Prior to determining what arguments supported and opposed absolute monarchy in the seventeenth century, it is important to give a definition to the term ‘absolutism.’ Absolutism refers to the political theory that made rulers capable of claiming complete sovereignty of their territory. Therefore, an absolute monarch was allowed to make new laws, declare wars, create bureaucracies, dispense justice, and impose taxes without the need for the governing body’s support and approval of his or her decision.
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The ideas of absolute monarchy in the 17th century were reinforced by the belief that rulers’ right to govern was given by the power of God. Theorists that explored the institution of absolute monarchy often compared the unlimited authority of rules to the power fathers had in households. Moreover, the chaos and instabilities that the society experienced in the 16th century called for the shift in the manner of government and support of sovereign rules for restoring European life (Cole et al. 855).
Despite the fact that absolute monarchy received extensive criticism, it’s important to mention how it was justified in 17th-century Europe. First, absolutism promised stability as an alternative to the preceding disorders of the “iron century.” For example, Louis XIV of France did not support the ideas of the aristocratic revolt that took place during his childhood. Subsequently, the ruler regarded such revolts as harmful to his persona as well as the French majesty that he represented.
Therefore, Louis XIV made a decision to support absolute monarchy without imposing any limitations on his power in order to help France remain a powerful state. Second, absolute monarchy was associated with a unified system of armed forces and the creation of a centralized bureaucracy that allowed a ruler to collect and spend the financial resources of the state. Despite the fact that creating such a bureaucracy was expensive, it was essential for achieving absolutist goals of exercising royal power. While the system could be criticized for only catering to the needs of one monarch, it was less complicated to follow.
If to explore the document “Bossuet on the nature of monarchical authority,” it can be concluded that absolute monarchs regarded themselves as the ones holding the place of God. Therefore, it was believed that royal authority was sacred, with rulers playing the role of God’s ministers and lieutenants on earth (Cole et al. 358). Filmer, on the other hand, opposed the idea of absolute power being given to humans by God. He wrote, “I cannot find anyone place or text in the Bible where any power is given to people either to govern themselves, or to choose themselves governors, or to alter the manner of government at their pleasure” (qtd in Cole et al. 359).
When examining potential opponents of absolute monarchy, it can be stated that monarchs were extremely threatened by nobles, who refused to give up their political and social power under the pressure of absolutism.
Therefore, in order to strengthen relationships with the nobility, the most powerful monarchs of the 17th century Europe gave enormous privileges and rights to them. For example, Louis XIV developed a system in which nobles were required to depend on the crown for sustaining their privileges; however, their superior place in the society was not undermined. Such a relationship between Louis XIV and the nobility could be regarded as a negotiated settlement rather than an absolute victory of a monarch over the powerful elites (Cole et al. 357).
Opposition to absolute monarchy in Europe could be seen in the steady increase of the powers of governments in countries such as Great Britain and the Netherlands, where monarchs retained their positions but did not have absolute power to rule their country. English political theorists, for example, had an opinion that their government should combine the most effective characteristics of monarchy, nobility, and non-noble elements for achieving the state’s prosperity.
It is important to mention John Locke’s “Two Treatises of Government,” in which the author supported the idea of absolute freedom without the government of any kind. The only law, according to Locke, was the law of nature (or the law of reason), which allowed individuals to enforce their rights to life, liberty, and property (Cole et al. 364). Locke was adamant about condemning absolutism and its forms. On the other hand, he supported the idea of a government as an institution for protecting individuals’ rights to freedom and property, with no political authority being able to take these natural rights away (Cole et al. 364).
If to compare the way in which Britain and France chose to deal with the negative consequences of the 16th century, one country took a route towards absolute monarchy while another combined the power of the monarch with the power of the governments and the authority elites. The emergence of an effective system of constitutional monarchy in England was a stark contrast to the absolute monarchy developed by Louis XIV in France. Nevertheless, it is crucial to mention that both systems were effective enough to constrain the threat posed to the monarchy by the class of nobles.
Cole, Joshua, et al. Western Civilizations: Their History & Their Culture. 3rd ed., W.W. Norton & Company, 2012.