When reflecting on the past, is there a pattern in human societies whereby political power was entrusted in a sovereign with virtually absolute power under monarchies?

In other words, did Kings and Emperors feel the check of the people or other officials more under predominantly monotheistic societies?

Today the fall of religions seems to echo the rise of democratic societies. Religion and Politics seem to try and find each others. In the end isn't there an innate need for human beings to have a consistent view of greater powers and how things should be? And when contradictions on these two facets are to tensed could they be fuelling the engine of revolutions?

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    Absolutism is an artefact of late early modern states, not the medieval. Question lacks basic familiarity with terms it is using. – Samuel Russell Sep 30 '18 at 8:29
  • @SamuelRussell I come here as a neophyte and agree that the question may not be worded properly. Your comment sounds like an answer, if you have time I would be interested in reading a detailed answer. It may teach future readers unless you assume this is too elementary for people to not know of course – Aki Sep 30 '18 at 8:32
  • Potential questions: why was Louis XIV's state called absolutist? Why was 19th century Prussia called enlightened absolutism? What is the history of Westphalian sovereignty? How much power did the Holy Roman Emperor have in the 1200s? What is the history of established churches and secularism in France since 1789? Which parliamentary or presidential democracies have had established churches and when? Was the church in France under Louis XIV monotheist? – Samuel Russell Sep 30 '18 at 10:56
  • Ehh? Pagan Imperial Rome is an obvious example of polytheistic religion producing a god like leader. The Imperial Cult of Rome . – Daniel Oct 4 '18 at 8:54

No. There are plenty of examples of absolute monarchs outside monotheism:

  • most emperors of China
  • the Mongol khans
  • the rulers of the Incas and Aztecs
  • some kings and emperors in India
  • all kings of Sukhothai, Ayutthaya and Siam
  • all Khmer kings

The above kings/emperors had far reaching powers most European kings could only dream about.

Looking up to such a king in Ayutthaya/Siam was in some cases punishable by death. Touching a royal, even to save him/her from drowning was also punishable by death. Not only for the offenders, but for their entire family.

This actually happened happened in 1880 in Siam. A queen and her daughter were on the way to Bang Pa-In Summer palace when their barge capsized. They couldn't swim and both drowned. The event was witnessed by many courtiers who could not do anything to save their lives.

The water there (a canal) is not very deep (too deep to stand, though), and flows very slowly. The banks are low. I've been there a couple of times.

After the event king Chulalongkorn changed that law.

Sukhtothai, Ayutthaya, later Siam, later Thailand are Buddhist countries with very strong influences of animism and Hinduism. They copied their concept of divine kingship from the Khmer. Monotheism is fairly new in Siam/Thailand and is insignificant politically.

In China you have the forbidden city in Beijing. Entry was for royals and courtiers and on invitation of the emperor. There were roads or parts of the road that only the emperor was allowed to use. I have no idea what the penalty was for offenders, but probably a bit more then a ticket or a verbal warning.

Your question, btw, is too broad. Which European kings, compared to whom? In which time period? Even so, the idea that absolute monarchy or divine kingship is exclusively related to monotheism is not correct.

  • I see, and these had comparable power to European Kings? "Dynasties such as the Han and Ming dynasties were founded by men of common origins. The concept is in some ways similar to the European concept of the divine right of kings; however, unlike the European concept, it does not in theory confer an unconditional right to rule, despite this being exactly the case in practicality." (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandate_of_Heaven) – Aki Sep 30 '18 at 5:57
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    Thanks for detailing your answer further. There are two facets that quickly allow me to close this questions. 1) examples outside of Europe 2) Samuel's point about absolutism being an artefact of late modern states. Legitimacy of absolute power in people's mind is apparently not at all linked to religion. – Aki Sep 30 '18 at 9:09
  • I don't think absolute monarch is the correct term for what you're describing here. These seem more like god-kings, who might in fact have little if any actual power - e.g. the semi-divine Japanese Emperor (Mikado) under the shoguns. Whereas there are numerous examples of rulers, including many dictators in modern times, who had near-absolute actual power without claiming divinity. – jamesqf Sep 30 '18 at 17:39
  • @jamesqf Definitely not! Some god-kings had little power. Khmer style divine kings had absolute powers over life and death. And they knew how to use it. – Jos Sep 30 '18 at 23:17
  • @Jos: Sure. My point is that having absolute power is one thing, being a god-king is another. Some monarchs may have been both, others one or the other. (Indeed, having near-absolute power doesn't depend on being a monarch, either de facto or de jure. For instance Cardinal Richelieu.) – jamesqf Oct 1 '18 at 16:47

The question is meaningless in terms of history and intimately related social sciences, in the sense that it incorrectly uses terms and asks questions at a level that cannot be answered with valid methods.

Historians, following Ranke, attempt to tell the past as it was rather than reflecting on moral categories. The theoretical categories in use by historians tend to be even more limited than those of sociology.

Asking about monotheism and systems of rule in a long duration is unanswerable: the terms become meaningless if a relationship is to be demonstrated. For example, the Catholicism present in Louis XIVs society has been accused of being polytheistic by appropriately qualified (Protestant) theologians due to the veneration of saints.

Medieval crowns (ie: in Europe, the only place the term strictly applies) were limited by law, custom, religion, higher and lower governments, wars within crowns, wars between crowns, treason, revolt, sedition and popular uprisings. Neither the government nor a ruler could impose their will in any thing or in all things.

Some states in the early modern period (1450-1800) came to control what happened in their territories, this is the ideal of the Westphalian state. Few sovereigns could control anything without being checked from below, however, and even Louis XIV used social and cultural coordination, and accepted limited results.

Terms are too broad, undefined, and asking for moral answers. History doesn't do this.

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