Absolute monarchy is an idealized form of government, a monarchy where the ruler has the power to rule his or her country and citizens freely with no laws or legally-organized direct opposition telling him or her what to do, although some religious authority may be able to discourage the monarch from some acts and the sovereign is expected to act according to custom. As a theory of civics, absolute monarchy puts total trust in well-bred and well-trained monarchs raised for the role from birth.
In theory, an absolute monarch has total power over his or her people and land, including the aristocracy, but in practice, absolute monarchs have often found their power limited.
The political theory which underlies absolute monarchy was that the monarch held their position by the grace of God and was therefore not answerable to mortals. Much of the attraction of the theory of absolute monarchy in the Middle Ages was that it promised an end to devastating civil wars and could put an end to corruption by the aristocracy, and restore attention to the Church's moral codes. Having nothing to gain but a soul to lose, the theory goes, the King was a far better figure to enforce an ethical code than social climbers or newly rich nobles.
The theory of absolute monarchy developed in the late Middle Ages from feudalism during which monarchs were still very much first among equals among the nobility. With the creation of centralized administrations and armies backed by expensive artillery, the power of the monarch gradually increased relative to the nobles, and from this was created the theory of absolute monarchy.
In the 16th century, efforts by the English monarch to create an absolute monarchy led to persistent struggles with Parliament which the monarch eventually lost. In France, the monarchy was able to eventually centralise its powers and sideline Parliament and nobles. A classic example of an absolute monarchy is that of Louis XIV of France. During the Enlightenment, the theory of absolute monarchy was supported by some intellectuals as a form of enlightened despotism.
The notion of absolute monarchy declined substantially after the French Revolution and American Revolution which popularised theories of government based on popular sovereignty.
The only remaining absolute monarchies in the modern world are Brunei, Nepal, Swaziland and the Vatican City.
In Liechtenstein, nearly two-thirds of the tiny principality's electorate have agreed to give Prince Hans Adam veto power asked for. Although this does not make Hans Adam an absolute monarch, it makes him closer to being an absolute monarch than almost all other royals in the modern world.
Many of the nations in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, are said to be absolute monarchies as well, as their monarchs continue to hold great power under their respective constitutions. However, in these cases there are also parliaments and other council bodies that advise and curtail the monarch's effective authority.
Last updated: 02-10-2005 22:36:31
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01