In absolutism, the sovereign power of a certain country or state rests in the hands of a monarch, a king or a queen, the “claims to rule by divine right” (Spielvogel 427). In the 16th century, absolutist states are ruled by kings. In an absolutist society, the king is sovereign and all powerful and they are answer only to one other entity which is God.
In the 16th to 17th century, citizens in Europe have already some idea what the state and being a citizen means. The state is seen as a political body where citizens are subject to certain duties and obligations. These duties and obligations are determined by the king. To regulate an absolutist state, the kings have armies and bureaucracies which are loyal only to him. Besides that, the nobility also answers to the king and obliges him in his every whim or decision.
Absolutism in France
In a French absolutist state, the king’s word was the law. France was one of the most successful absolutist states in the 16th century and one famous king was Louis XVI. He was known for the quote: "L'état, c'est moi" translated as “I am the state.”
The army played a very vital role in a French absolutist state. The army collected taxes from citizens. The taxes collected are brought back to the army to make it larger and powerful. It seems that for many citizens, people paid the army to make it a better collector of taxes. Being in the military was worth pursuing for the nobility as it was a symbol of monarchial authority and power.
Absolutism in England
England also attempted absolutism. It was the first Stuart Kings, James I (1603-1625) and Charles I (1625-1649), who attempted to turn England in a royal absolutist state. Though the two kings have the belief, they lacked wealth and a loyal army which set the stage for failure to establish absolutism in England.
The most important reason why absolutism failed in Spain was that the parliament and the monarchy were ingrained for so long in history that taking it down would be very difficult. The parliament or assembly always worked together with the monarch. During the time of the Stuarts, merchants and land lords strongly supported the assembly. Besides that, the arrangement was embedded in the political system for so long that they will not agree to relinquish their power to a single person or entity.
Absolutism in Spain
During the late 16th Century, Spain was one of the most powerful states when it came to military power and wealth. The king, Philip II, ruled alone and was considered as one of the first absolute rulers. He was the central source of authority as it expanded through foreign borders.
After the 1600s, Spain was slowly declining due to bad government. The expansion of the Spain’s power did more harm than good. One mistake that Spain did was it built it’s absolutist state abroad, while France with a very strong and successful absolute society focused internally in its own borders.
Does absolutism still exist in today’s world?
According to Blänkner (2004), the term has already undergone reevaluations and has become a historical term. In other words, it does no longer exist in West. The nearest absolutist states are several Muslim states like Oman, Qatar, Brunei and the like where the monarch still holds absolute power. However, one difference is that the sovereigns in these countries are called elected monarchs. They are no hereditary. Besides that, they do not rule by divine right, these countries also have a constitution. Though Britain still has a queen, she is only a symbol and not considered a political entity.
However, there are also totalitarian states that can be easily confused with absolutist states. Countries like North Korea and the late Soviet Union are a very good example but the difference between their rulers is that absolute rulers do not dictate all the facets of its citizen’s lives whereas dictators dictate even a citizen’s leisure. Another difference between an absolute ruler and dictator is that, more often than not, a dictator has seized power by force. An absolute ruler obtained power because of heredity and divine right.
Blänkner, Reinhard. "Absolutism." 9 September 2004. Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions. 3 October 2012. Web.
Kagan, Donald, Steven Ozment and Frank Turner. The Western Heritage, 9th Ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. Print
Sarsar, Saliba. "Can Democracy Prevail?" Middle East Quarterly March 2000: 39-48. Print.
Spielvogel, Jackson. Western Civilization. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.