Absolute monarchy | Wikipedia audio article
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Absolute monarchy | Wikipedia audio article

August 25, 2019

Absolute monarchy is a form of monarchy in
which one leader has supreme authority and where that authority is not restricted by
any written laws, legislature, or customs. These are often, but not always, hereditary
monarchies. In contrast, in constitutional monarchies,
the head of state’s authority derives from and is legally bounded or restricted by a
constitution or legislature.Some monarchies have weak or symbolic legislatures and other
governmental bodies the monarch can alter or dissolve at will. Countries where monarchs still maintain absolute
power are: Brunei, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Swaziland, Vatican City and the individual emirates composing
the United Arab Emirates, which itself is a federation of such monarchies – a federal
monarchy.==Historical examples=====
Outside Europe===In Ancient Egypt, the Pharaoh wielded absolute
power over the country and was considered a living god by his people. In ancient Mesopotamia, many rulers of Assyria,
Babylonia and Sumer were absolute monarchs as well. In ancient and medieval India, rulers of the
Maurya, Satavahana, Gupta and Chalukya Empires, as well as other major and minor empires,
were considered absolute monarchs. In the Khmer Empire, the kings were called
“Devaraja” and “Chakravartin” (King of the world), and exercised absolute power over
the empire and people. Throughout Imperial China, many emperors and
one empress wielded absolute power through the Mandate of Heaven. In pre-Columbian America, the Inca Empire
was ruled by a Sapa Inca, who was considered the son of Inti, the sun god and absolute
ruler over the people and nation. Korea under the Joseon dynasty and short-lived
empire was also an absolute monarchy. In the Ottoman Empire, many sultans wielded
absolute power through heavenly mandates reflected in their title, the “Shadow of God on Earth”.===Europe===
Throughout much of European history, the divine right of kings was the theological justification
for absolute monarchy. Many European monarchs, such as those of Russia,
claimed supreme autocratic power by divine right, and that their subjects had no rights
to limit their power. James VI of Scotland (later also James I of
England) and his son Charles I of Scotland and England tried to import this principle. Charles I’s attempt to enforce episcopal polity
on the Church of Scotland led to rebellion by the Covenanters and the Bishops’ Wars,
then fears that Charles I was attempting to establish absolutist government along European
lines was a major cause of the English Civil War, despite the fact that he did rule this
way for 11 years starting in 1629, after dissolving the Parliament of England for a time. By the 19th century, the Divine Right was
regarded as an obsolete theory in most countries in the Western world, except in Russia where
it was still given credence as the official justification for the Tsar’s power until February
Revolution in 1917. There is a considerable variety of opinion
by historians on the extent of absolutism among European monarchs. Some, such as Perry Anderson, argue that quite
a few monarchs achieved levels of absolutist control over their states, while historians
such as Roger Mettam dispute the very concept of absolutism. In general, historians who disagree with the
appellation of absolutism argue that most monarchs labeled as absolutist exerted no
greater power over their subjects than any other non-absolutist rulers, and these historians
tend to emphasize the differences between the absolutist rhetoric of monarchs and the
realities of the effective use of power by these absolute monarchs. Renaissance historian William Bouwsma summed
up this contradiction: Nothing so clearly indicates the limits of
royal power as the fact that governments were perennially in financial trouble, unable to
tap the wealth of those most able to pay, and likely to stir up a costly revolt whenever
they attempted to develop an adequate income.====Roman Empire========
France====Though some historians doubt if he truly had,
Louis XIV of France (1638–1715) is often said to have proclaimed “L’état, c’est moi”
(“I am the State!”). Although often criticized for his extravagances,
such as the Palace of Versailles, he reigned over France for a long period, and some historians
consider him a successful absolute monarch. More recently, revisionist historians have
questioned whether Louis’ reign should be considered ‘absolute’, given the reality of
the balance of power between the monarch and the nobility.The King of France concentrated
in his person legislative, executive, and judicial powers. He was the supreme judicial authority. He could condemn men to death without the
