Front Page Titles (by Subject) 115.: The Period of Reform from Above - Judgments on History and Historians
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115.: The Period of Reform from Above - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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The Period of Reform from Above
Absolutism, which had formerly lived primarily for the enjoyment of its power and its goals of greed, basing itself on divine right, begins to concern itself, as sultanism, with public benefit, or at least pretends to do so, partly in the spirit of great causes, partly as the benevolent father. For this it needs and demands another increase of its power over the privileged classes, including the church, and regional differences and special privileges.
Public opinion had already been set in motion by a French-European, partly negative, partly imaginatively positive literature and poetry and had as its basis equality or at least uniformity. In this it aided absolutism to the extent that it, too, considered that state as the best-ordered in which the privileged classes were allowed mere advantages and had as little corporate power left as possible, where there was the smallest possible number of differences. Poland and Sweden, kingdoms ruled by the nobility, were regarded as the most unhappy countries. According to this view England constituted an exception. At the same time, public opinion increasingly espoused the “Enlightenment” in general, i.e., the abstracting of all primeval and invisible foundations of existence.
The reform had on its side unqualified centralization; the Enlightenment included enmity to everything traditional. The enlightened, i.e., absolutist, state strove for complete inner unity and complete availability of all forces; public opinion strove for the breaking down of all barriers.
Socially, the upper classes were still in high favor everywhere, and only they were eligible for the higher offices in the state and partly in the (Catholic) church as well, but inwardly they were no longer sure of their special privileges and were already strongly affected by the new developments.
If the state now no longer derived its authorization to omnipotence from divine right, but from the concept of public benefit, it inevitably had to run the risk of passing from the hands of the dynasties into other hands. It just did not know yet how close this moment was. Everyone believed himself capable of governing in the spirit of public benefit.
This double origin of the modern state from the complete centralization of power and the Enlightenment has since then been constantly apparent. Thus the political tradition in France is woven together out of the Revolution and Napoleonic despotism.
In keeping with this general state of affairs, Frederick II’s instruction to the General Directory of 1778 reads: “Our interest is identical with that of the people.” In Frederick the Great’s view a prince had long been “le premier serviteur de l’État” [the chief servant of the state] (Testament of 1752?). To be sure, during his regime the “public benefit” is replaced by the concentration of all forces on war and readiness for war, as well as his inevitable and permanent dictatorship. Only a very small part of his nobility were true aristocrats, the overwhelming majority being Junkers.