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Home » , » What is Absolutism— Definition, Uses & Examples

Absolutism was the political and administrative system of European countries in the 16th to 18th centuries.

In it, the sovereign centralized all the powers of the State in his hands, without being accountable to society.

In order to control peasant revolts, part of the nobility supports the king to be more powerful. Likewise, the monarch receives help from the bourgeoisie, as centralization meant the standardization of fiscal and monetary policies.

The clergy also admire this movement, as it was a way for the Church to continue not paying taxes and continuing to charge various fees.

In order to concentrate power in his hands, the king had to put an end to private armies, prohibit the minting of different currencies and centralize the administration of the kingdom.

Theorists of absolutism

Absolutist theorists wrote about the new political regime that was being born. We highlight the most important ones:

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527): defender of the State and strong sovereigns, who should use all means to guarantee success and continuity in power. Machiavelli moves away from religious justification and describes politics as something rational and without spiritual interference.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679): according to Hobbes, to escape war and the state of barbarism, men united in a social contract and attributed powers to a leader to protect them. This, in turn, should be strong enough to not let humans kill each other and ensure peace and prosperity.

Jean Bodin (1530-1596): associated the State with the family cell itself, where real power would be unlimited, just like the head of the family. Thus, absolutism would be a kind of family where everyone owed obedience to a boss. This, in turn, would be in charge of protecting and providing for them.

Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627-1704): defended absolutism from the "divine right of kings". For him, power was delivered by God himself to the sovereign and thus, the king's will was God's will. Bossuet was King Louis XIV's main theorist of absolutism.

Absolutist State

The absolutist state is characterized by centralizing power and enforcing the same law throughout the kingdom.

In this way, the king administered only with the help of a few ministers. In some countries, there were assemblies, but they only met when called by the sovereign.

Absolutism established a civil bureaucracy capable of assisting the state. This meant that only the central government would set equal monetary and fiscal standards for all. Thus, old measures such as "rods" and "ounce" are being abandoned and replaced by "meters" and "kilograms".

Likewise, only the king could mint coins and guarantee their value. The conservation and safety of the roads would also be royal attributions, a measure that pleased the bourgeoisie.

Likewise, only one language was chosen to become the language spoken throughout the kingdom. An example was French, to the detriment of regional languages. We see this phenomenon occur in Spain and even in Brazil, with the ban on using the “general language”. 

Absolutist kings

The main absolutist kingdoms were Spain, France and England.

In Spain, political unification began in 1469 through the marriage of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile. The centralization was completed during the reign of his grandson, King Felipe II.

In France, during the Bourbon dynasty (16th century), absolutist power was consolidated in the person of King Louis XIV, the "Sun King" (1643-1715).

In England, the absolutism of Henry VIII (1509-1547) was also supported by the bourgeoisie, which consented to the strengthening of monarchical powers to the detriment of parliamentary power.

However, with the spread of Enlightenment values ​​and the French Revolution, the values ​​that sustained the period known as the “Antigo Régime” collapsed, bringing down that entire system. 


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