A Journal for Western Man

 

 

 

Enlightened Monarch:

The Story of Frederick the Great

G. Stolyarov II

Issue III- September 3, 2002

 

 
The birth of Frederick the Great in Potsdam occurred on January 24, 1712. From the beginning, as the heir to the throne of a father, Frederick-Wilhelm, who had already seen two of his children die, he was stringently monitored and guarded by the militaristic monarch, who wished to make of him his conception of the ideal ruler. Unfortunately for Frederick, his father was of an abnormally limited perspective, fully submerged in the discipline of warfare but unable to see beyond it. Frederick-Wilhelm was a fervent Germanic patriot and resented any manner of foreign influence entering the Prussian realm, including fine musical theories from Italy, and Enlightenment ideology from France. His young son, however, was captivated by these and sought to escape the rigid and monomaniacal control of his obsessive parent. He undertook the studies of philosophy, poetry, architecture, art, agriculture, economy, and politics, played and composed music with his personal orchestra, and obtained knowledge of various foreign languages, most notably French.

The tyrannical Frederick-Wilhelm, however, was an admirer of the common man instead of the refined aristocratic ideologue. He rapidly proceeded to deprive Frederick of fine food, clothing, books, and culture and sought to raise his son in the manner of an ordinary lower-class citizen, with all the crudeness and disadvantages of such a mundane position. Having this plebeian existence thrust upon him sparked immense disgust and loathing within the young prince for his father. He wished once again to relish the high Western culture that so fascinated him. However, his father was uncompromising and inflicted physical violence upon his son for displaying such inclinations. The youth was driven to the point of contemplating suicide, but instead developed a plot to escape the realm of Prussia to France and, from there, the country of his grandfather, King George I of Britain. Alas, he was detected and detained for two years at K?strin while his associate in the scheme, Lieutenant Hans Hermann von Katte, was viciously put to death. Prince Frederick was directed to observe the execution and threatened by his father that a similar fate would await him. Only a reluctant oath of obedience saved his life, after which he consented to a forced marriage with Elizabeth-Christine of Brunswick-Bevern. In order to avoid encountering his father and falling under his dominance, Frederick requested a favor to which he was confident the King would consent, to send him to the battlefield to study strategy from a master of war, Prince Eugene of Savoy, who led the Austrian Army in a war against France for the Rhine territories. Frederick was thus freed from the ever-watchful eye of his parent while obtaining both the military expertise essential for the future ruler of such an unstable nation as Prussia and the cultural upbringing that he so desired. Eventually, in 1736, Frederick-Wilhelm granted his son a palace at Rheinsberg, where the latter was given free rein to grow and prosper as he would.

Frederick assumed the throne on May 31, 1740, and at once began to seek initiatives that would forge Prussia into a global power from a minor and turbulent principality. He comprehended the need for the creation of national solidarity and stability, the greatest prospects for which would come from expansion. He thus exploited the first opportunity that he had obtained, the death of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, to invade the Austrian province of Silesia, utilizing one of the sole advantages that Prussia possessed, its superior military, to claim victory at the key encounter at Mollwitz in April of 1741, while negotiating an anti-Austrian alliance with Spain, France, and Bavaria that intimidated Empress Maria-Theresa into surrendering Silesia to Prussian control. Tensions with Austria mounted once more as the armies of the Holy Roman Empire scored victories against France and Bavaria and obtained support from Poland and Russia. This prompted Frederick's invasion of Moravia in 1742, where he triumphed at Chotusitz (May), Bohemia in August 1744, and Saxony in 1745, where his victory was assured by the battles of Hohenfriedberg (June) and Soor (September).  All these gains were secured by the Treaty of Dresden on December 25, 1745.

The war against Maria Theresa elevated Prussia to a formidable standing in the global community. Its borders secure for the time being, Frederick could focus his attention on the qualitative aspects of his people's lives. The actions that the new sovereign undertook on the domestic front are manifestations of his immense love, pity, and support for the Prussian people. He inherited an internally weak nation, rocked by starvation, economic poverty, a semi-developed agrarian level of advancement while its neighbors had already developed complex manufacturing industries. To correct these wrongs, he rejected the hereditary system of administration and imposed a rational meritocracy, placing individuals from various backgrounds into crucial positions of government provided they possessed the qualifications, experience, and skill. This was a radical alternation that a vast majority of individuals held in great esteem. Philosophers, artists, musicians, poets, architects, political scientists, economists, painters all flocked to Potsdam Palace to live and work in the welcoming environment of the Philosopher King. Frederick maintained a written correspondence with Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire, composed fugues together with Johann Sebastian Bach, and, most importantly, established legislation throughout the realm that would guarantee the spread of Western culture and ideology to his less fortunate subjects. He forbade any physical torture of criminals and instituted an environment in which death penalties would be dealt quickly and humanely, with a minimum of victim suffering. He bestowed upon the people a religious freedom, since he himself tolerated a diversity of thought from which he knew his realm would benefit. Learned individuals of various backgrounds presented input that assisted Frederick in devising his decisions. However, the power of the final word always remained within the monarch, who held strong convictions of the validity and necessity of a single absolute leader. Indeed, this presented the optimal form of governance for Prussia since Frederick, after obtaining every side of the story, would institute a decisive change that resulted in progress, an action impossible if there were no arbiter to mediate the disagreements of ideologically differing factions. Historical evidence suggests that Frederick's reforms are a product of two influences, the humanist thought of the Enlightenment, and his own early experiences (forced upon him by his father) of the miseries that a majority of commoners faced daily. Given such a painful realization of truth and a compassionate mental framework that would ameliorate the situation, Frederick was able to work wonders with the Prussian people.

