Modern History Sourcebook:
Essay on Forms of Government
The King of Prussia, Frederick II (1740-1786), was a model
of and Enlightened despot. He took very seriously his duties as king.
From Frederick II. Essay on the Forms of Government
A sovereign must possess an exact and detailed knowledge of the
strong and of the weak points of his country. He must be thoroughly
acquainted with its resources, the character of the people. and
the national commerce....
Rulers should always remind themselves that they are men like
the least of their subjects. The sovereign is the foremost judge,
general, financier, and minister of his country, not merely for
the sake of his prestige. Therefore, he should perform with care
the duties connected with these offices. He is merely the principal
servant of the State. Hence, he must act with honesty, wisdom,
and complete disinterestedness in such a way that he can render
an account of his stewardship to the citizens at any moment. Consequently,
he is guilty if he wastes the money of the people, the taxes which
they have paid, in luxury, pomp and debauchery. He who should
improve the morals of the people, be the guardian of the law,
and improve their education should not pervert them by his bad
Princes, sovereigns, and king have not been given supreme authority
in order to live in luxurious self-indulgence and debauchery.
They have not been elevated by their fellow-men to enable them
to strut about and to insult with their pride the simple-mannered,
the poor and the suffering. They have not been placed at the head
of the State to keep around themselves a crowd of idle loafers
whose uselessness drives them towards vice. The bad administration
which may be found in monarchies springs from many different causes,
but their principal cause lies in the character of the sovereign.
A ruler addicted to women will become a tool of his mistresses
and favourites, and these will abuse their power and commit wrongs
of every kind, will protect vice, sell offices, and perpetrate
The sovereign is the representative of his State. He and his people
form a single body. Ruler and ruled can be happy only if they
are firmly united. The sovereign stands to his people in the same
relation in which the head stands to the body. He must use his
eyes and his brain for the whole community, and act on its behalf
to the common advantage. If we wish to elevate monarchical above
republican government, the duty of sovereigns is clear. They must
be active, hard-working, upright and honest, and concentrate all
their strength upon filling their office worthily. That is my
idea of the duties of sovereigns.
From The Foundations of Germany, J. Ellis Barker, trans.
(New York: E. P. Dutton, 1916), pp. 22-23.
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(c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997