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Kant's judgment on Frederick's enlightened absolutism

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Abstract:

Kant's judgment on Frederick the Great and the system of Enlightened Absolutism has not yet been addressed in a satisfactory manner.1 Moreover, many Kant interpreters have neglected this topic and focused on the French Revolution instead. Consequently mistaken assessments abound, in particular the lack of attention to the reforms in Prussia and the Habsburg empire.

My analysis proceeds on three levels. The first examines Frederick's theoretical writings, the second is concerned with his royal policies, while the third shifts to Kant's views on Enlightened Absolutism as exemplified in the theory and practice of Frederick. The task is not made any easier since Kant was reluctant to criticize Frederick's rule directly. Kant's explicit statements on Frederick are positive, if not flattering. We are interested, however, in what Kant thought but did not dare to write. Allusions and hints in published writings are a source of insight into his privately held judgment. Another method is to sift through Kant's unpublished material, his letters, notes and preliminar writings, where he is under less constraint. The third method is to find deeper meanings in passages which seem innocuous on a casual reading.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: PrivatgymnasiumNeulandschule 19, Wien.

Publication date: 1993-01-01

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