A final period of instability arrived in 1756, when France and Russia, driven by powerful anti-Prussian sentiments from their monarchs and key government figures, allied with Maria-Theresa for an imminent declaration of war against Prussia. In order to avoid being caught by surprise, Frederick resolved to conduct a bold offensive into the southern realms of Saxony and Bohemia, which gained him significant ground before the bulk of the three enemy armies could be unleashed against Prussia. Fortunately, Frederick possessed an ally, his uncle, George II of Britain, whose navy prevented a sea-based invasion of Prussia while he distracted a large portion of French troops in the New World, during the French-Indian War, and prevented them from assailing their primary opponent. The British also provided Frederick with much-needed finances that enabled him to field a formidably equipped force and construct defensive fortifications throughout Prussia. The war intensified when Sweden entered the anti-Prussian coalition, accompanied by minor German states the rulers of which feared assimilation into the continually expanding Prussia. By sheer weight of numbers, Frederick was expelled from Bohemia while France pressed from the west, Austria from the south, and Russia from the east. Diverting nearly all domestic funds toward the war effort, he managed to score key victories against combined enemy armies at Leuthen (1757),  Rossbach (1757), and Zorndorf (1758). He also triumphed over the Austrian Army in 1760 at Liegnitz (August) and Torgau (November). However, the superior enemy numbers and resources continued to plague Prussia, especially following the victory of Russian Fieldmarshal Saltykov as Kunersdorf in August of 1759. The Russians twice occupied Berlin itself and relentlessly grabbed territories until the Prussian Army was pinned in a tiny corner of northwestern Germany. British coastal raids, finances, and reinforcements from Hanover (of which George II was the elector) permitted Frederick to gradually regain ground and score several minor gains, however it was to be a twist of circumstance that ensured Prussia's victory in the Seven Years' War. In January of 1762, the fiercely anti-Prussian Empress Elizabeth of Russia met her demise and was succeeded by her nephew, the German prince, Peter III, whose admiration of Frederick was nearly fanatical. Peter withdrew from the war and signed a military alliance with the Prussians, instituting in Russia many of Frederick's military and domestic reforms. This enabled Frederick to concentrate upon his remaining foes. In 1763 Quebec in the New World fell to the British while Hanoverian troops scored gains in a renewed offensive against France. In the meantime, Frederick initiated a final push into Austria, regaining Silesia, Bohemia, and Saxony, and forcing Maria-Theresa, now without allies, to sign the Treaty of Hubertusburg (February 15, 1763), which signified the conclusion of the bloody Seven Years' War.

Frederick extracted a valuable lesson from this experience and became determined never again to place his nation in such jeopardy. He secured an alliance with Russia that lingered until 1780, even following the deposition of Peter III by his wife, Catherine, whose attitude toward Frederick was one of neutrality. He participated in the division of Poland amongst three powers, Austria, Russia, and Prussia in 1772, which permitted Prussia's territory and population to expand along with Frederick's influence. Contrary to the Austrian and Russian portions of Poland, in which the populace were tyrannized and deprived of freedoms by the petty hereditary aristocracies that governed there, Frederick established a tolerant and centralized system in Poland that would only be enhanced after the reforms of Napoleon within that nation. A minor struggle ensued from 1778 to 1779 against Joseph II, Emperor of Austria, over the Bavarian Succession, but this was quickly resolved following several military triumphs and a diplomatic agreement at Teschen (May 1779) to favor the Prussian claims and secure for several decades the potent realm that Frederick had developed from the puny and wretched state that he had inherited.

Frederick's legacies encompass an impressive variety of contributions. Under his governance, his realm emerged as one of the leading nations on the planet, its population tripled to approximately six million inhabitants, many of the most educated and industrious peoples of Europe. He established a proud military tradition in Prussia, involving strict discipline, rigorous training, and heroic loyalty of his troops. These soldiers were trained not only in the art of war, but also in that of ideas to grant them a comprehension of the liberties and social structure that they were employed to defend. The creation of such forces enabled Frederick and his successors to score triumphs against opponents that outnumbered them three to one (namely, at the Battle of Leuthen, where France, Austria, and Russia's elite forces were decimated by 7000 Prussians). Frederick's own cunning, resourcefulness, and efficient use of troops led to the inception of a reformation in strategy that would be studied and extrapolated upon by the great Bonaparte. Yet Frederick the Great must be remembered also for his thirty books on politics and philosophy, which include, most notably, a theory on leadership that opposes Machiavelli's manipulative politics and advises a genuine appeal to the interests and welfare of one's subjects. He was a gifted poet, economist, and composer of music, whose smorgasbord of interests enabled him to become the well-rounded administrator that bestowed upon Prussia a national dignity and an ideological foundation. Today, he is regarded as a hero by the German people and his ideals of tolerance, rationality, individual appreciation, and meritocracy are virtues for all to consider.


G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent filosofical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. His newest science fiction novel is Eden against the Colossus. His latest non-fiction treatise is A Rational Cosmology. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at gennadystolyarovii@yahoo.com.

This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.

Click here to return to TRA's Issue III Index.

Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, at http://www.geocities.com/rational_argumentator/rc.html.

 

 

 

 

 

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