Enlightened absolutism is when politicians in a state try to achieve a “common good”. The heyday of this phenomenon in Europe was observed in the XVIII century.
Catherine II ascended the throne
Russian Empress Catherine II fell to the throne, although she had no right to do so. Klyuchevskoy wrote about this, that she seized power twice: the first time when she overthrew her husband, and the second - without allowing her son to ascend the throne.
Those people who were far from intrigues in the imperial palace, perceived the overthrow of Peter the Third extremely unexpectedly. There was even a case when, after the proclamation of Catherine the empress of Russia, the toast in her honor was not supported by the common people and soldiers. The memories of the impostors were still too strong, so many considered Catherine the Second as such.
She was a very intelligent woman and knew very well how to endear people. This allowed Catherine II to quickly gain popular support. She justified her actions by the fact that the Empire needed protection from the policies of Peter the Third, which was treasonable.
But the reign of Catherine the Second brought many innovations - this is the policy of enlightened absolutism.
Innovations in the reign of Catherine II
Catherine the Enlightened Absolutism 2 is not something that applies only to Russia. The most striking of these monarchs, who carried out “educational” reforms in their state, are Gustav III, Joseph and Frederick II.
Strengthening absolutism in the Russian Empire was supposed to reassure the public about the fact that the throne was in the hands of one person. At the same time, it was necessary to ensure that representatives of all sectors of society, including peasants, supported the emperor. The belief of the people that the actions of the monarch are aimed at achieving the good for all, in this case was very important. This is the policy of enlightened absolutism.
Absolutism in Russia consisted in the fact that the emperor consciously asked for advice from the greatest thinkers of that time, enlisted their support in order to adapt the order in the state to new socio-economic relations.
In her younger years, Catherine 2 studied many books written by French enlighteners: Voltaire, Montesquieu, Diderot and others. Their ideas fascinated the future empress. In her opinion, absolutism in Russia should have helped the state and its subjects become richer. She expressed such thoughts long before she ascended the throne.
“The Mandate” of the Empress
For two years in a row, Catherine the Great wrote the reign program, which was published in 1767 and was named “Mandate”. It all reminded about absolutism. This is because “Mandate” promoted the idea of universal good. This document said that people needed to be deprived of liberty, but their actions should be directed only to good deeds. The unlimited power of the empress was explained by the fact that the state was of enormous size.
Catherine the Enlightened Absolutism 2 is a kind of declaration that the equality of all citizens before the law will protect the monarchy from becoming a despotism. The Empress also spoke out against serfdom, but there was absolutely no requirement to revoke it.
The absolutism of Catherine the Great was very controversial: it seemed that the enlightenment philosophy was propagated in the state, but on the other hand, the domination of the nobility was proclaimed, serfdom and autocratic power were preserved.
The convocation of the Legislative Commission, which took place in 1767, is nothing but a manifestation of absolutism. Representatives of all segments of the population of the country were to take part in its work. However, the commission could not cope with the mission entrusted to it - the creation of a new set of laws.
New “enlightened” laws
The policy of enlightened absolutism was embodied in the laws adopted by Catherine II. One of the most significant is the decree, according to which anyone who has the opportunity can create factories and plants. And in 1767, citizens were allowed to earn their craft.
But nevertheless, the policy of absolutism could not bring real freedom, since no one has abolished serfdom. The contradictions that occurred in Catherine the Second's "The Mandate" were even more pronounced when she began to solve peasant issues. In 1766, the Empress proclaimed a task, the meaning of which was that it was necessary to give the peasants the right to own property. Catherine did not carry out the separation of all the settled land among the landowners, although the aristocracy insistently demanded this. She ordered the representatives of the Livonia nobility not to levy extortion from the peasants.
The success of the nobility
But still the nobles during the reign of Catherine II were able to achieve the fact that they were established almost limitless powers in relation to the serfs belonging to them. The year 1763 was remembered by the fact that a decree was issued, according to which the peasants who allowed themselves all kinds of audacity and liberties, except for severe punishment, would have to reimburse all the costs of maintaining a detachment of soldiers sent for them.