right of appeal. It was both his duty to punish offenses and
stop them from being committed. From his judicial authority followed his power
both to make laws and to annul them.One of his steps in creating an absolute monarchy
in France was to build the Palace of Versailles, where he lived with many of his nobles and
other important people, in order to control and watch over them.====Denmark–Norway====
Absolutism was underpinned by a written constitution for the first time in Europe in the 1665 Kongeloven
(“King’s Law”) of Denmark-Norway, which ordered that the Monarch “shall from this day forth
be revered and considered the most perfect and supreme person on the Earth by all his
subjects, standing above all human laws and having no judge above his person, neither
in spiritual nor temporal matters, except God alone”. This law consequently authorized the king
to abolish all other centers of power. Most important was the abolition of the Council
of the Realm.====Prussia====
In Brandenburg-Prussia, the concept of absolute monarch took a notable turn from the above
with its emphasis on the monarch as the “first servant of the state”, but it also echoed
many of the important characteristics of Absolutism. Frederick William (r. 1640–1688), known
as the Great Elector, used the uncertainties of the final stages of the Thirty Years’ War
to consolidate his territories into the dominant kingdom in northern Germany, whilst increasing
his power over his subjects. His actions largely originated the militaristic
streak of the Hohenzollern. In 1653 the Diet of Brandenburg met for the
last time and gave Frederick William the power to raise taxes without its consent, a strong
indicator of absolutism. Frederick William enjoyed support from the
nobles, who enabled the Great Elector to undermine the Diet and other representative assemblies. The leading families saw their future in cooperation
with the central government and worked to establish absolutist power. The most significant indicator of the nobles’
success was the establishment of two tax rates – one for the cities and the other for the
countryside – to the great advantage of the latter, which the nobles ruled. The nobles served in the upper levels of the
elector’s army and bureaucracy, but they also won new prosperity for themselves. The support of the Elector enabled the imposition
of serfdom and the consolidation of land holdings into vast estates which provided for their
wealth. They became known as Junkers (from the German
for young lord, junger Herr). Frederick William faced resistance from representative
assemblies and long-independent cities in his realm. City leaders often revolted at the imposition
of Electorate authority. The last notable effort was the uprising of
the city of Königsberg which allied with the Estates General of Prussia to refuse to
pay taxes. Frederick William crushed this revolt in 1662,
by marching into the city with thousands of troops. A similar approach was used with the towns
of Cleves.====Russia====
Until 1905 the Tsars of Russia governed as absolute monarchs. Peter I the Great reduced the power of the
Russian nobility and strengthened the central power of the Tsars, establishing a bureaucracy
and a police state. This tradition of absolutism, known as Tsarist
autocracy, was expanded by Catherine II the Great and her descendants. Although Alexander II made some reforms and
established an independent judicial system, Russia did not have a representative assembly
or a constitution until the 1905 Revolution. However, the concept of absolutism was so
ingrained in Russia that the Russian Constitution of 1906 still described the Tsar as an autocrat. Russia became the last European country (excluding
Vatican City) to abolish absolutism, and it was the only one to do so as late as the 20th
century (the Ottoman Empire drafted its first constitution in 1877).====Sweden====
The form of government instituted in Sweden under King Charles XI and passed on to his
son, Charles XII is commonly referred to as absolute monarchy; however, the Swedish monarch
was never absolute in the sense that he wielded arbitrary power. The monarch still ruled under the law and
could only legislate in agreement with the Riksdag of the Estates; rather, the absolutism
introduced was the monarch’s ability to run the government unfettered by the privy council,
contrary to earlier practice. The absolute rule of Charles XI was instituted
by the crown and the Riksdag in order to carry out the Great Reduction which would have been
made impossible by the privy council which comprised the high nobility. After the death of Charles XII in 1718, the
system of absolute rule was largely blamed for the ruination of the realm in the Great
Northern War, and the reaction tipped the balance of power to the other extreme end
