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To what extent did governments become more enlightened in Austria and Russia during the C18th?

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Introduction

To what extent did governments become more enlightened in Austria and Russia during the C18th? Between 1690 and 1795 a wave of criticism of the government's style of ruling spread across Europe. There was varied response from different countries, particularly in the second half of the C18th, when the Enlightenment or 'Age of Reason' forced rulers to re-evaluate their style of rule. Significantly however, neither the Austrian or Russian governments had become wholly enlightened by the end of the C18th. In 1796 Peter the Great's aim was to make Russia a strong self sufficient European power. Although he travelled throughout Western Europe and declared in an enlightened way that it was "good to hear subjects speaking truthfully and openly to their king" he was only doing so to compete with Sweden after losing a war to them in 1700. In 1722 Peter created the Table of Ranks which set out for the nobility how they had to serve the monarch and fulfil their duties, showing his lack of enlightened thought as he still believed in hierarchy, expecting the nobility to serve him. ...read more.

Middle

On the subject of religion both Peter and Marie-Theresa were very intolerant and they both believed that in confessional absolutism and divine right. Peter intended to eliminate the Church as a possible source of resistance with the 1721 Holy Directing Synod and secure the Church's wealth as a proportion of the state's income. The vehemently Catholic and anti-Semitic Maria-Theresa said that "Religion has much good to do in Hungary" and she maintained an incessant attack on other churches throughout most of her reign. Geoffrey Treasure remarks that "toleration made next-to-no progress as long as Maria-Theresa was alive." Succeeding Peter in Russia was Catherine the Great, who Treasure remarks was an "emancipated, cultivated woman... [who] confidently embodied the values of the west." Catherine travelled and read the works of the philosophes, particularly Voltaire's 'Universal History' and Montesquieu. Her instruction, 'Nakaz', influenced by these works, was =meant to reform the archaic legal system, but significantly nothing was ever done. ...read more.

Conclusion

His truly enlightened move was the 1781 emancipation of the Bohemian serfs, which sought to improve the legal status of the serf. In addition, probably due to his frustration at being co-regent with his mother, he often pushed through reforms without listening to advice, thus antagonising people. Treasure summarises that his reforms "did not amount to complete emancipation or civil and religious equality" for all. In conclusion, the rulers in the second half of the C20th- Joseph II and Catherine the Great were more enlightened than their predecessors Maria-Theresa and Peter the Great, who realised that they had not done the good that they could have done. But Catherine and Joseph's reforms cannot be said to be wholly enlightened as they were generally due to fiscal and political reasons in order to make their country more revenue and more of a great power. Although the reforms were more humanitarian in Catherine and Joseph's reign this was often for utilitarian and Cameralist reasons. Both Catherine and Joseph felt that reforms which went further than the partially enlightened ones which they had enforced would be very likely to cause havoc. ...read more.

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