In 1765, landlords received the right to self-link serfs in the Siberian lands, to work on penal servitude. In 1767, another law appeared, according to which any complaint of a peasant against his actual owner was equated with a state crime. He was given a very severe punishment, which often passed the brink of cruelty. In fact, for the peasant the landowner was a judge with unlimited power. At the same time, the actions of the latter were not controlled by the authorities.
The central authorities underwent a major reform in order to strengthen absolutism. This was explained by the fact that, according to the empress, the Senate bit off a pie of power too large a piece. In 1764, the Senate was divided into 6 representative offices, two of which were located in Moscow, and the rest in St. Petersburg. Each department was appointed by an independent authority: it had a clearly defined circle of affairs and had its own office. This allowed the Senate to be significantly weakened. At the same time, the personal office of Catherine II became much more influential than before. From now on, legislative acts were prepared only under the control of the Empress herself. This is another proof of how vividly the unity of the monarch’s power was manifested, which characterized the Russian era of absolutism.
Local government reform
The reforms of local government were primarily aimed at strengthening the power of the emperor. In 1775, the project “Institutions on the Governance of Provinces”, which was developed by Catherine II independently, entered into force. The number of provinces and counties was increased, the power of the governor became sole (however, he was subordinate to the power of the monarch). Absolutism could also be found in this law. This was manifested in the fact that the principle of electing the judiciary was now acting in the state. They were separated from the administrative bodies and became class estates. Judicial institutions now consisted of three levels:
- The county and upper district court - to resolve cases of representatives of the nobility.
- The provincial magistrate and the city court - for ordinary citizens.
- Lower and upper punishment - for the peasant class.
In addition to him, a conscientious court was established in each province, which received complaints from those who had been in detention for more than three days, but they did not give the reason for the arrest and did not conduct any interrogation. If a citizen was not seen serious crimes, then he was released (this clearly shows an attempt to use the guarantee on the inviolability of the rights of the individual, which appeared in England).
The provincial Order of public charity is also imbued with enlightenment ideas. Its goal is to help citizens create hospitals, orphans, schools, etc.
Letters of Grant
Catherine also begins to develop letters of salary for the nobility, cities and state peasants. Act they begin in 1785. Through literacy, every hereditary nobleman was exempted from taxes, compulsory service, corporal punishment. He was given the right to any property, only a nobleman could sue him. In addition, a nobleman could open factories and plants, to trade. Noble communities from each province were given the opportunity to gather, choose their leader and lead the treasury. But the empress here also reminded of a single authority: the activity of such meetings was under the control of the governor of the province.
According to the letters, burghers (the so-called "average people") also received the right to inheritance and property. The merchants stood out strongly against the background of other citizens, as they were recorded in the guild, which gave many privileges: it was possible to pay off money from the recruitment service and were given exemption from official outfits. From now on, merchants of the first and second guilds, as well as eminent residents (among them bankers, scholars and artists), were now prohibited from using corporal punishment.
The center of the city government appointed a “general duma”, which included representatives of all city estates.
Project “Rural situation”
The Empress did not have time to finish the project “Rural Situation”, because after the revolution in France, Catherine’s attitude to educational ideas changed dramatically. In 1794 in one letter she even let slip that philosophical ideas do not lead to anything, except to destruction. In her opinion, the world will always need a sovereign, since the idea of universal freedom leads to madness alone.
Changes in foreign policy
Foreign policy instantly changed. When Catherine 2 believed in the ideas of “enlightenment”, the state had success on the world stage: a victory in two Turkish wars was won, as a result of which the entire north of the Black Sea fell to the Russian empire; Novorossiysk steppes and Crimea were conquered. In 1773 and 1793, sections of Poland took place, as a result of which the eastern part of Belarus and Right-Bank Ukraine became part of Russia. But after the course of Catherine II changed, she decided to give Gdansk, a large share of Wielkopolska and Torun. The Poles begin insurrections and revolts. In 1795 they were defeated and the third partition of Poland took place, as a result of which the Rzeczpospolita ceased to exist. Russia gained Lithuania, Courland and many other lands.