Enlightened absolutism

Enlightened absolutism (also called enlightened despotism or benevolent despotism) refers to the conduct and policies of European absolute monarchs during the 18th and 19th centuries who were influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment, espousing them to enhance their power.[1] The concept originated during the Enlightenment period in the 18th and into the early 19th centuries.

An enlightened despot is a non-democratic or authoritarian leader who exercises their political power for the benefit of the people, rather than exclusively for themselves or elites.

Enlightened despots distinguished themselves from ordinary despots by claiming to rule for their subjects' well-being. They may focus government priorities on healthcare, education, nonviolent population control, or physical infrastructure. The leader may profess a commitment to peaceful relations and/or allow some democratic decision-making, such as public referenda, but would not propose reforms that undermined their sovereignty or disrupted the social order. Some people say that despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement.[2]

Enlightened despots' beliefs about royal power were typically similar to those of regular despots, both believing that they were destined to rule. Enlightened rulers may have played a part in the abolition of serfdom in Europe.[3]

The enlightened despot Emperor Joseph II of Austria summarized, "Everything for the people, nothing by the people".[4]


Enlightened absolutism is the theme of an essay by Frederick the Great, who ruled Prussia from 1740 to 1786, defending this system of government.[5] When the prominent French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire fell out of favor in France, he eagerly accepted Frederick's invitation to live at his palace. He believed that an enlightened monarchy was the only real way for society to advance. Frederick was an enthusiast of French ideas. Frederick explained: "My principal occupation is to combat ignorance and prejudice ... to enlighten minds, cultivate morality, and to make people as happy as it suits human nature, and as the means at my disposal permit."[6]

Enlightened absolutists held that royal power emanated not from divine right but from a social contract whereby a despot was entrusted with the power to govern through a social contract in lieu of any other governments. The monarchs of enlightened absolutism strengthened their authority by improving the lives of their subjects. This philosophy implied that the sovereign knew that the interests of his or her subjects better than they themselves did. The monarch taking responsibility for the subjects precluded their political participation.

The difference between an absolutist and an enlightened absolutist is based on a broad analysis of the degree to which they embraced the Age of Enlightenment. Historians debate the actual implementation of enlightened absolutism. They distinguish between the "enlightenment" of the ruler personally, versus that of his or her regime. For example, Frederick the Great was tutored in the ideas of the French Enlightenment in his youth, and maintained those ideas in his private life as an adult, but in many ways was unable or unwilling to effect enlightened reforms in practice.[7] Other rulers such as the Marquis of Pombal, prime minister of Portugal, used the ideas and practices of the Enlightenment not only to achieve reforms but also to enhance autocracy, crush opposition, suppress criticism, advance colonial economic exploitation, and consolidate personal control and profit.

The concept of enlightened absolutism was formally described by the German historian Wilhelm Roscher in 1847[8] and remains controversial among scholars.[9]

Centralized control necessitated centralized systematic information on the nation. A major renovation was the collection, use and interpretation of numerical and statistical data, ranging from trade statistics, harvest reports, death notices to population censuses. Starting in the 1760s, officials in France and Germany began increasingly to rely on quantitative data for systematic planning, especially regarding long-term economic growth. It combined the utilitarian agenda of "enlightened absolutism" with the new ideas being developed in economics. In Germany and France, the trend was especially strong in Cameralism and Physiocracy. [10]

Major nations

Governmental responses to the Age of Enlightenment varied widely. In several nations with powerful rulers, called "enlightened despots" by historians, leaders of the Enlightenment were welcomed at Court and helped design laws and programs to reform the system, typically to build stronger national states.[11] Government responses to the Age of Enlightenment varied widely. In France the government was hostile, and the philosophes fought against its censorship. The British government generally ignored the Enlightenment's leaders.

However in several nations with powerful rulers--called "enlightened despots" by historians--leaders of the Enlightenment were welcomed at Court and helped design laws and programs to reform the system, typically to build stronger national states.

