Absolutism and Peter the Great

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Absolutism and Peter the Great Many monarchs, particularly those of European descent, employed the flourishing absolutist philosophy during their reign in the seventeenth century. Defined as the “absolute or unlimited rule usually by one man,” absolutism is virtually equivalent to the philosophy of despotism. A ruler incorporating the absolutist philosophy has complete control of his subjects and the highest authority with which to govern. With origins dating back to the Ancient Greeks, absolutism found root in some of Aristotle’s theories: “Aristotle despotic government (nearly convertible with tyrannical) is that of a single ruler that rules, not for the public good but for his own. ” And from Roman political theory “regarding the power of the monarch, there had survived, particularly, a legacy of ideas associated with the position and prestige of a ruler which greatly strengthened the power of a dynasty. Based on this Greek foundation in Aristotelian thought and Roman political theory, absolutism rose in other schools of philosophy as it gained prominence in the political world. Combining natural-law doctrines with the theory of royal absolutism, fourteenth century philosopher Bartolus of Sassoferrato believed that the ruler should not be bound to the laws of the government, but still should obey them whenever possible. In agreement with Bartolus, another fourteenth century philosopher, Lucas de Penna advocated that the ruler is only accountable to divine authority, being responsible to God alone, not the people. Further de Penna believed that law is the articulation of the ethical virtue of justice and reason is the foundation for that law. Thereby debasing the importance of the king’s obedience to established law. As civilization began to organize in city-states to individual countries to entire dynasties or empires, all needing some form of government, the people organized hierarchically. Establishing order under one appointed leader helped advance that civilization; those advances, however, quickly leveled out into a plateau of stagnation under the political unit of feudalism. During the seventeenth century, the various peoples of Western Europe enjoyed the many benefits of a relatively advanced civilization in many respects but were, with few exceptions, incapable of self-government… The result was that governmental authority was held by a number of rulers who assumed unto themselves all the responsibilities of political leadership. ” Lord Acton, a famous historian, while not advocating its use, believed that absolutism was highly necessary for the survival and actual allowance for European growth through her monarchs. Three characteristics that specifically mark a seventeenth century absolute monarch are charisma, active advocating of the Divine Right of kings, and innovativeness. Known as the period of transformation, the reign of Peter the Great in Russia was one of great change and revolutionary movements towards modernity. As the Tsar Reformer, Peter embraced his monarchy with zeal and absoluteness. He took an underdeveloped, primitive Russia and forcibly pushed her to the road of progress, secularism, modernity, and eventual rebirth. It was only through acknowledgment and utilization of his strengths and talents that provided Peter with the insight to accomplish such a feat. On September 22, 1689, Peter took control of the Russian throne under the guidance of his mother. Before taking position on the throne, Peter entered manhood through the vast amount of experiences he encountered at a very young age. “He lived through three coups d’etat, constant threats of violence against his family, seven years of semi-exile, his first military campaigns, an unprecedented journey to western Europe and a major revolt against his rule. From these bitter personal experiences, these painful political struggles, and these tentative approaches to war and government, Peter slowly learned the strengths and weaknesses of his heritage. ” As stated by V. O. Kliuchevsky, Peter’s “contradiction in work, his errors, his hesitations, his obstinacy, his lack of judgment in civil affairs, his uncontrollable cruelty, and, on the other hand his wholehearted love of his country, his stubborn devotion to his work, the broad, enlightened outlook he brought to bear on it, his daring plans conceived with creative genius and concluded with incomparable energy, and finally the uccess he achieved by the incredible sacrifices of his people and himself, all these different characteristics make it difficult to paint one painting” of the Tsarist Reformer. A multi-faceted man, Peter knew what it would take to deliver his people from the chaotic disorder of the past into a more peaceful progressive future. Boundless energy and an endless drive, Peter truly embodied the absolute stamina of a superhero. Employing the doctrine of the Divine Right of kings, Peter had no problem acting as the supreme authority with which he governed. In addition, he readily accepted any role permitted to him through this doctrine. In fact, in response to his responsibility as tsar, Peter became “a soldier-king, a European diplomat, and a social reformer” to name a few. Also known for his reforms, Peter transformed Russia politically, economically, and somewhat socially. Financially, Peter reopened trade for the Russians, creating a huge influx in their economy and bringing prosperity back into the system. His expansionist mindset allowed for the most startling development in trade to even occur. Thus, the emergence of Baltic trade. While Peter looked globally for ways to extend the Russian borders, he also concentrated on internal reform as well, such as internal transportation focused on the rivers of Russia. Overall, Peter’s commercial reforms were a huge success. Peter also geared his transforming abilities to that of the Russian Church. He chose not to focus on Church doctrine, but rather the people who use this doctrine. He wanted the people to be subject to his decree, not the mandate of the Church. Peter was suspicious of the Church’s political motivations and aspirations and chose not to trust in the papal leadership. He believed that the Russian Patriarch was trying to become ” a second sovereign possessing power equal to or above that of the autocrat,” thus challenging his belief in the Divine Right of kings. While Peter did not have any major accomplishments to speak of during his reign, he paved the way for the future leaders of Russia to push to the forefront of politics, trade, and economics.

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