Absolutism in Relation to Human Rights

Merriam-Webster (2011) defines absolutism as “a political theory that absolute power should be vested in one or more rulers” (Para 1). Under absolutism, the dictatorial power has no restricted powers. This means that the dictator’s power has utterly no checks. As Clapham posits, “The absolutist system believes that the ruling power is sovereign and is not subject to check by any other judicial, legislative, religious, economic, or electoral agencies” (2007, p.83). Legal approaches to human rights infer that people have certain fundamental rights that they ought to obey. There is no single person, or an alliance of people in power, who should prejudice these rights.

Considering the notion of absolutism in the twenty first century, a myriad of negative implications to human rights comes out. With king Loius XIV’s declaration that “I am the state” (Locke 1955, p.56), the general implication of absolutism is that the people to whom the state powers have been confined are free to make any decision even if it amounts to the violation of human rights. The perception here is that the decision made by the person in power is right always. Hence, the repercussions of these decisions are also right even if they degrade the rights of his or her subjects morally, religiously, politically and or economically. One argument against absolutism lies on the argument that “maintaining order by forcing or frightening people into conformity destroys the innate human potential for moral judgment” (Wallbank, Jewsburry & Hackett 1992, Para 2). This means that absolutism has no human concerns. Freedoms and rights such as freedom and right of worship, life and ownership of property are dependent on the capacity of the government to reinforce them. With their violation, the citizens need have the power to question the necessary concerned government institution by filling appropriate petition in a court of law. This happens in a democratic government. In an absolutist government, such acts are justified, and the aggrieved party has not right to question.

One illustration of the implications of absolutism to impairment of human rights is that absolutism is critical and destructive to social institutions. Nations such as France exercised absolutism during the reign of king Loius XIV between 1643 -1715 as exemplified by the Nazi regime head, Adolf Hitler, in the twentieth century. Absolutism of the social environment may constitute the mechanism of moral degradation of the society. Baron (1949) confirms this argument positing, “Absolutism destroyed innate human potential for moral judgment, and hence the social environment is responsible for corrupting people who are otherwise naturally nourishing” (p.151). Perfection of human beings is thus possible upon the removal of such corrupting influences. With the absolutism system of governance, since people do not have the opportunity to vocalize the instances, which deny or deprive them of their natural human rights, then the realization of corrupting influences and hence their removal is problematic. The argument here is that, absolutism erodes human rights by denying them the freedom of expression, which in turn acts as the surface on which the other rights are engraved. Consequently, by practicing absolutism system of governance, the government deviates from its roles noted by Locke “government existed to maintain the rights of its people” (1955, p.127). Refraining from absolutism is hence the only essential way that a government can ensure the observation of human rights and protect them as one of its responsibilities.

Conclusively, absolutism is an impediment for realization of human rights since all the power to make decision goes to only one person or a few people who are not supposed to be answerable for their actions. The paper argues that freedom of expression is the basis of every other fundamental human right. Nonetheless, this freedom is immensely impaired by absolutism system of governance.


Baron, M., 1949. The Spirit of Laws. New York: Hafner Publishing.

Clapham, A., 2007. Human Rights: A Very Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Locke, J., 1955. Second Essay on Civil Government. Chicago: Henry Regnery.

Merriam-Webster. 2011. Absolutism. Web.

Wallbank, T., Jewsburry, B., & Hackett, L., 1992. The Case against Absolutism. Web.

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