Frederick the Great--who ruled Prussia 1740-1786, was an enthusiast for French ideas (he ridiculed German culture and was unaware of the remarkable advances it was undergoing). Voltaire, who had been imprisoned and maltreated by the French government, was eager to accept Frederick's invitation to live at his palace. Frederick explained, "My principal occupation is to combat ignorance and prejudice ... to enlighten minds, cultivate morality, and to make people as happy as it suits human nature, and as the means at my disposal permit.[12] He wrote an essay on "Benevolent Despotism" defending this system of government.[13]

Tsarina Catherine II of Russia sponsored the Russian Enlightenment. She incorporated many ideas of Enlightenment philosophers, especially Montesquieu, in her Nakaz, which was intended to revise Russian law. However inviting the famous French philosophe Denis Diderot to her court worked out poorly.[14]

Charles III, king of Spain from 1759 to 1788, tried to rescue his empire from decay through far-reaching reforms such as weakening the Church and its monasteries, promoting science and university research, facilitating trade and commerce, modernizing agriculture and avoiding wars. The centralization of power in Madrid angered the local nobility, and challenge the traditional autonomy of cities, so that resistance grew steadily. Consequently, Spain relapsed after his death. [15][16]

Emperor Joseph II, ruler of Austria 1780-1790, was over-enthusiastic, announcing so many reforms that had so little support that revolts broke out and his regime became a comedy of errors.[17]

In some countries the initiative came not from rulers but from senior officials such as the Marquis of Pombal, who was Joseph I of Portugal's Secretary of State.[18] For a brief period in Denmark Johann Friedrich Struensee attempted to govern in terms of Enlightenment principles. After issuing 1069 decrees in 13 months covering many major reforms, his enemies overthrew him and he was hanged, drawn and quartered.[19]

Associated rulers

Leaders such as Napoleon Bonaparte, Fidel Castro, Benito Mussolini (at least until the war against Ethiopia), António Salazar, Joseph Stalin, Isaias Afwerki, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Lee Kuan Yew, Mao Zedong, Pervez Musharraf and the Medici dynasty adopted the title. Long-seated dictators are more likely to be regarded as enlightened because they acknowledge public interest in order to remain in power and to be regarded as legitimate.

In Spanish the word dictablanda is sometimes used for a dictatorship that preserves some of the liberties and mechanisms of democracy.

Chinese Legalism

Xuezhi Guo contrasts the Confucian ideal of a "humane ruler" (renjun) with the ideal of Chinese Legalists, who he says "intended to create a truly 'enlightened ruler' (mingjun) who is able to effectively rule the masses and control his bureaucracy"; this ruler would be a "skilful manipulator and successful politician who uses means or 'technique' in achieving self-protection and political control." Guo quotes Benjamin I. Schwartz as describing the features of "a truly Legalist 'enlightened ruler'":[25]

He must be anything but an arbitrary despot if one means by a despot a tyrant who follows all his impulses, whims and passions. Once the systems which maintain the entire structure are in place, he must not interfere with their operation. He may use the entire system as a means to the achievement of his national and international ambitions, but to do so he must not disrupt it's impersonal workings. He must at all times be able to maintain an iron wall between his private life and public role. Concubines, friends, flatterers and charismatic saints must have no influence whatsoever on the course of policy, and he must never relax his suspicions of the motives of those who surround him.[26][25]

See also

Opposing theories


  1. ^ Perry, Chase & Jacob 2015, p. 442.
  2. ^ Mill 1989, p. 13.
  3. ^ "Disappearance of Serfdom. France. England. Italy. Germany. Spain". www.1902encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2015-12-07.
  4. ^ World of the Habsburgs. "Joseph II: The long-awaited son". Textmode. World of the Habsburgs. Retrieved 2015-10-21. ‘Everything for the people, nothing by the people’
  5. ^ Reprinted in Isaac Kramnick (1995). The Portable Enlightenment Reader. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-024566-0. Retrieved 26 August 2013.
  6. ^ Giles MacDonogh, Frederick the Great: A Life in Deed and Letters (2001) p. 341
  7. ^ H.M. Scott, ed., Enlightened Absolutism: Reform and Reformers in Later Eighteenth-Century Europe, (University of Michigan Press, 1990)
  8. ^ A. Lentin (ed.), Enlightened Absolutism (1760-1790), Aveiro, 1985, p. ix.
  9. ^ Charles Ingrao, "The Problem of 'Enlightened Absolutism and the German States," Journal of Modern History Vol. 58, Supplement: Politics and Society in the Holy Roman Empire, 1500–1806 (Dec., 1986), pp. S161–S180 in JSTOR
  10. ^ Lars Behrisch, "Statistics and Politics in the 18th Century." Historical Social Research/Historische Sozialforschung (2016) 41#2: 238-257. online
  11. ^ Stephen J. Lee, Aspects of European history, 1494–1789 (1990) pp. 258–66
  12. ^ Giles MacDonogh, Frederick the Great: A Life in Deed and Letters (2001) p 341
  13. ^ Reprinted in Isaac Kramnick, ed. The Portable Enlightenment Reader (1995)
  14. ^ Isabel de Madariaga, "Catherine the Great" in H. M. Scott ed., Enlightened Absolutism (1990).
  15. ^ Nicholas Henderson, "Charles III of Spain: An Enlightened Despot," History Today, Nov 1968, Vol. 18 Issue 10, p673-682 and Issue 11, pp 760-768
  16. ^ Francisco Javier Guillamón Álvarez, "Institutional Reform and Municipal Government in the Spanish Empire in the Eighteenth Century." Itinerario 20.3 (1996): 109-123.
  17. ^ Nicholas Henderson, "Joseph II", History Today (March 1991) 41:21-27
  18. ^ Benjamin Otis Frick, The Enlightened Despotism of the Eighteenth Century in Portugal: The Marquis of Pombal (1902).
  19. ^ Henry Steele Commager, "Struensee and the Enlightenment," The search for a usable past, and other essays in historiography (1967) pp 349-623.
  20. ^ McKay, "A History of Western Society", Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006, pp.616–19
    • Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman R K. Massie, "Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman", Random House, 2012
  21. ^ a b c d H.M. Scott, 1990, p. 1.
  22. ^ H.M. Scott, 1990, pp. 265ff
  23. ^ a b H. Arnold Barton, Scandinavia in the Revolutionary Era 1760–1815, University of Minnesota Press, 1986, pp.142ff. ISBN 0-8166-1392-3.
  24. ^ Bearne, Catherine Mary (1907). A Sister of Marie Antoinette: The Life-Story of Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples. T. Fisher Unwin: London, p. 142.
  25. ^ a b Guo, Xuezhi (2002). The Ideal Chinese Political Leader: A Historical and Cultural Perspective. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers. p. 141.
  26. ^ Benjanmin I. Schwartz p. 345, The World of Thought in Ancient China

Further reading

  • Gagliardo, John G. (1967). Enlightened Despotism.
  • Gershoy, Leo. (1963). From Despotism to Revolution, 1763–1789 (1944). online free to borrow
  • Mill, John Stuart (1989). J. S. Mill: 'On Liberty' and Other Writings. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-37917-5.
  • Mueller, Christine L. (1994) "Enlightened Absolutism" Austrian History Yearbook: 1994 , Vol. 25, pp159-183. Covers the recent historiography of the role in 18th-century Austrian statecraft.
  • Perry, Marvin; Chase, Myrna; Jacob, James; Jacob, Margaret; Daly, Jonathan (2015). Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society, Volume I: To 1789. Cengage Learning. ISBN 978-1-305-44548-2.
  • Scott, H. M. ed. (1990). Enlightened Absolutism: Reform and Reformers in Later Eighteenth-Century Europe.
  • Szabo, Franz. Kaunitz and Enlightened Absolutism 1753-1780 (1994) online as ACLS Humanities E-Book

External links

Age of Enlightenment

The Enlightenment (also known as The Age of Enlightenment or The Age of Reason) was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 18th century, the "Century of Philosophy".French historians traditionally place the Enlightenment between 1715 (the year that Louis XIV died) and 1789 (the beginning of the French Revolution). International historians begin the period in the 1620s, with the start of the scientific revolution. Les philosophes (French for "the philosophers") of the period widely circulated their ideas through meetings at scientific academies, Masonic lodges, literary salons, coffee houses and in printed books and pamphlets. The ideas of the Enlightenment undermined the authority of the monarchy and the Church and paved the way for the political revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries. A variety of 19th-century movements, including liberalism and neo-classicism, trace their intellectual heritage to the Enlightenment.The Enlightenment included a range of ideas centered on reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy and came to advance ideals like liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government and separation of church and state. In France, the central doctrines of the Enlightenment philosophers were individual liberty and religious tolerance, in opposition to an absolute monarchy and the fixed dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. The Enlightenment was marked by an emphasis on the scientific method and reductionism, along with increased questioning of religious orthodoxy—an attitude captured by the phrase Sapere aude, "Dare to know".

Alexander Amilakhvari

Prince Alexander Amilakhvari (Georgian: ალექსანდრე ამილახვარი, Alek'sandre Amilakhvari; Russian: Александр Дмитриевич Амилахоров, Aleksandr Dmitrievich Amilakhorov) (October 20, 1750 – 1802) was a Georgian nobleman and author who was a supporter of enlightened absolutism and also openly opposed King Erekle II’s rule.

