Enlightened Despotism in Russia: The Reign of Elisabeth, 1741-1762

Enlightened Despotism in Russia: The Reign of Elisabeth, 1741-1762

Enlightened Despotism in Russia: The Reign of Elisabeth, 1741-1762

Enlightened Despotism in Russia: The Reign of Elisabeth, 1741-1762

Excerpt

Enlightened despotism, the political movement which accompanied the intellectual enlightenment of the 18th century, is a movement difficult to define and study since it occurred in several countries and took on varying forms. Generally, in view of the political realities, it was enlightened ideas enacted by all-powerful rulers in a period in which most of the European states were ruled by absolute monarchs. The movement did not really become a feature of the European scene until after approximately 1750 when the ideas of the philosophes became widespread and a part of the major intellectual stream of European thought.

The despotic side of the movement, or better, the interference of the government to further the enlightened development of the state, has its roots in sources other than the enlightenment itself. One of these is to be found in the activities of such figures as Peter the Great (1689-1725) who subsequently became one of the heroes of the philosophes. His use of autocratic power, traditional with the Russian rulers, to drive out what he considered "barbaric" traits in Russia set an example for other rulers. His attitude towards the state, in which he viewed himself as the first servant of the state, and his feeling that it was his destiny to bring Russia into the mainstream of European politics was taken to prove this. Of course, involved in this was his well known effort to "westernize" his backward country.

One can cite the activities of other rulers such as Louis XIV during the periods of peace in his country when he also introduced reforms. But for the purposes of this book the most important source are the ideas first generated in . . .

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