Joseph II (1780–1790): Josephinism and enlightened despotism As the first of the Habsburg-Lorraine (Habsburg-Lothringen) Dynasty Joseph II was the archetypical embodiment of The Enlightenment spirit of the 18th-century reforming monarchs known as the "enlightened despots"
 When his mother Maria Theresa died in 1780, Joseph became the absolute ruler over the most extensive realm of Central Europe
There was no parliament to deal with
Joseph was always positive that the rule of reason, as propounded in the Enlightenment, would produce the best possible results in the shortest time
He issued edicts—6,000 in all, plus 11,000 new laws designed to regulate and reorder every aspect of the empire
The spirit was benevolent and paternal
He intended to make his people happy, but strictly in accordance with his own criteria
 Josephinism (or Josephism) as his policies were called, is notable for the very wide range of reforms designed to modernize the creaky empire in an era when France and Prussia were rapidly upgrading
Josephinism elicited grudging compliance at best, and more often vehement opposition from all sectors in every part of his empire
Failure characterized most of his projects
Joseph set about building a rational, centralized, and uniform government for his diverse lands, a pyramid with himself as supreme autocrat
He expected government servants to all be dedicated agents of Josephinism and selected them without favor for class or ethnic origins; promotion was solely by merit
To impose uniformity, he made German the compulsory language of official business throughout the Empire
The Hungarian assembly was stripped of its prerogatives, and not even called together
As President of the Court Audit Office (Hofrechenkammer), Count Karl von Zinzendorf (1781–1792)  introduced a uniform system of accounting for state revenues, expenditures, and debts of the territories of the Austrian crown
Austria was more successful than France in meeting regular expenditures and in gaining credit
However, the events of Joseph II's last years also suggest that the government was financially vulnerable to the European wars that ensued after 1792
 Joseph reformed the traditional legal system, abolished brutal punishments and the death penalty in most instances, and imposed the principle of complete equality of treatment for all offenders
He ended censorship of the press and theatre
To equalize the incidence of taxation, Joseph ordered a fresh appraisal of the value of all properties in the empire; his goal was to impose a single and egalitarian tax on land
The goal was to modernize the relationship of dependence between the landowners and peasantry, relieve some of the tax burden on the peasantry, and increase state revenues
Joseph looked on the tax and land reforms as being interconnected and strove to implement them at the same time
The various commissions he established to formulate and carry out the reforms met resistance among the nobility, the peasantry, and some officials
Most of the reforms were abrogated shortly before or after Joseph's death in 1790; they were doomed to failure from the start because they tried to change too much in too short a time, and tried to radically alter the traditional customs and relationships that the villagers had long depended upon
In the cities the new economic principles of the Enlightenment called for the destruction of the autonomous guilds, already weakened during the age of mercantilism
Joseph II's tax reforms and the institution of Katastralgemeinde (tax districts for the large estates) served this purpose, and new factory privileges ended guild rights while customs laws aimed at economic unity
The intellectual influence of the Physiocrats led to the inclusion of agriculture in these reforms
Civil and criminal law In 1781–82 he extended full legal freedom to serfs
Rentals paid by peasants were to be regulated by imperial (not local) officials and taxes were levied upon all income derived from land
The landlords saw a grave threat to their status and incomes, and eventually reversed the policy
In Hungary and Transylvania, the resistance of the landed nobility was so great that Joseph compromised with halfway measures—one of the few times he backed down
After the great peasant revolt of Horea, 1784–85, however, the emperor imposed his will by fiat
His Imperial Patent of 1785 abolished serfdom but did not give the peasants ownership of the land or freedom from dues owed to the landowning nobles
It did give them personal freedom
Emancipation of the Hungarian peasantry promoted the growth of a new class of taxable landholders, but it did not abolish the deep-seated ills of feudalism and the exploitation of the landless squatters
Capital punishment was abolished in 1787, although restored in 1795
Legal reforms gained comprehensive "Austrian" form in the civil code (ABGB: Allgemeine Burgerliche Gesetzbuch) of 1811 and have been seen as providing a foundation for subsequent reforms extending into the 20th century
The first part of the ABGB appeared in 1786, and the criminal code in 1787
These reforms incorporated the criminological writings of Cesare Beccaria, but also first time made all people equal in the eyes of the law
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