Absolutism: main characteristics of this type of political regime.
A summary of the characteristics of absolutism, its stages and the way it applied power.
Throughout history, many different ways of governing and running a society have been created. One of them is absolutism..
With this article we will be able to go deeper into this concept and review what are the most important features that differentiate it from the rest. We will also know some of the historical examples of this way of managing power by the rulers over the citizens.
What is absolutism?
Absolutism is a type of political regime typical of the time of the Ancien Régime, that is to say, of the stage prior to the French Revolutionwhich brought about the transition from the Modern Age to the Contemporary Age. Absolutism has the absolute state as its political system, hence its nomenclature.
In other words, for this type of regime, the monarchs, who at this time were the rulers, are the maximum authority for all purposes for the three powers, which are the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. Therefore, it will be the king who will make the maximum decisions about what laws to create, how to carry them out and judge those who break them.
We observe, therefore, that there is no separation of powers, since the three forces are concentrated in a single figure, that of the monarch, as supreme ruler of all its citizens, without being subject to any kind of higher law, beyond the divine which, as Christian countries, was the one above the earthly ones.
In fact, the idea that the absolute power wielded by these monarchs is a derivation of the supreme power of God, which gives to those particular persons the duty and capacity to govern and spread the sacred word..... Moving away from Europe, in some Asian countries practiced oriental despotism that went a step further, equating personifying in their kings to the gods themselves.
One of the phrases that best summarizes the essence of absolutism and its implications was pronounced precisely by Louis XIV of France, the Sun King, and maximum exponent of absolute king. After an attempted uprising in a French region, the monarch was in parliament in Paris.
Some of those present questioned the extent of the king's authority, to which Louis XIV replied: "I am the State". It is true that the veracity of this scene and of the exact words pronounced by the monarch, are questioned according to different historians. But the truth is that it condenses in very few words what absolutism means.
Differences between absolutism and totalitarianism
Often we fall into the error of unduly equating absolutism and totalitarianism, being different concepts.These concepts are different. We have already seen some of the characteristics of the former. As for the second term, it refers to a type of political regime that emerged in the contemporary age, and more specifically at the beginning of the 20th century.
In a totalitarian regime, there is a single political party that monopolizes all spheres of state power and channels it to a single leader. In addition, they try to to impose a certain ideology on all citizens, pretending that the ultimate goal is that all citizens should have the same ideology.In a totalitarian regime, there is a single political party that monopolizes all spheres of state power and channels it towards a single leader.
They usually rely on mechanisms such as repression, censorship or political police to achieve these objectives and maintain their hold on power, crushing any hint of dissidence or resistance that may arise and that could be the seed for the potential fall of such totalitarian regime.
However, in absolutism, the figure of the political party does not exist or make sense, a concept that did not exist in the time of absolute monarchies.. Nor is there a leader as such, but a king who, as we have already said, holds all the power. Another important detail is that the absolutist regime does not claim any ideology for its citizens.
On the contrary, what absolutism seeks from all subjects is nothing more than mere obedience to the monarch, and his recognition as a figure of unquestionable power. Therefore, it does not require mechanisms to modulate the thinking of the citizens, but it does require mechanisms to make them recognize the royal authority and obey it.
Stages of absolutism
Absolutism underwent a transformation, passing through a series of stages. She origin of absolutism, i.e. its initial stage, is between the 15th and 16th centuries, i.e. the transition between the 15th and 16th centuries.The first stage of absolutism was the transition between the Middle Ages and the Modern Age, marked by the discovery of America. Throughout this first phase, European monarchs began to gather practically all spheres of power over their own persons.
But at this first level, there were still some limits, especially on the part of religion, since the Church still held control over many of the countries of Europe in that respect, with the Pope of Rome at the head. After the division between Catholics and Protestants, this influence would be reduced to a smaller number of countries.
The monarchies of Europe, at this time, were undergoing an evolution from feudalism to authoritarianism. That was the path towards the concentration of powers over a few kings that would end up crystallizing in absolutism. With the emergence of nation-states, this transformation became more evident, reaching its peak.
It would be in the seventeenth century, specifically in the middle of that century, when absolutism reached its most important stage.The absolutist monarch par excellence, King Louis XIV of France, who illustrated the phenomenon of the person-state, was the personification, as we mentioned at the beginning, of the absolutist monarch par excellence, King Louis XIV of France.
However, this does not mean that they were totally iron and immutable systems, because during these centuries there were many uprisings, revolts and even revolutions in certain areas, which in some countries meant questioning the authority of the absolute monarch.
The most palpable case is that of the French Revolution itself, which meant nothing less than the fall of the absolute monarchy in France, and the seed for the fall of many other countries. the seed for the fall of many other dynasties throughout Europe in the decades to come..
The frontiers of absolutism
Although it has already been made clear that the absolutist monarchs achieved a concentration of power never seen before, the truth is that there were still some limits to this accumulation of power in a single person. The first of these limits, as we already anticipated, was religion.
All the kings of Europe were of Christian confession, so they were subject, like all other Christians, to the divine laws and to the representatives of God on Earth, as was the case of the pope. Subsequently, after the splits of the Church, some of these monarchs would cease to be under their orders, since they were no longer Catholics..
Likewise, there were parts of the law, encompassed in the natural law, developed in the times of the Roman Empire, which are so essential and universal that not even the representative of absolutism would be above them. Some of its branches are located in private law or the law of nations, among others.
Moreover, even if the absolute monarch were the very representation of the State, as (in theory) Louis XIV said, the truth is that every kingdom is sustained on a series of fundamental laws, which may even be mere traditions that are so rooted in a territory and its society that not even the wishes of the monarch could break them, or else it would be a cause for popular revolt if he did.
Within these limits of absolutism would be found, for example, the principle of legitimacy by which the state is a continuum that is above its monarcheven if he is absolute. In that sense, when this person dies or abdicates his heir, all citizens know that there will be a new king and the state will continue to maintain its identity.
Another tradition that would be above the king is the principle of religion. This principle implies that the monarch must always maintain the religious confession of the state itself.. This is a characteristic that occurs both in absolutism and in other types of monarchies.
With respect to the principle of religion, there is a historical fact that illustrates it perfectly, and it is the coronation of King Henry IV of France, who was of Protestant confession but had to adopt the Catholic as a requirement to be the new ruler of that country. The famous phrase "Paris is worth a mass" is attributed to him, although it is true that some historians believe it to be apocryphal.
These would be some of the limits that would be given in the absolutism and that therefore would suppose a border for the total accumulation of the power in the monarchs.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)