A Thing or Two About Absolutism and Its Historiography

History of European Ideas 39 (2):287-300 (2013)
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Abstract

Summary This essay closely examines the highly contested but widely employed historiographical category ?absolutism?. Why are scholars so divided on whether it is even legitimate to use the term and, if they agree to do so, why are they still much at odds in explaining what it is? What are the main historiographical currents in the study of absolutism? Is it the same thing to speak of absolutism in regard to the practices of early modern European monarchies and with reference to the political ideas of so-called absolutist theorists? By addressing these questions through the methodology of intellectual history, this essay provides a comprehensive account of debates on absolutism and, at the same time, suggests that further work needs to be carried out on its theoretical aspects. In this respect, the author will propose a series of key ideas and principles which are meant to encapsulate the core of an early modern doctrine of absolutist monarchical sovereignty. It will also be argued that, when studying political thought, the term ?absolutism? might be abandoned in favour of the plural ?absolutisms? as a better way of understanding the past, its languages, opinions, people. In so doing, a thorough analysis of what political absolutism(s) is will be set forth, and a series of more general considerations on history-writing will also be advanced

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