Enlightened absolutism"Benevolent Dictator" redirects here. For information about the Free Software movement, whose leaders are sometimes called Benevolent Dictators, see Free Software Movement.
Enlightened absolutism (also known as benevolent despotism or enlightened despotism) is a form of despotism in which rulers were influenced by the Enlightenment. Enlightened monarchs embraced the principles of the Enlightenment, especially its emphasis upon rationality, and applied them to their territories. They tended to allow religious toleration, freedom of speech and the press, and the right to hold private property. Most fostered the arts, sciences, and education.
Enlightened absolutists' beliefs about royal power were often similar to those of absolute monarchs, in that many believed that they had the right to govern by birth and generally refused to grant constitutions, seeing even the most pro-monarchy ones as being an inherent check on their power. The difference between an absolutist and an enlightened absolutist is based on a broad analysis of how far they embraced Enlightenment. In particular, the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II can be said to have fully embraced the enlightened concept of the social contract. In contrast, Empress Catherine II of Russia entirely rejected the concept of the social contract while taking up many ideas of the Enlightenment, for example by being a great patron of the arts in Imperial Russia and incorporating many ideas of enlightened philosophers, especially Montesquieu, in her Nakaz, to a committee meant to revise Russian law.
In effect, the monarchs ruled with the intent of improving the lives of their subjects in order to strengthen or reinforce their authority. For example, the abolition of serfdom in some regions of Europe was achieved by enlightened rulers. In the spirit of enlightened absolutism, Emperor Joseph II said, "Everything for the people, nothing by the people."
Voltaire was a prominent Enlightenment philosopher who felt enlightened despotism was the only real way for society to advance.
- Akbar the Great
- Charles III of Spain
- Catherine II of Russia
- Gustav III of Sweden
- Frederick II of Prussia
- Frederick VI of Denmark
- Henry IV of France
- Joseph I of Portugal
- Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor
- Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor, Grand Duke of Tuscany
- Maria Theresa of Austria
- Emperor Meiji of Japan
- Muhammad Ali of Egypt
- Napoleon I of France
- William I of the Netherlands
- Peter I of Russia
- Kangxi Emperor of China, who originally influenced Voltaire's thoughts on the subject.
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The benevolent dictator is a more modern version of the concept, being an undemocratic or authoritarian leader who exercises his or her political power for the benefit of the people rather than exclusively for his or her own self-interest or benefit, or for the benefit of only a small portion of the people. A benevolent dictator, for example, may focus government priorities on matters of public importance, such as healthcare, education, population control, or general city infrastructure. He or she may be committed to peaceful relations, rather than wars or invasions of other states, and may even allow for some democratic decision-making to exist, such as through public referendums.
Origins and characteristics
The concept of the benevolent dictator originates the Ancient Jewish belief in the coming of the Moshiach. Traditionally, it is be a King chosen by God to lead Israel to a time of peace. The idea is furthered with Plato in The Republic, a speculation on the ideal society. Plato divides the populace into classes. Those in the governing class are the "Philosopher kings", who wield almost complete authority on the assumption that they are completely motivated by the best interests of the society.
Most dictators' regimes unfailingly portray themselves as benevolent, and often tend to regard democratic regimes as messy, inefficient, and corrupt. Additionally, many dictators may attempt to openly spread misinformation about their benevolence in an attempt to create a personality cult.
Like many political classifications, the title of benevolent dictator suffers from its inherent subjectivity. Such leaders as Napoleon Bonaparte, Fidel Castro, Benito Mussolini (at least until war against Ethiopia), Francisco Franco, Caterina de' Medici and the Medici dynasty, Juan and Eva Perón, and others have been characterized by some as benevolent dictators. In all these cases it depends largely on one's point of view as to just how "benevolent" they were or are. In many cases dictators who serve in office for a very lengthy period are more likely to be regarded as benevolent, for the simple reason that they will often be forced to pay some attention to the public's interests in order to remain in power, and more importantly, be regarded as politically legitimate. Dictators who hold office for a brief period of time, or are simply members of a rotating dictatorial elite (for example see the Generals) may have less charismatic authority and prove to be forgettable and easier to demonize.
In the Spanish language, the word dictablanda is sometimes used for a dictatorship conserving some of the liberties and mechanisms of democracy. (The pun is that, in Spanish, dictadura is "dictatorship", dura is "hard" and blanda is "soft").v • d • eForms of Governmentand Methods of Rule: Autocraticand AuthoritarianAutocratic Dictatorship · Tyranny · Absolute monarchy · Despotate · Emirate · Empire · Khanate · Sultanate · Other monarchical titles · Enlightened absolutism Other Authoritarian Military dictatorship(often a Junta) · Oligarchy · Single-party state(Communist state · Fascist(oid) state) · de facto: Illiberal democracyTotalitarian Caliphate · Velayat-e faqih · Totalitarian democracy
- ^ Singapore Leads the Good Life Under a Benevolent Dictator The Donella Meadows Archive Voice of a Global Citizen. The Sustainability Institute.
- ^ Google Answers. Subject: Re: LIST OF BENEVOLENT DICTATORS (aka ENLIGHTENED DESPOTS) THROUGH HISTORY. kriswrite-ga on 01 Mar 2004
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