Role Of Frederick the Great of Prussia and Joseph II of Austria In History Essay

Frederick the Great of Prussia and Joseph II of Austria both made great advances of enlightenment ideals. Before the enlightenment, most of europe was rural, with self-sufficient communities and little trade. The church was the dominant power, and class structure was strict and unable to change. The Enlightenment changed this. Society became less structured, and people began to question the church as interest in science grew. Frederick the Great and Joseph II helped to bring these changes about by embracing the ideas of the enlightenment and allowing society to change.

The Enlightenment was very different from traditional European society. Traditionally, class was not based on merit, and was very strict. Nobility ruled over peasants, who were unable to move up in society. This changed when the Enlightenment brought an interest in science, the arts, and the world. People began to make money and move up in society through their skill and hard work, and nobility were rivaled in political and economic power by wealthy merchants. The Church, which had previously been very powerful, was weakened by enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire, who advocated for religious toleration and separation of church and state. A growing scientific community also contributed to this, as many scientific discoveries and theories challenged the Church’s teachings, therefore making other teachings less believable. Along with a greater interest in science, people became more interested in the arts. This renewed interest allowed skilled artisans to sell their goods and rise in society. Rulers who agreed with Enlightenment ideas would support scientists, artists, and philosophers, which advanced the enlightenment.

Frederick the Great brought the enlightenment to Prussia. As a child, his mother raised him on enlightenment ideals, introducing him to poetry, french culture, and Greek and Roman literature. His father was the opposite, rejecting these ideas, beating him, and forcing him into the army. When Frederick took power, he took it upon himself to live up the the philosopher-king ideal of the Enlightenment. He had contact with enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire, who taught him, and he in turn promoted their ideas. He believed in religious toleration, and allowed people to practice their own religion. This went along with popular enlightenment philosophies, which taught that a person should be able to choose their own religious path. Being a supporter of the enlightenment, he was a patron of science and the arts. He was even a musician himself. This support allowed scientists, artists, and philosophers to thrive and continue their work. He allowed the press more freedom, which allowed ideas to spread quickly through the public. He also made changes in the justice system which fit Enlightenment teachings. All of these changes that he made, and the support he gave to others contributing, brought the Enlightenment to Prussia and it’s people, and this helped it to spread across Europe.

Joseph II also made advances in the Enlightenment. When he shared power with Maria Theresa, he was unable to make many changes, as she was against religious toleration. In line with the idea of free will and class based on merit, he abolished serfdom, which changed the economy into a modern, urban one. He allowed religious freedom, which was one of the main ideas of the Enlightenment. However, he was not as successful of a ruler as Frederick the Great, having difficulty with money, and peasants were too busy struggling to pay taxes to celebrate the reforms. By the end of his reign, he believed he was unsuccessful and had only weakened Prussia. After his death however, the changes he made began took hold and spread to the rest of Europe, proving that he was, in fact, successful in making these changes.

Both Frederick the Great of Prussia and Joseph II of Austria played a huge role in the spread of the Enlightenment through Europe. They spread the arts, sciences, and freedom of thought. This made a tremendous change in the way society was structured and the organisation of power. Frederick was raised on enlightenment ideals by his mother, and was very successful in implementing them. Joseph was not quite as successful, but still made a difference eventually, despite his economic issues.

How to cite this essay: