Catherine, Frederick and Louis - Unenlightened Tyrants in an Enlightened Age
It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.
-- Niccolo Machiavelli, - The Prince
The Enlightenment is touted by modern historians as a time of intellectual and social advancement, an era of optimism and freedom unheard of in earlier times. The era of absolutism is seen as a time of mounting liberty that contributed to the rise of democracy in the Americas and elsewhere. In reality, the "Enlightened Despotism" of the absolutist leaders was more in keeping with the tyrannical rulers of the pre-reformation Holy Roman Empire than with the democratic republic of modern America. Three of the most prominent absolutist leaders were Catherine the Great of Russia, Frederick the Great of Prussia and Louis XIV of France - these three leaders are perfect examples of the avarice, tyranny and lust for power that characterizes the Enlightened Despots.
Catherine the Great was an absolutist leader who preached the benefits of the Enlightenment but made policy decisions in complete contradiction to Enlightenment ideals. After the death of her husband, Peter III (which Catherine may or may not have instigated) she assembled a legislative commission to draft a document that would reform Russia's code of laws. Not only were the serfs not represented at this meeting, but after the Pugachev uprising, Catherine dismissed the commission altogether, choosing to draft the code herself. Her reforms of the Russian government only reinforced to the power of the oppressive Russian nobility and increased serfdom within Russia and her newly conquered frontiers and colonies. Catherine's reign was rife with cronyism at its most severe, friends and lovers were granted complete control over huge swathes of land and the people who lived within them, tens of thousands of people were...