(Foreign Affairs) The gist of Ukraine’s Euromaidan was aptly summed up in leaflets recently distributed around Kiev that featured a big X over former President Viktor Yanukovych’s crown-bedecked head. Indeed, current events in Ukraine bear more in common with Europe’s anti-monarchical grassroots uprisings of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries than with more recent rebellions. The Ukrainian protesters’ primary motives were not nationalist grievances or democratic yearnings but popular repulsion at the unconstrained, arbitrary, and corrupt power of an absolutist sovereign and his retinue.
In the seventeenth century, Europe’s absolutist monarchs faced no institutional constraints and could exercise power unilaterally. Neither parliament nor the court could overrule their judgments. And not only was power concentrated in the hands of the ruler but the rest of the “government” was designed to serve his or her needs. The monarchs formed their courts out of coteries of loyal minions who received exclusive access to privileges and rents, including noble titles and life-long public offices. These officials could, in turn, redistribute some of their private goods among their own servile lieutenants, but the monarch retained ultimate power to grant or revoke their privileged status. […]
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