Voltaire and Religious Toleration Essay

Submitted By Xtremery-Much
Words: 1500
Pages: 6

Chapter 18 Essay: Enlightened Monarchs Prompt: To what extent were the policies of the “enlightened monarchs” actually enlightened? The Enlightenment catalyzed several changes in western society. Thinkers of the Enlightenment utilized the scientific method developed by the thinkers of the Scientific Revolution to analyze humanity, leading to the development of the “social sciences” and coined the term “progress” in their belief that humans had the potential to create better societies and better people. Philosophes such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Paul d’Holbach reflected on whether our human nature was good or controlled, while the absolutist monarchs of France and the Catholic Church banned many publications. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant said that a truly enlightened monarch would allow the freedom of the press, and soon many monarchs such as Frederick II of Prussia, Catherine the Great of Russia, and Joseph II of Austria tried to enact enlightened reforms. While they tended to be enlightened in their cultural reforms, they tended to fall short in their social ones. Frederick II of Prussia was only a culturally enlightened monarch. He reorganized the judicial system, eliminating the cruel and unusual punishment generally enacted upon the Prussian convicts, also favoring judicial impartiality. He was able to spur investment, reorganize the bureaucracy and revitalize the agricultural economy. However, he still maintained a largely absolutist state. His true failure is depicted in his lack of social reform, however. Under him, the nobles simply became stronger and the serfs further subjugated, and he allowed full control by the Junker nobility. His religious toleration did not extend to all, defying the Voltairian concept of being open to all religions. In that sense, he was able to enact sweeping cultural reforms, but unable to fix the social problems as recommended by the Enlightenment thinkers. Next, Catherine the Great was an enlightened monarch in her ability to enact cultural reforms but failed by not enacting social ones. Catherine invited western thinking and painting to enter Russia, maintaining frequent contact with a French salon owner, Madame du Chatelet. She improved education, created a new law code and supported Diderot’s Encyclopedia. However, under her rule, the peasants were the most subjugated they had ever been. She savagely crushed their revolt, and granted the nobles tax-free access to controlling the serfs. She also denied the Jews religious toleration, again opposing Voltaire, despite Moses Mendelssohn’s appeals. Her inability to change or equalize the social structure showed her as a not-so-enlightened monarch despite her other progressive reforms. Finally, Joseph of Austria shows the eventual inability of a monarch during this age to be truly enlightened. Joseph’s mother before him, Maria Theresa, had fought the War of the Austrian Succession. Yet, she still enacted broad bureaucratic reforms. Joseph continued those reforms, and met the cultural criterion of the Enlightenment. He provided religious toleration for all, and banned serfdom, requiring them to be paid in cash. Unfortunately, such as infrastructure was not in place, and thus his successor Leopold repealed his reforms. Joseph’s truly progressive thinking modeled him as an enlightened monarch, however, his social attempts all ultimately failed. The enlightened monarchs Frederick II of Prussia, Catherine the Great of Russia, and Joseph of Austria all enacted sweeping reforms, but ultimately did not pass criteria for being considered an enlightened monarch due to their failure in the social sector, despite success in the cultural. The Enlightenment called for a more radical equalization and set the stage for revolutions which would fight for the liberties and basic human rights outlined by John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and other Enlightenment thinkers at any…