The rise of ABSOLUTISM which is our first big unit in this course grew out of a sense that this
kind of semi-organized marauding and brutal killing in the name of religion that characterized
the Thirty Years War had to stop. It had to stop if Europe was going to exploit the riches of the
newly-discovered New World. Profits quickly trumped religious bickering. The political system
that came to be called Absolutism was the solution.
1648, though a bit arbitrary, can also be thought of as the beginning of the MODERN AGE.
This is the moment when the rapidity of CHANGE picked up remarkably. Life for
ordinary people had been remarkably static. Most people still grew all the food they ate, an
economy not much different from the origins of agriculture in the ancient past and long
before the birth of Christ. But from this point on, constant change, first in ideas and world
views, later in technology, is going to become standard. That is how most historians define
the modern age.
UNIT 1—ABSOLUTISM, begins here
With the discovery of the NEW WORLD, the center of Europe’s economic activity shifted
rapidly to the ATLANTIC—the rise of what is known as the ATLANTIC WORLD. Previously,
economic activity had been centered on the Mediterranean Sea, particularly in city states like
VENICE, but now it is no accident that our attention shifts to the countries on the Atlantic,
notably FRANCE and BRITAIN.
In 1651, Thomas HOBBES published the
. It was a treatise on the exercise of power
He looked out at a landscape of Europe where weak kings presided over a powerful nobility who
were essentially WARLORDS.
Kings couldn’t keep order as the Thirty Years War had
shown. Unless there was order, there could be no commerce, no prosperity, no progress. If
the kings called for tax money or soldiers, the nobility would contribute what it felt like.
They were fortified behind their castle walls.
Outside the walls, all was chaos. Things had to
change. There had to be public order. Without order, life, said Hobbes, was “solitary, poor, nasty,
brutish and short.” The way to get order was to create a government strong enough to keep order
—an ABSOLUTE MONARCH, meaning a king who had the final authority to get things done.
HOBBES’ book does not cause absolutism to come about, but it was a persuasive argument as to
why it was good and a roadmap to how it might come about.
ABSOLUTISM is NOT DICTATORSHIP. When finally the absolutist states were created,
the king was the absolute authority, the top CEO, so to speak, and he could (and did) arrest
a few powerful troublemakers from time to time (just as a CEO fires them). But this was
not a case of mass concentration camps. These were not blood purges. Just a few potentially
powerful troublemakers were physically removed. Absolutism involved wresting power
away from the landed nobility and putting it in the hands of a central government strong
enough to keep order. Its enemy was the nobility. Ordinary citizens generally applauded it,