Solution: Daily Problem Practice for 2022 History Optional [World History: Day 1]

Solution: Daily Problem Practice for 2022 History Optional [World History: Day 1]

Q. Critically examine the view that the Enlightened despots of Europe were politically liberal? [10 Marks]


In the later years of the Enlightenment, despotic monarchs in several European countries were inspired by Enlightenment and adopted some of the ideas of Enlightenment with included benevolence towards their subjects. They were called Enlightened despots. Though their despotic rule continued.

Some of them adopted politically liberal approach in their rule by emphasizing upon rationality and allowing religious toleration, freedom of speech and the press, the right to hold private property etc.

  • Catherine the Great
    • In Russia, empress Catherine the Great decried torture while greatly improving education, health care, and women’s rights, as well as clarifying the rights of the nobility. She also insisted that the Russian Orthodox Church become more tolerant of outsiders.
  • Maria-Theresa and Joseph II
    • In Austria, monarchs Maria-Theresa and Joseph II worked to end mistreatment of peasants by abolishing serfdom and also promoted individual rights, education, and religious tolerance.
  • Frederick the Great
    • An admirer of Voltaire, Frederick the Great, the king of Prussia, supported the arts and education, reformed the justice system, improved agriculture, and created a written legal code.
  • Charles III of Spain
    • He implemented a number of reforms. He weakened the influence of the Church, enabled land ownership for the poor, and vastly improved transportation routes.
But there were limitations in their approach. Although some changes and reforms were implemented, most of these rulers did not fundamentally change absolutist rule. In many cases, their policies were not politically liberal because:
  • Catherine the Great continued to imprison many of her opponents and maintained censorship and serfdom.
  • Joseph II Joseph was over-enthusiastic, announcing so many reforms that had so little support, that and his regime became a comedy of errors and revolts broke out and all his programs were reversed.
  • During Frederick the Great, in spite of reforms, the tax burden continued to fall on peasants and commoners.
  • There was difference between the “enlightenment” of the ruler personally, versus that of his or her regime. For example, Frederick the Great who ruled Prussia from 1740 to 1786, was tutored in the ideas of the French Enlightenment in his youth, and maintained those ideas in his private life as an adult, but in many ways was unable or unwilling to effect enlightened reforms in practice.
  • Many Enlightened despots like the Marquis of Pombal, prime minister of Portugal, used the enlightenment not only to achieve reforms but also to enhance autocracy, crush opposition, suppress criticism, further colonial economic exploitation, and consolidate personal control and profit.


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