Political Theory of Absolutism

Absolutism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was a political theory suited to the absolutist monarchies which had been coming into existence since the Reformation. As a theory, perhaps best personified in the work of Hobbes, absolutism justifies the absolute and organic rule of all aspects of society through a monarchy. It is a doctrine of the absolute right of the ruler; in other words, the affirmation that the ruler is not bound by any kind of moral or legal limitation. Instead, the philosophy of absolutism rested heavily upon conceptions of natural law--an interpretation of right and wrong based on a belief in the absolute Truths inherent in nature. One of these absolute Truths of natural law would later become known as the "divine right of kings," a belief that the monarchy is the natural order of society and thus stands above all human conceptions of morality or law.

In the four centuries preceding the Protestant Reformation, various natural law theories predominated, of which that of the thirteenth-century philosopher Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) eventually became the best known. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Thomist natural law theory was challenged by those who, like William of Ockham, believed in the priority of will over reason, both at the divine and human levels, as well as those who, like Marsilius of Padua, and later Machiavelli, believed in the quintessentially coercive character of all government and law. In the sixteenth century, Luthe



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