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King Louis XIV: Theory and Practice of Absolutism

Luis H. Alejo Cruz

Western Civilization II Online

Dr. Paul Baxa

7 July 2017
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Most people believe King Louis XIV was a great monarch since he managed to establish

social order in France after the Protestant Reformation. However, most people do not he was

able to do this through absolutism. Absolutism is a political theory which encouraged rulers, who

claimed to rule by divine right, to have total control over a territory. Although absolutism

consisted of practicing natural and religious laws to restore social order, King Louis XIV over-

practiced absolutism through his biased appointment of officials in his Court, injustice to his

members, and expensive lifestyle at Versailles. In this paper, I will describe the theory of

absolutism and explain how King Louis XIV over-practiced absolutism.

After the Protestant Reformation, religion differences between Protestants and Catholics

destroyed social order. Absolutism restored social order because it promised to create an efficient

state that could control the army, the legal system, and its treasury (Western Civilization).

According to Jean Domat, a French jurist, absolutism could restore social order because it

aligned French law with natural and divine law. In his essay On Social Order and Absolute

Monarchy, Domat posits that good social order is imperative for the wellness of a state (Domat,

p.1). He references Scripture to assert that societies build on the different duties of its members.

In other words, members of a society must work collectively for the common good of the state.

Also, the person who governs must encouraged all citizens to perform their assigned job and

punish those who refuse to work.

Since everyone is assigned a specific job, the participation of each member in a society is

unequal. People with higher ranking duties make government necessary. This natural obedience

is seen in the relationship between children and parents and between employers and employees.

Domat asserts these ideas to affirm that God is the natural sovereign of men, it is from Him that

all those who govern derive their power and all their authority (Domat, p.2). Domat further
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establishes that the absolute monarch is acting in the person of God. Thus, the prince chosen

by God must be obeyed because any disobedience against him is a disobedience against God

(Domat, p.2). However, the ruler is not free of any laws for he must also obey the natural and

divine law.

Additionally, the power to rule, which is derived from God, prompts the prince to

enforce and follow the laws of the Church. Domat affirms King Louis XIV must be the

protector, conservator, and defender (Domat, p.4) of the divine law set by God. With such

great authority, King Louis XIV never took advantage of it. In other words, he never tried to be

worshipped as more than just a king. In The Court of Louis XIV, Duc de Saint-Simon account

his experiences when he lived at Versailles. Duc de Saint-Simon acknowledged that King Louis

XIV was conscious of the grace of God and would never do anything to be condemned by God

(Domat, p.2). However, he did have a love-affair with Mademoiselle de la Valliere while still

married to the queen (Duc de Saint-Simon, p.2). Thus, he did not lead by example but was still

recognized as a prudent, reserved, and moderate person (Duc de Saint-Simon, p.1). In theory, he

was not the best absolute monarch and this explains why he would over-practice absolutism.

Furthermore, Domat claims that the absolute monarch must rule with justice since God is

justice Himself and must rule as absolute because God is absolute (Domat, p.3). King Louis XIV

did rule with some justice and certainly absolutely, but he abused his power. Duc de Saint-Simon

writes: He always took great pains to find out what was going on in public places, in society, in

private housesand maintained an immense number of spies and tale-bearers (Duc de Saint-

Simon, p.3), to describe the excessive control of the people. King Louis XIV employed this

method to rid of people who were disloyal. At times, he was unjust and often held a grudge with

them. This short account does reflect an absolute power but an unjust one.
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In addition to his duties as governor, King Louis XIV also had the duty of founding

public order and the right to appoint members to help him (Domat, p. 3). His job was to choose

able ministers who love justice and truth (Domat, p.4). People who were qualified to govern,

prudent, and followed the rules. It was not a personal choice whoever to appoint randome

members to help him. In other words, people had to show merit to earn a place in his Court.

Although the people he chose were made up capable and illustrious personages, all his faults

were found in these people he surrounded himself with (Duc de Saint-Simon, p.1). This would

lead him to over-practice absolutism.

Nevertheless, King Louis XIV was not the perfect absolute monarch. Duc de Saint-Simon

writes: His natural talents were below mediocrity (Duc de Saint-Simon, p.1) to explain that he

mainly appointed officials he liked or flattered him. Part of his job was to appoint the best people

according to their skills and merit. This was not the case because he was enamored by the praised

he received. This was his main weakness and people used this to manipulate him.. He was led to

believe that he could accomplish more than he could. All this flattery led him to focus on small

things rather than with great (Duc de Saint-Simon, p.2) and led him to over-practice absolutism.

King Louis XIV thought he was in control of everything but he was the one being controlled. All

the flattery would keep him blinded and prevent him to rule absolutely.

Nevertheless, King Louis XIV continued to over-practice absolutism when he decided to

move his Court from Paris to Versailles (Duc de Saint-Simon, p.2). There, King Louis XIV felt

more protected from the minority and had control of the higher-ranked officials in his Court. He

also knew he would be regarded with greater awe and veneration when no longer exposed ever

day (Duc de Saint-Simon, p.2). This is part of his absolutist rule since he is acting through the

power of God. King Louis XIV must arouse respect in the people. Domat writes: can only be
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done by the splendor that radiates from the magnificence of their palace and other visible sign of

grandeur, (Domat, p.4), to express the respect that King Louis XIV must receive because he is

the prince chosen by God.

Although the signs of grandeur were part of being the absolute monarch, King Louis XIV

over-practiced it by housing several people in his Court and through excessive spending of

money on festivities. He chose people to live with him based on their willingness to do favors for

him. He did this to appeal to the high-ranked people and to keep them as close as possible. All

the excessive spending of money led his courtiers to love beyond their income, and gradually

reduced them to depend on his bounty for the means of subsistence (Duc de Saint-Simon, p.4).

The financial support of all the people in the Court would eventually place France is an

economic crisis. The money would have to come from the French people, mainly through taxes.

King Louis XIV sought to prove himself as a worthy king through absolutism. He

managed to restore social order in France but he was only to do this because of his members of

his Court. He was gullible enough to think that he was not sharing his power because of all the

flattery he adored. These people would lead King Louis XIV to over-practice absolutism by

being unjust, appointing officials based on personal choice, and by spending tons of money to

keep his Court happy. All the excessive spending on luxurious commodities would be devastated

to France. As predicted by Jean Domat, it threatens to end in nothing short of ruin and a general

overthrow (Domat, p.4). No one dared to question his authority because he claimed to rule by

divine right. Questioning his authority meant to question the authority of God. This method of

ruling would eventually collapse with the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment that was

about to explode in France.