The System Of Absolutism During The 17th And 18th Centuries In Europe

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During the 17th and 18th centuries, the system of absolutism swept across Europe, an absolute monarchy where the sovereign power has complete control over the state and rules by divine right. Louis XIV and Peter the great both rose to become prime examples of absolute monarchs through similar systems of centralized government and mercantilism and differed on ways to suppress groups; culturally versus by law and on reasons to expand, strategy compared to political advantage. These two figures of absolutism became the model of monarchy throughout Europe and dominated politically, economically and militarily. Their sovereign power consisted of authority to make laws, tax, administer justice, control the state’s administrative system and determine foreign policy.

To create an absolute monarchy, the sovereign ruler must construct a centralized government. A centralized state allowed the king to have complete domination over the economic, judicial, legislative, bureaucracy, and military branches of the government. Louis XIV did this by forcing his ministers and secretaries to be subservient unto him, which gave him control of the central policy-making machinery of government and thus authority over the traditional areas of monarchical power: the formulation of foreign policy, the making of war and peace, the assertion of the secular power of the crown against any religious authority, and the ability to raise and lower taxes. Peter reorganized the central government by creating the Senate as a ruling council to supervise the administrative machinery of the state while he was away on military campaigns. Peter inspired by the Western institution of colleges created boards of administrators entrusted with specific functions like foreign affairs, war, and justice. But to impose the rule of the reorganized central government more effectively throughout the land, Peter divided Russia into fifty provinces. In France, similarly, through a system created by Cardinal Richelieu, intendants for 32 districts were appointed by the king who was responsible to rule an area, recruit armies, collect taxes, administer local law, balance the power of local nobles, and regulate economic activity. Louis was able to assert political and economic control over the provincial law courts, Parlements, which were responsible for registering new laws sent to them by the king.

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No absolute monarchy, centralized government or not, always required a stable economy to support an entire kingdom along with the costs of wars of expansion, construction of political palaces, bureaucracy and more. To provide this, Louis XIV and Peter the Great both installed systems of mercantilism to help the economy grow and flourish. Mercantilism stressed government regulation of economic activities to benefit the state. Louis XIV ushered in mercantilism by appointing Jean-Baptiste Colbert as controller general of finance. To decrease the need for imports and increase exports, Colbert founded new luxury industries, such as the royal tapestry works at Beauvais and invited Italian artisans to France. Colbert installed a system to oversee the training of workers and granted special privileges, including tax exemptions, loans, and subsidies to individuals who established new industries and drew up instructions regulating the quality of goods produced. To decrease imports directly, Colbert raised tariffs on foreign goods and created a sturdy merchant fleet to export French goods. Investment in shipping and textile industries and improvements in transportation facilities allowed for greater economic growth in the eighteenth-century France. Similarly, Russia also faced economic struggles especially due to the enormous amount of money needed for Peter the Great’s immense army and navy. Peter adopted Western mercantilist policies to stimulate economic growth. He tried to increase exports and develop new industries while exploiting domestic resources like the Ural iron mines. To satisfy his military expenses he began to raise taxes which imposed additional burdens on the already oppressed peasants. The state fixed prices and had the right to purchase the first goods from the producers. The profits made by private businesses’ were limited to the surplus of produce leftover from the state.


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