A member of the Amilakhvari, one of the leading noble families of Georgia, he was involved in, along with his father, a 1765 coup plot aimed at deposing Erekle II in favour of Prince Paata, a pretender to the Georgian throne. After the plot collapsed, he was arrested and mutilated (his nose was cut). In 1771, however, he escaped from prison and fled to the Russian Empire where he joined Prince Alexander, another Georgian pretender-in-exile. With the Russo-Georgian rapprochement, Amilakhvari was arrested in 1783 by the Russian Government at Erekle’s request and held in the Vyborg prison. The 1801 amnesty resulted in Amilakhvari being granted his freedom and he was allowed to return to Georgia. However, he died while making his way back to Astrakhan.

Amilakhvari’s political pamphlet – A Georgian History – published in St. Petersburg in 1779, related his own story and described Georgia’s political and social life during the latter half of the 18th century. At the same time, the author overtly attacked the Georgian autocracy and criticised Erekle II along with every aspect of his rule. Another of his works The Sage of the Orient (ბრძენი აღმოსავლეთისა) was influenced by some of the ideas coming out of the contemporaneous French Enlightenment and was essentially a project to reform the Kingdom of Georgia based around the decentralisation of royal authority.

Anthony Ulrich, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel

Anthony Ulrich (German: Anton Ulrich; 4 October 1633 – 27 March 1714), a member of the House of Welf, was Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and ruling Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel from 1685 until 1702 jointly with his elder brother Rudolph Augustus, and solely from 1704 until his death. He was one of the main proponents of enlightened absolutism among the Brunswick dukes.

Georg Adam, Prince of Starhemberg

Johann Georg Adam Graf von Starhemberg, since 1765 Fürst von Starhemberg (prince of Starhemberg) (10 August 1724 in London – 19 April 1807 in Vienna) was an Austrian diplomat, minister, chief chamberlain and close confidant of Empress Maria Theresa

Georg I, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen

Georg I Frederick Karl, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen (4 February 1761 in Frankfurt – 24 December 1803 in Meiningen), was Duke of Saxe-Meiningen from 1782 to 1803. He was known as a reformer and considered a model prince by many of his peers.

History of the Lands of the Bohemian Crown (1648–1867)

The Czech lands, then also known as Lands of the Bohemian Crown, were largely subject to the Habsburgs from the end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648 until the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867. There were invasions by the Turks early in the period, and by the Prussians in the next century. The Habsburgs consolidated their rule and under Maria Theresa (1740–1780) adopted enlightened absolutism, with distinct institutions of the Bohemian Kingdom absorbed into centralized structures. After the Napoleonic Wars and the establishment of the Austrian Empire, a Czech National Revival began as a scholarly trend among educated Czechs, led by figures such as František Palacký. Czech nationalism took a more politically active form during the 1848 revolution, and began to come into conflict not only with the Habsburgs but with emerging German nationalism.

Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor

Joseph II (German: Josef Benedikt Anton Michel Adam; English: Joseph Benedict Anthony Michael Adam; 13 March 1741 – 20 February 1790) was Holy Roman Emperor from August 1765 and sole ruler of the Habsburg lands from November 1780 until his death. He was the eldest son of Empress Maria Theresa and her husband, Emperor Francis I, and the brother of Marie Antoinette. He was thus the first ruler in the Austrian dominions of the House of Lorraine, styled Habsburg-Lorraine. Joseph was a proponent of enlightened absolutism; however, his commitment to modernizing reforms subsequently engendered significant opposition, which resulted in failure to fully implement his programmes. He has been ranked, with Catherine the Great of Russia and Frederick the Great of Prussia, as one of the three great Enlightenment monarchs. His policies are now known as Josephinism. He died with no sons and was succeeded by his younger brother, Leopold II.

Kristóf Niczky

Count Kristóf Niczky de Niczk (February 11, 1725, Sümeg — December 26, 1787, Buda) was an influential Habsburg bureaucrat under Maria Theresa and Joseph II.

Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor

Leopold II (Peter Leopold Joseph Anton Joachim Pius Gotthard; 5 May 1747 – 1 March 1792) was Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary, and Bohemia from 1790 to 1792, and Archduke of Austria and Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1765 to 1790. He was a son of Emperor Francis I and his wife, Empress Maria Theresa, and the brother of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France and Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor. Leopold was a moderate proponent of enlightened absolutism. He granted the Academy of Georgofili his protection.

Maria Carolina of Austria

Maria Carolina of Austria (Maria Carolina Louise Josepha Johanna Antonia; 13 August 1752 – 8 September 1814) was Queen of Naples and Sicily as the wife of King Ferdinand IV & III. As de facto ruler of her husband's kingdoms, Maria Carolina oversaw the promulgation of many reforms, including the revocation of the ban on Freemasonry, the enlargement of the navy under her favourite, John Acton, 6th Baronet, and the expulsion of Spanish influence. She was a proponent of enlightened absolutism until the advent of the French Revolution, when, in order to prevent its ideas gaining currency, she made Naples a police state.

Born an Austrian archduchess, the thirteenth child of Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Francis I, she married Ferdinand as part of an Austrian alliance with Spain, where Ferdinand's father was king. Following the birth of a male heir in 1775, Maria Carolina was admitted to the Privy Council. Thereafter, she dominated it until 1812, when she was sent back to Vienna. Like her mother, Maria Carolina took pains to make politically advantageous marriages for her children. Maria Carolina promoted Naples as a centre of the arts, patronising painters Jacob Philipp Hackert and Angelica Kauffman and academics Gaetano Filangieri, Domenico Cirillo and Giuseppe Maria Galanti. Maria Carolina, abhorring how the French treated their queen, her sister Marie Antoinette, allied Naples with Britain and Austria during the Napoleonic and French Revolutionary Wars. As a result of a failed Neapolitan invasion of French-occupied Rome, she fled to Sicily with her husband in December 1798. One month later, the Parthenopean Republic was declared, which repudiated Bourbon rule in Naples for six months. Deposed as Queen of Naples for a second time by French forces, in 1806, Maria Carolina died in Vienna in 1814, a year before her husband's restoration to Naples.

New Monarchs

The New Monarchs was a concept developed by European historians during the first half of the 20th century to characterize 15th-century European rulers who unified their respective nations, creating stable and centralized governments. This centralization allowed for an era of worldwide colonization and conquest in the 16th century, and paved the way for rapid economic growth in Europe. Many historians argue the Military Revolution made possible, and indeed made necessary, formation of strong central governments in order to maximize military strength that could enable conquest and prevent being conquered.The best examples of New Monarchs are, chronologically:

John I of Portugal — terminated the political anarchy and began the Portuguese period of discoveries

Charles VII of France — ended civil disputes

Louis XI of France — united France, reorganized the economy, and weakened the power of the nobility

Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon — They never combined their territory. They always ruled their own land independently, weakened the power of the nobility, completed the Reconquista, reformed the state finances, the law, the church, the army and began the age of Spanish exploration. They also outlawed all religions except Catholicism.

Henry VII of England — ended the War of the Roses, brought England from bankruptcy to prosperity, built up the Royal Navy, and unified England politically by eliminating potential competitors to the throne, pacifying Yorkist resistance by marrying Elizabeth of York, and checking the power of the nobility.The Achievements of the New Monarchs:

Limiting the power of the feudal aristocracy

Creating efficient, centralized systems of taxation

Maintaining a standing army loyal to the monarch

Encouraging some sense of national identity (but by no means nationalism yet)

Fostering trade, both internally and externally

Enforcing religious unity within their countriesWhile Peter the Great ruled two centuries after the New Monarchs, he is sometimes considered the New Monarch of Russia, accomplishing for his country very much what the New Monarchs did for theirs.

After the New Monarchs, the Absolutist Monarchs gained sway, to be followed by the Enlightened Absolutism.

Philosopher king

According to Plato, a philosopher king is a ruler who possesses both a love of knowledge, as well as intelligence, reliability, and a willingness to live a simple life. Such are the rulers of his utopian city Kallipolis. For such a community to ever come into being, "philosophers [must] become kings…or those now called kings [must]…genuinely and adequately philosophize" (The Republic, 5.473d).


Physiocracy (French: Physiocratie; from the Greek for "government of nature") is an economic theory developed by a group of 18th-century Enlightenment French economists who believed that the wealth of nations was derived solely from the value of "land agriculture" or "land development" and that agricultural products should be highly priced. Their theories originated in France and were most popular during the second half of the 18th century. Physiocracy is one of the first well-developed theories of economics.

