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Kings and Philosophers 1689-1789

In Kings and Philosophers 1689-1789 Leonard Krieger accepts the term "enlightened absolutist" and offers a comprehensive explanation of the integration of enlightened principles into the practice of such rulers. The notion of enlightened absolutism is often rejected as an irresolvable paradox. Catherine of Russia, Frederick of Prussia and Joseph II of Austria, it is argued, were absolutists, pure and simple, and their dalliance with Voltaire and others was merely self-indulgent role playing. The proof, it is held, is in their actions in international and domestic politics. But Krieger argues that these three monarchs could be called enlightened because they absorbed and put into practice some major tenets of the Enlightenment--especially those regarding the relationship between interest and virtue and the significance of rationality in human affairs--when, unlike the philosophes, they were faced with the problem of reconciling "recalcitrant facts" and "unrealized principles" (256).

The three enlightened monarchs held that man's freedom, welfare, rights, and happiness were the principles that guided them. There is no question, of course, that they regularly violated these principles in the pursuit of statecraft. In international affairs the three rulers exercised power without any regard for the rejection of force preached by the philosophes. In domestic affairs they were, to say the least, capricious in their application of the principles. But Krieger argues that discrepancies between belief and practice were not the result of hypocrisy but of the rulers' selective, practical employment of certain principles. The problems inherent in such selective application were, Krieger argues, inherent in the philosophes' theory itself. The enlightened absolutists brought rationality to bear on human affairs as a means of promoting liberal ideas in which they believed. If the continuation of absolutism, in a revised (but equally ab...

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Kings and Philosophers 1689-1789. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 22:54, June 24, 2019, from