To do this, he reorganized the government's civil service and simplified laws. Although Frederick did believe in enlightened reform, his efforts to improve government meant more power for himself.

Catherine the Great

Catherine II, empress of Russia, read the works of the philosophes and exchanged letters with Voltaire and Diderot. She praised Voltaire as someone who had “fought the united enemies of humankind: superstition, fanaticism, ignorance, trickery.” Catherine admired the Enlightenment ideas of equality and liberty.

Catherine experimented with implementing Enlightenment ideas. Early in her reign, she made some limited reforms in law and government. Catherine abolished torture and granted some religious tolerance for Christians and Muslims in her lands. However, she increased restrictions and taxes on Jews. She granted nobles a charter of rights and spoke out against serfdom. Still, like Frederick in Prussia, Catherine did not intend to give up power. Her main political contribution to Russia was an expanded empire.

Painting of a woman seated in a library, while a man standing shows her a contraption with brass plates, scales and glass vials.

Catherine the Great expressed an interest in many Enlightenment ideas. She often met with scholars to learn more.


What type of scholar do you think she is meeting in this painting? Explain.

Joseph II

The most radical of the enlightened despots was Joseph II of Austria, the son and successor of Maria Theresa. Joseph was an eager student of the Enlightenment, and he traveled in disguise among his subjects to learn of their problems.

Like his mother, Joseph worked to modernize Austria's government. He chose talented middle-class officials rather than nobles to head departments and imposed a range of political and legal reforms. Despite opposition, Joseph granted more rights to and eased some restrictions on Protestants and Jews in his Catholic empire. He ended censorship by allowing a free press and attempted to bring the Catholic Church under royal control. He sold the property of many monasteries that were not involved in education or care of the sick and used the proceeds to build hospitals. Joseph even abolished serfdom. Like many of his other reforms, however, this measure was canceled after his death.


  1. Explain Explain the influence of scientific ideas on the progression of thought from the Scientific Revolution to the Enlightenment.
  2. Identify Central Ideas What are some ways in which Enlightenment ideas spread?
  3. Identify Central Ideas Explain the components of the free-enterprise system.
  4. Draw Conclusions Why might some absolute monarchs have been willing to consider Enlightenment ideas, while others were not?
  5. Identify Central Ideas In what way were the ideas of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau similar?

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments