ideas which feelings lit up of the different social classes of the moment, especially the bourgeoisieThese, despite having a good economic level, could not participate in political decisions.

The Enlightened Despotism achieved some advances in the administrative, educational and economic fields. Nevertheless failure in the most important in the social. The new monarchical regime did not want to undertake the changes deep in the structures of the state, they continued to maintain the same structure as in the Old Regime.

This series of failures caused big opposition, the change that was requested, such as the modernization of the absolutist regime, had failed with the arrival of the bourgeois revolutions.

Kings who applied enlightened despotism

We have said before that the monarchs had to accept and submit to the principles of enlightened despotism. Now, which kings were the ones who applied this enlightened despotism? We have 5 monarchs who did it which are: the King of Spain Carlos III; in Portugal, José I el Reformador did it; in Prussia, Frederick II the Great followed this trend; while in Austria we have the despot queen Catherine II the Great; and finally in Austria to Joseph II the Emperor.

It must be clarified, however, that despite those revolutions and innovations that the monarchs had to face, enlightened despotism did not supposenot even one breakdown of absolutism. Contrary to what one might think, what was done was to try to reconcile the power of the king together with the spirit of freedom that prevailed in society at the time.

The novelty consisted mainly in the fact that the image of a philosopher king and it was advised by a team made up of enlightened minorities. The king is a lover of the sciences and the arts, he loves progress, but he takes care that no one changes as soon as we talk about political power and voice of command, where he still kept all his powers.

Against whom Carlos III did oppose was the Church, which he tried to limit its power through reforms, as well as the expulsion of the Jesuits and limitations on the power of the court of the Inquisition. However, the monarch had to be careful, because the Church still exerted great influence over the social masses, who could rebel to defend their power and against the harmful reforms of the government towards the religious.

The truth is that enlightened despotism introduced very positive reforms and significant progress was made in sectors such as the economy. But the resistance to change of the most privileged sectors of the population, truncated many of the plans and, later, already under the reign of Charles IVthe economic crises put an end to this reforming desire.

You may also like: