Enlightened Despotism

Enlightened Despotism

Enlightened Despotism

Enlightened Despotism

Excerpt

The phrase “Enlightened Despotism” came into existence in the works of nineteenth-century historians as an unproved assumption about a certain period of European history in the eighteenth century. It would not be an exaggeration to say that much of the history of the phrase since its inception has revolved around the attempt to find out whether it means anything and, if so, exactly what. In 1928, at the behest of a prominent French historian, an international committee of historians set itself the task of examining “Enlightened Despotism,” with the end of determining if there was such a thing after all—or, putting it another way, of ascertaining just what the historical period called the Enlightenment actually had to do with “despots” who were “enlightened” or with anything else that might justify the internal consistency of that period of history.

The work of this commission over the decade of its existence contributed much valuable information to serve as a basis for further study. So have the researches and conclusions of numerous other scholars who have written on the subject since. But there is still a need for a short synthetic survey or examination of Enlightened Despotism; this is so not merely because of many still unexplored interpretative aspects of the topic, but also because much recent work concerned with it has been scattered and as yet unincorporated in any general survey. This book is intended to supply that need.

In the face of the numerous disagreements among historians concerning the meaning and applicability of the term “Enlightened Despotism,” the only thing continuing to give form to . . .

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