Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Voltaire's ideal king has been presented under three guises--the enlightened despot, the absolute king and the constitutional monarch. A conflict between the philosopher who judges kings objectively and the courtier who seeks royal patronage and intimacy, and the continuing dialogue that Voltaire establishes with himself to evaluate again and again the political solutions of the past and his own time are responsible for these contradicting views.;Our detailed study of Voltaire's historical, literary, and political writings and his life reveals his varying enthusiasms and viewpoint. Due to Voltaire's long career our study ends in 1753 when a disillusioned courtier leaves Frederick the Great and court life forever. Our study is divided into two parts: 1713-1741, a time of apprenticeship, literary success and disillusion with Frederick who soon becomes the Machiavellian king, and 1742-1753, a period of active life at court first at Versailles, then Potsdam.;By constant re-evaluation Voltaire reaches certain conclusions: the tyrant is discarded because of his arbitrary rule and abuse of legitimate power; absolutism is repeatedly contrasted to shared power. However, freedom and equality before the law soon become more important.;Frederick seems closest to Voltaire's ideal, but is vindictive rather than enlightened. Peter the Great and Louis XIV are models, but the czar is barbaric, and the Sun King, unenlightened. Kings who appear benevolent in Voltaire's theatre follow their passions with disastrous results. Only in Zadig does Voltaire find his ideal.;By 1753 Voltaire knows that absolutism does not always guarantee fundamental rights. Shared power leads to chaos and a repulic succeeds only in small states. The philosopher has triumphed over the courtier; the dialogue, however, remains open.



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