Dizionario di Politica

Authors: Bobbio, Matteucci, Pasquino
Summary: The entry defines absolutism historically, distinguishes it from tyranny and despotism, and looks at it from the points of view of constitutional-juridical and rational-political analysis.
The concept of absolutism dates to the 18th century, though its peak occurred in the 19th century. The term refers to arbitrary and boundless power, but it is distinct from tyranny and despotism. The difference between these centers on the limits of the sovereign's power. Absolutism, while it implies the sovereign's autonomy from every external legal limit, nevertheless admits the norms imposed by natural or divine law, and the state's fundamental law; thus absolutism implies more limits on the sovereign's power than does tyranny. And absolutism differs from despotism in that the latter locates its legitimacy in appeals to religion or magic.
From a constitutional-juridical point of view, absolutism is the culmination of a long evolution, spanning the principle of monarchical investiture, the monarchy of divine law, and 19th-century constitutional monarchy. Juridically, absolutism carries the idea of a concrete law, worked out by the sovereign in accordance with the needs of the times.
From a rational-political point of view, absolutism represents the separation of politics from religion. Machiavelli and the Protestant Reformation are both seen as importance influences on the doctrine of absolutism, whose best known spokesmen were Bodin and Hobbes. Bodin, in particular, explained his concept of absolutism by means of the principle of the sovereign's legitimacy, which acknowledges the limits imposed by natural and divine law.