Absolute Monarchy: Definition, Features, Pros & Cons

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What is Absolute Monarchy?

The absolute monarchy, also known as monarchical absolutism, is a political regime whose power is concentrated in a single person, the king.

This was the characteristic political model of some European states, mainly France and Spain, from the 16th century to the end of the 18th century, approximately.

From the 18th century and together with the ideas of the Enlightenment, the concept of popular sovereignty and division of powers had a great diffusion, for which the absolute monarchies began to be questioned.

Absolute Monarchy - Portrait of Louis XIV

Hyacinthe Rigaud, Portrait of Louis XIV , also called “Sun King”, made in 1701.

Features of Absolute Monarchy

The main characteristics of the absolute monarchy are the following:

  • The power of the monarch is absolute: he administers the kingdom, sanctions the rules and laws, and controls their compliance. The decisions he makes are final and can only be reached by divine justice.
  • There are very few limits to royal authority: They are: divine law, that is, religious norms; the ancient traditions of the kingdom, called the law of nations, and the fundamental laws of the kingdom, such as the law of succession.
  • In general, the power of the monarch is transmitted through blood inheritance, that is, it is inherited between members of the same family and is for life.
  • The inhabitants of the state do not have the rights of citizens, but are subjects of the king.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Absolute Monarchy

Merits of Absolute Monarchy

Some advantages of the absolute monarchy are the following:

  • Political, economic, territorial and social measures are executed more quickly, since they do not merit any type of audit.
  • Being a hereditary position, the preparation for the position of king begins from an early age and is considered strict, careful and adequate for the correct exercise of the position.

Demerits of Absolute Majority

The disadvantages of the absolute monarchy are the following:

  • There are no elections or way of submitting the designation of the king or monarch to the consideration of the people. This is strictly hereditary and the people must abide by it as a divine decision.
  • The people do not have freedom of expression or rights  Decisions depend on a single person who holds all power.
  • The maintenance of the monarchy requires great expenses, which are obtained from tributes to the working classes.
  • There is no parliament or representation of the people in real decisions nor do the opinions of minorities take place.
  • There is no freedom of worship, absolute monarchies are under the influence of the Catholic Church, so the people have no opportunity to choose their religion.

Absolutism Philosophers

Monarchical absolutism was justified and rejected by different scholars of the period. Among those who argued in favor of this form of government are:

  • Jean Bodin (1530-1596) : French philosopher who maintained that, in order to rule, the king should not be subject to any power other than his own.
  • Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) : English philosopher who argued that society needs an authority that guarantees peace and order, for which people have to delegate their rights to the monarch, who should not have limitations to govern.
  • Jacques Benigne Bossuet (1627-1704): French writer who argued that the king’s authority came from God and that whoever opposed the king violated divine authority.

Examples of Countries Practicing Absolute Monarchy

Most of the monarchies that remain in force in Europe are of the constitutional or parliamentary type, since the absolute monarchies of the West were replaced by parliamentary, republican or republic monarchies, between the end of the 18th century and the first decades of the 19th century.

Among the absolute European monarchies, between the 16th and 18th centuries, we can highlight:

  • The Spanish monarchy during the reign of the Bourbon dynasty.
  • The French monarchy, especially during the reign of Louis XIV of Bourbon.
  • Although in England, the absolute monarchy did not materialize as a political regime, the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I had absolutist characteristics.

At present, there are some States that maintain characteristics of monarchical absolutism, for example Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Qatar and Oman.

  • Anderson, Perry. The absolutist state . XXI century. 2016.
  • Bobbio, Norberto. Thomas Hobbes . Mexico, Fund for Economic Culture. 1992.
  • Gil del Gallego, Adrián. Power and its legitimacy . Valencia, University of Valencia. 2002.
  • Bodin, Jean. The six books of the Republic . Madrid, Tecnos. 1992.
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