There are mainly two types of governments that emerged during the seventeenth century. Most of the political development took place in France and England. Absolute monarchy took over throughout France while constitutionalism, or parliamentary monarchy, was becoming popular in England between 1640 and 1780. France’s absolute monarchy developed because of the nobles and kings focused on the concept of divine right. England, on the other hand, developed through the businessmen and landowners trying to prevent the central concentration of political power. These governments grasped the attention of philosophers, leaders, and churches. Eventually, both would develop and influence the modern world today in Europe and the Americas. France was very popular at the time for creating the idea of kings reigning by divine right. This perception was that the ruler of a specific country was put there by God. It was their divine right to be there because they were performing the work of God.
The king’s subjects were not to question the decisions of the king because it was God’s will; and who can question God? King Louis XIV was the most influential towards divine rights. He expected to be treated like a god because he was His representative on earth. Louis XIV was supported by Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, who was the leader of French Catholicism in the seventeenth century. He used examples from the New Testament of rulers who were only answerable to God. Popes had insisted since the medieval times that they could only be judged by God. Bossuet and Louis XIV then argued that only God had the right to judge kings. In England, there was a lot of turmoil between the reigning monarchs and large landowners. English monarchs tried to copy France with their financial system that did not depend heavily on the estates, diets, or assemblies of nobles. By doing this, it helped to grant French monarchs absolute rule. While easily achieved in France, the English monarchy failed royally. James I of England also tried to achieve the divine right of kings. He wanted to lessen parliament’s power and called on them for help as little as possible. Without the help of parliament, James I had to find other means of revenue. He quickly angered his subjects because of England’s inadequate income; he threatened nobles, large landowners, and those of commercial wealth for money.
James I and the Duke of Buckingham also sold royal patronage to the highest bidders. These were some of the key factors that led to the distrust of the English monarchs. In contrast, King Louis XIV gained the trust of his people and nobles with ease. He would entertain nobles at Versailles, his personal twenty-six acre home. He would then grant them tax exemptions, wealth, and social standing if they supported him. The French nobility found the best way to protect and promote their interests was to support the reigning monarch. Instead of depending on the wealth of the nobles, he made the nobles dependent on him. He proclaimed that, “the state is me,” or in other words, that France existed for him. Louis XIV also promoted that there should be “one king, one law, one faith.” This helped him gain the loyalty of the Roman Catholics who wanted to restore Catholicism as the prominent religion in Europe. English monarchs also botched in establishing absolute monarchy because of religion. Protestant became the leading religion among the English. Protestants believed that Sunday should be full of religious observances and very little leisure or recreation. James I believed that recreation and sports were innocent activities and permitted them to be played on Sunday, which infuriated the Protestant religions. Because of a few other miss happenings, a Protestant movement known as Puritanism was established.
This was a nonpolitical force that opposed absolutism and sought to limit political authority and eventually overturn it. There were also Puritans in France that tried to rebel but their efforts were crushed by Louis XIV and the Roman Catholics who enforced religious uniformity. England also differed from France because of the creation of the Bill of Rights. After the Glorious Revolution, when James II fled to France, England put William and Mary of Orange on the throne. Though they were the new reigning monarchs, Parliament issued the Bill of Rights that limited powers of the monarchy and guaranteed the civil liberties of the English classes. William and Mary signed the Bill of Rights that would let them rule only by the consent of Parliament. From the beginning of their reign in 1689, they brought many economic and military resources into balance with the French and would eventually top France as the powerhouse of Europe. In Comparing French and English political development, the beliefs of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke perfectly illustrate the differences between absolute and parliamentary governments. Hobbes was a strict supporter to absolutism and complete control. Locke was a supporter of constitutionalism and protecting the natural rights of humans.
Both of these philosophers, being completely opposite in view from the other, is the classic battle that has gone on forever and still exists today; the fight for power and the fight for freedom. Thomas Hobbes was a very talented and depressing political philosopher. He had discouragingly low view on values and the natural state of humans. Hobbes believed that the human race was so wicked and power stricken that they were cast out of paradise into the earth. To Hobbes, as expressed in the Leviathan, human nature was based on physical sensations and lust for power. One of his famous sayings was, “life is war of every man against every man.” This is why he thought that human beings must be controlled by absolute authority. The individuals should be told every choice to make and constrained by one supreme ruler that holds all power. Hobbes thought that rulers should have unlimited power because, “the dangers of anarchy are always greater than those of tyranny.” John Locke, known as the defender of moderate liberty and toleration, had almost the exact opposite views as Hobbes. Locke viewed human beings in their natural state as being creatures of goodwill and reason. He believed that humans were divine creatures put on earth by God to learn from it and make it useful. Locke wrote the Essay Concerning Human Understanding that described the mind as being a blank slate at birth. As a person grows the development of who they become is based on their surroundings and those around them. Hobbes idea that humans are all evil is rebuked by Locke saying that people are not born evil.
Their surroundings, experiences, and influences are what develop evil tendencies. Locke also wrote the Two Treatises of Government. The first described his distaste of absolutism. With too much power, he argued that there would be no freedom for anyone in the condition of absolute monarchy. The second treatise he described the natural and God given rights of humans. Among them were the natural rights of life, liberty, and property. Those ideas were used throughout history and in the Declaration of Independence. Another belief of his was that governments exist to protect liberty and the natural state of people not to overcome them. Locke was a very influential philosopher who greatly impressed many future generations with his political philosophical insight.
Overall, the development of both absolute and parliamentary governments greatly affected Europe. The battles between France and England to have a stable government caused chaos throughout both countries. If anything, the Europeans learned many ways how not to run a country. Both countries and the development of differing monarchies set an example for many other countries. France created a strong absolute government as an example for rulers all over the world on how to have complete control of people. England eventually came around and with the help of the people created parliamentary government. The concept of constitutionalism was even a model for constructing the American administration. Currently the battle between power and freedom still goes on and will continue as long as there are people like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke who argue for their beliefs.
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