The movement was particularly dominated by François Quesnay (1694–1774) and Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot (1727–1781). It immediately preceded the first modern school, classical economics, which began with the publication of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations in 1776.

The most significant contribution of the physiocrats was their emphasis on productive work as the source of national wealth. This is in contrast to earlier schools, in particular mercantilism, which often focused on the ruler's wealth, accumulation of gold, or the balance of trade. Whereas the mercantilist school of economics said that value in the products of society was created at the point of sale, by the seller exchanging his products for more money than the products had "previously" been worth, the physiocratic school of economics was the first to see labor as the sole source of value. However, for the physiocrats, only agricultural labor created this value in the products of society. All "industrial" and non-agricultural labors were "unproductive appendages" to agricultural labor.At the time the physiocrats were formulating their ideas, economies were almost entirely agrarian. That is presumably why the theory considered only agricultural labor to be valuable. Physiocrats viewed the production of goods and services as equivalent to the consumption of the agricultural surplus, since the main source of power was from human or animal muscle and all energy was derived from the surplus from agricultural production. Profit in capitalist production was really only the "rent" obtained by the owner of the land on which the agricultural production was taking place."The physiocrats damned cities for their artificiality and praised more natural styles of living. They celebrated farmers." They called themselves Les Économistes, but are generally referred to as physiocrats to distinguish them from the many schools of economic thought that followed them.

Soft despotism

Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people.

Soft despotism gives people the illusion that they are in control, when in fact they have very little influence over their government. Soft despotism breeds fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the general populace. Alexis de Tocqueville observed that this trend was avoided in America only by the "habits of the heart" of its 19th-century populace.

The two Spains

The two Spains (Spanish: Ser de España) is a phrase from a short poem by Spanish poet Antonio Machado. The phrase, referring to the left-right political divisions that later led to the Spanish Civil War, originated in a short, untitled poem, number LIII of his Proverbios y Cantares (Proverbs and Songs).

Antonio Machado himself is an example of this split.

While he wrote a poem to honor the Communist General Enrique Líster, his brother Manuel Machado dedicated another poem to the saber of the rebel Generalissimo Francisco Franco.

The idea of a divided Spain, each half antagonistic to the other half, dates back at least to 19th-century Spanish satirist Mariano José de Larra, who, in his article "All Souls' Day 1836" ["Día de difuntos de 1836"] wrote "Here lies half of Spain. It died of the other half." Later, philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, Machado's contemporary, developed the idea through the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau struggling for dominance in their mother's womb, as in the article "Rebeca" (1914), which may pre-date Machado's quatrain. But historians trace the idea still further back, to the 17th and 18th centuries and the formation of the Spanish character.Historian Charles J. Esdaile describes Machado's "two Spains" as "the one clerical, absolutist and reactionary, and the other secular, constitutional and progressive," but views this picture of the first Spain as "far too simplistic", in that it lumps the enlightened absolutism of the 18th century Bourbon monarchs with the reactionary politics that simply wanted to restore the "untrammeled enjoyment" of the privileges of the Church and aristocracy. In addition, he states that the populacho—the mass of the common people "pursuing a dimly perceived agenda of their own"—were not loyal to any of these on any long term basis.

Thomas Wizenmann

Thomas Wizenmann (1759 – 1787) was a German philosopher of the Enlightenment, a critic of Kant and Mendelssohn during the Pantheism controversy. He wrote Die Resultate der Jacobischer und Mendelsohnischen Philosophie kritisch erläutert von einem Freywilligen. Wizenmann was a follower of F. H. Jacobi, a critic of Enlightenment Rationalism.

Wenzel Anton, Prince of Kaunitz-Rietberg

Wenzel Anton, Prince of Kaunitz-Rietberg (German: Wenzel Anton Reichsfürst von Kaunitz-Rietberg, Czech: Václav Antonín z Kounic a Rietbergu; 2 February 1711 – 27 June 1794) was an Austrian and Czech diplomat and statesman in the Habsburg Monarchy. A proponent of enlightened absolutism, he held the office of State Chancellor for about four decades and was responsible for the foreign policies during the reigns of Maria Theresa, Joseph II, and Leopold II. In 1764, he was elevated to the noble rank of a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire (Reichfürst).

Wilhelm Georg Friedrich Roscher

Wilhelm Georg Friedrich Roscher (German: [ˈʁɔʃɐ]; October 21, 1817 – June 4, 1894) was a German economist from Hanover.

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