Absolutism is a form of governance in which absolute or sovereign powers are in the hands of the king which include authority to make laws, develop foreign policy and administer both justice and state affairs. King Louis XIV of France is considered to be a classic example of absolutism. He introduced the first true form of absolutist government in France in the 16th century.
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Characteristics of Louis XIV’s absolutist government
Louis XIV stripped the nobles of the French society from all of their powers and took complete control over all of the state powers. Domestically Louis XIV introduced a royal council system which is still followed by countries which have absolutist form of governments for example; United Arab Emirates, Saudia Arabia, Brunei etc. Although these royal councils comprised of ministers who held key posts and played a crucial role in the running of the state but they were still accountable to the king. Modern day kingdoms still have this characteristic which displays ultimate authority of the king for example; the king could force any of his ministers to vacant his or her post and could also order complete abolition of the post held by that minister without the need to provide a reason.
Although Louis XIV was not answerable to any council but he was certainly restricted by the conventional notions of natural law i.e. it was expected of him to respect and protect the rights and properties of his people. Similarly in many modern day absolutist governments though the king is not accountable in front of a governing body but it is expected of him to entail a sense of self righteousness. (Beik, 3)
Advantages and disadvantages of Absolutist governments
- An absolutist form of government can be considerably beneficial where continuance of policies is crucial.
- Bureaucracy and opposition can considerably slow down the decision making and outcomes of decisions taken which can result in suffering for the masses. Since absolutism abolishes the concept of bureaucracy or opposition for that matter therefore decision making can be prompt and more focused on creating welfare for the general public.
- Absolutism can play a major role in restoring and maintaining order and security. This is true of many absolutist governments today for instance; Saudia Arabia and many other Middle Eastern countries where crime rate and political instability has remained at a bare minimum. This benefit of an absolutist government has also been witnessed in more democratic countries particularly Pakistan and Thailand where military coups have been witnessed for restoration of law and order.
- Absolutism allows an individual to enjoy unrestrained powers over a complete nation which gives rise to inequality.
- It has been seen time and again that too much power can lead an individual (in this case the king or monarch) to make irrational and shallow decisions at the expense of the general public.
- The people don’t have any say whatsoever in the matters of the state and are expected to show unconditional loyalty to the king. This can lead to a lack of sense of right and wrong among the masses. (Fiero, 26)
Absolutist governments even exist today and the primary reason why some countries still keep their monarchs is the belief that the royal family is wiser and nobler among the people and hence better suited to run the matters of state.
Beik, William. Louis XIV and absolutism: a brief study with documents. Palgrave Macmillan, 2000.
Fiero, Gloria. K. The Humanistic Tradition-Book 5. Mc-Graw Hill Professional, 2002.