A Comparision of Joseph II of France, and Fredrick the Great of Prussia

Compare Joe II/Fred the Great

The age of Enlightenment can most easily be defined as a time of significant progress in Europe. The leaders which fall into this category of being philosophes are known as enlightened despots. However, this did not necessarily mean that each leader felt the same way about what would contribute to most progress to their country. Joseph II of France, and Fredrick the Great of Prussia, are prime examples of these differences.

First, Joseph the II felt that the best way to improve the conditions in his country were to end them, not just improve them. Joseph was very compassionate towards the lower class, and he abolished serfdom. Unlike his mother, he made taxes equal for everyone, regardless of class stature. Also, he believed in fair punishment. "He insisted on equal punishment for equal crimes whatever the status of the offender…at the same time many legal punishments were made less physically cruel," (P + C, 333). Joseph II also enforced religious tolerance, which he felt would also help promote class equality. "He ordered toleration of all religions…he granted equal civil rights to Jews, and equal duties…" (P + C, 333). Overall, he wanted to develop the empire economically.

Frederick the Great, who reigned for twenty-three years as leader of Prussia, was known for his extreme intelligence. Frederick improved the entire courts system, making them more affordable and honest. "He kept up a wholesome and energetic tone in his service," (P + C, 335). Also, he encouraged religious freedom and education for every child of every class. However, Frederick, unlike Joseph II, was not aware that in order to fully benefit from enlightenment, changes needed to be made. Joseph II did away with serfdom, while Frederick the Great developed great class segregation, with unequal taxes. "Nobles, peasants, and burghers lived side by side in a kind of segregation. Each group paid different taxes and owed different duties to the state…" (P + C, 335). Frederick the Great believed nobility worked to one's advantage.

Both Joseph II of France and Frederick ruled during the 1780's, and were considered important enlightened despots. However, their plans of action of improving the quality of life were completely opposite. Frederick's main goal was to preserve class separation and independence of nations; while Joseph II aimed for equality of classes and the importance of countries aiding one another. In conclusion, two leaders of one time, can be entirely different, yet still maintain the status of being an important contribution of progress and enlightenment.

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