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To What Extent Was Fredrick the Second More Despotic Than Enlightened?

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Essay title: To What Extent Was Fredrick the Second More Despotic Than Enlightened?

I do not totally agree with the view that Fredrick's domestic policy was "more despotic than enlightened." However, thus view does have some truth in it and thus I will discuss the extent to which this statement is true. First of all the terms "despotic" and "enlightened" must be defined in order to discuss towards which of these Fredrick was inclined. Despotism is defined as the enforcing of one's will over others regardless of their interests or feelings. Enlightened in this context is defined as the ruling of one's subjects with regard to their interests and feelings. Thus this essay will discuss the extent to which Fredrick's domestic policy tended towards either being despotic, enlightened or in fact neither.

The first aspect of domestic policy that I will analyze is that of law. Fredrick codified Prussian law and this codification ensured civil rights and equality under the law for everyone which in effect protected peasants from unfair legal procedures with nobles. It also guaranteed that nobles could not oppress peasants to an extent because the peasants were guaranteed civil rights under the new codification. Religious and intellectual freedom was also ensured. Thus these enlightened reforms of the law system meant that justice was made available to both rich and poor. The codification was also enlightened relative to other states such as Russia at that time. This is because the codification, although confirming the various rights and distinctions enjoyed by the nobles, gave them no new rights. Catherine II's Charter of the Nobility on the other hand gave them new rights and social distinctions. Thus, although the consolidation of noble's rights and distinctions by Fredrick's law reform can be seen as unenlightened in this day and age one must remember that relative to other states in that period in time this was enlightened. Fredrick also acted paradoxically enlightened with his domestic law policy. The example of this is the case of the miller Arnold. Fredrick repeatedly intervened in the case of the miller Arnold and made sure Arnold won the case against the noble on whose land he lived. He did this to show that even the humblest citizen could obtain justice against a powerful noble by petitioning his monarch. This is an enlightened concept. However, the noble was in the right and Arnold was in the wrong which shows this action to also be despotic. Thus this is an example of how Fredrick's domestic policy on law could be paradoxically enlightened.

However Fredrick's domestic law policy was also, to an extent, despotic. This is because the new legal system allowed the monarch to dismiss judges at will. He also intervened despotically in legal cases and not always for enlightened reasons as occurred in the miller Arnold case. He had a priest executed without trial for saying that desertion from the army was a serious though not mortal sin and threw his director of mines into prison because the mines were not producing enough. These were despotic actions according to the definition of despotic above and thus his policy on law was also, to an extent, despotic.

Fredrick's personal intervention in his policy on law was also typical of his whole approach to central government. There were inspections and checks on civil servants undertaken personally by Fredrick several times a year and he did the bulk of their tasks himself allowing no freedom of initiative on behalf of his civil servants. Although this was neither enlightened nor despotic, it was certainly absolutist and thus shows that his policy on central government tended towards an absolutist one. Further absolutist activity by Fredrick comes from the fact that he regularly bypassed his General Directory which was the central organ of government by which the King gave his orders. This bypassing was due to his fear that the General Directory may become too powerful. This hints that practicality gave rise to his absolutist policies in central government. Fredrick never established a parliament or any representative institution which in itself was an absolutist action. Thus his domestic policy on central government was in fact neither despotic

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