of the spectrum, ushering in the Age of Liberty. After half a century of largely unrestricted
parliamentary rule proved just as ruinous, King Gustav III seized back royal power in
the coup d’état of 1772, and later once again abolished the privy council under the Union
and Security Act in 1789, which, in turn, was rendered void in 1809 when Gustav IV Adolf
was deposed in a coup and the constitution of 1809 was put in its place. The years between 1789 and 1809, then, are
also referred to as a period of absolute monarchy.==Contemporary monarchies==
The popularity of the notion of absolute monarchy declined substantially after the American
Revolution and the French Revolution, which promoted theories of government based on popular
sovereignty. Many nations formerly with absolute monarchies,
such as Jordan, Kuwait and Morocco, have moved towards constitutional monarchy, although
in some cases the monarch retains tremendous power, to the point that the parliament’s
influence on political life is negligible. In Bhutan, the government moved from absolute
monarchy to constitutional monarchy following planned parliamentary elections to the Tshogdu
in 2003, and the election of a National Assembly in 2008. Nepal had several swings between constitutional
rule and direct rule related to the Nepalese Civil War, the Maoist insurgency, and the
2001 Nepalese royal massacre, with the Nepalese monarchy being abolished on May 28, 2008. In Tonga, the King had majority control of
the Legislative Assembly until 2010. On the other hand, Liechtenstein has moved
towards expanding the power of the monarch: the Prince of Liechtenstein was given expanded
powers after a referendum amending the Constitution of Liechtenstein in 2003, which led the BBC
to describe the prince as an “absolute monarch again”.The ruling Kim family of North Korea
(Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un) has been described as a de facto absolute
monarchy or “hereditary dictatorship”. In 2013, Clause 2 of Article 10 of the new
edited Ten Fundamental Principles of the Korean Workers’ Party states that the party and revolution
must be carried “eternally” by the “Baekdu (Kim’s) bloodline”.===Current absolute monarchies=======Saudi Arabia====Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, and
according to the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia adopted by royal decree in 1992, the king
must comply with Shari’a (Islamic law) and the Qur’an. The Qur’an and the corpus of Sunnah (traditions
of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad) are declared to be the Kingdom’s constitution, but no written
modern constitution has ever been written for Saudi Arabia, which remains one of two
Arab nations where no national elections have ever taken place since its founding, with
the other being Qatar. No political parties or national elections
are permitted and according to The Economist’s 2010 Democracy Index, the Saudi government
is the seventh most authoritarian regime from among the 167 countries rated.==Scholarship==
Anthropology, sociology, and ethology as well as various other disciplines such as political
science attempt to explain the rise of absolute monarchy ranging from extrapolation generally,
to certain Marxist explanations in terms of the class struggle as the underlying dynamic
of human historical development generally and absolute monarchy in particular. In the 17th century, French legal theorist
Jean Domat defended the concept of absolute monarchy in works such as “On Social Order
and Absolute Monarchy”, citing absolute monarchy as preserving natural order as God intended.According
to Norbert Elias’s The Civilizing Process (1939), monarchs such as Louis XIV could enjoy
such great power because of the structure of the societies at that time: more precisely,
they could play off against each other two rival classes, namely the rising bourgeoisie,
who grew wealthy from commerce and industrial production, and the nobility, who lived off
the land and administrative functions.==See also====
Further reading==Anderson, Perry. Lineages of the Absolutist State. London: Verso, 1974. Beloff, Max. The Age of Absolutism From 1660 to 1815 (1961)
Blum, Jerome et al. The European World (vol 1 1970) pp 267–466
Kimmel, Michael S. Absolutism and Its Discontents: State and Society in Seventeenth-Century France
and England. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1988. Méttam, Roger. Power and Faction in Louis XIV’s France. New York: Blackwell Publishers, 1988. Miller, John (ed.). Absolutism in Seventeenth Century Europe. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1990. Wilson, Peter H. Absolutism in Central Europe. New York: Routledge, 2000. Zmohra, Hillay. Monarchy, Aristocracy, and the State in Europe
– 1300-1800. New York: Routledge, 2001

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