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Absolutism in French Revolution Essay

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Updated: Jun 7th, 2018

World history is varied and it is possible to consider different regimes and policies applied in the societies. Having read the words by Ronald Reagan that, “Concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty”, I have remembered about French revolution, the event which can be considered as the beginning of the Age of Absolutism. It is impossible to disagree with Reagan as even the history proves this.

Absolutism is a regime in the history of many countries when the whole power was concentrated in the hands of one person. This person was not limited by the rules and laws and could act according to personal will and intentions. This person was actually the law.

Defining the notion ‘absolutism’, it is important to state that this regime covers many years and historians began to characterize it in such a way after the system has gone. It means that the contemporaries of Louis XIV did not use this term, but preferred to use the word-combination “absolute power of the crown” (Beik 3), which they understood as the “concentration of sovereign authority in the hands of the king” (Beik 3).

Coming out of this definition, it should be stated that human rights are not protected, a ruler can do whatever he/she wants. Liberty is based on the principle of freedom and the ability to according to personal intentions and desires. Considering French absolutism in practice it is important to refer to the reasons of French revolution.

The power was concentrated in hands of one person, Louis XIV and he “administrated control of his nation-state with an iron hand, keeping the nobility in check” (McNeese 27). Human dissatisfaction with the regime may be explained by the autocratic behavior from Louis XIV’s side.

Having the whole power in his hands and governing a state, Louis XIV understood that without strict rules, order cannot be implemented. However, people heed to have freedom, they should have an opportunity to choose what they want and how they want to do it. The absence of liberty, the absence of choice always results in rebellions. Referring to France, the rebellion became a revolution which destroyed absolute regime.

It should be noted that while the country prospered, people were satisfied with the autocratic and absolute regime, as the absence of liberty was covered by high level of life. However, when the country’s economy began to weaken, people began to notice that the whole power is concentrated in hands of their monarch and they do not have rights at all.

When people began to notice that leading poor lives they are also restricted in their actions, they began to express their dissatisfaction. King’s desire to suppress the rebellion awaked powerful counteraction which resulted in monarchy subversion in three years (McNeese 27).

Considering the absolutism as the power concentration in the hands of one person and referencing to French revolution, I have stated that the revolution was caused by the people’s dissatisfaction with autocratic regime. Besides, some historians believe that “The revolution that was to sweep away the political institutions of old France, and shake her society to its foundations, did not begin on July 14, 1789. By that time the old order was already in ruins, beyond reconstruction” (Schwab and Jeanneney 232).

Looking at the prerevolutionary situation in France, it is possible to confirm this statement in the meaning that the ancient regime of France was in ruins, however, kings’ ruling existed. It is possible to differentiate the principles of ancient French regime from the centralization provided by Louis XIV. Old regime is based on the principles of strict order, obedience, and law. The regime provided by Louis XIV was something different.

Besides the previously mentioned issues, people in that time were subjected to so-called lettres de cachet, the acts which meant imprisonment without trial (Schwab and Jeanneney 232). This is the exact definition of the absolutism in France and the main principles of power concentration in the hands of one person.

Returning to the quote mentioned in the beginning of this discussion “Concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty”, it is not only impossible to disagree with it, it is even impossible partially reject with it.

As for me, I absolutely agree with Reagan as when the whole power is concentrated in hands of one person, sooner or later, this person will implement his authority on all, even if it seems that people have some freedom. It is just the first impression and it means that people are satisfied with what they are offered and do not have a necessity to search for something.

Being offered what they want, people do not need to search for liberty, however, it does not mean that they have it. When people are lacking something, they want to have it, but their desire meet the king’s strong will and people begin to talk about absence of liberty. Thus, it should be concluded that absolutism is the rejection of liberty, even though people do not notice this.

Works Cited

Beik, William. Louis XIV and absolutism: a brief study with documents. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000. Print.

McNeese, Tim. History of Civilization – The Age of Absolutism, Lorenz Educational Press, 2000. Print.

Schwab, Gail M. and John R. Jeanneney. The French Revolution of 1789 and its impact. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995. Print.

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