The Enlightenment movement and its goals failed due to the efforts of the ruling classes. The ruling classes knew that if they were to remain in power, they would need to destroy any ideas that threatened their power. These ideas came in the form of the Enlightenment.
In Austria, Emperor Joseph II was a truly enlightened Monarch. When Joseph II came to power, he sought to destroy serfdom and establish religious tolerance for the masses. When Joseph accomplished these reforms, it separated the nobility from their power, which was a good thing for the masses because now they could farm their own land and make their own money instead of giving all their labor to the nobles. The nobility saw these reforms as a full-scale attack on their power. When Emperor Joseph II died, the nobility immediately began to try to restore their power. The nobility ordered that the ideas of Joseph II be forgotten. Over the course of time, Austria went back to their old ways of serfdom and religious persecution. By forcing the ideas of Joseph II to be forgotten, the nobility was able to restore their power and keep it for generations to come.
During the reign of Catherine the Great, Russia was ruled by an enlightened Monarch. Catherine questioned torture, serfdom, and lack of equality but her main interest was with keeping her power and not with gaining rights for the masses. To keep her power Catherine would have to keep the nobility, the only group that threatened her throne, in power. To do this Catherine divided Russia into fifty provinces, which strengthened the nobility. Though Catherine the Great was educated in an Enlightenment sense, the Enlightenment failed because she feared how the powerful Russian nobles would respond if she decided to explore these ideas.
Prussia had accumulated one of the strongest military’s during the Enlightenment time. Prussia’s ruler, Fredrick William I, sought to make Prussia an enlightened culture. If Fredrick allowed Prussia to become enlightened, the power of the Nobility would decrease. The Prussian army led by Nobility who were in high ranking positions. If Fredrick enforced enlightened ideas in Prussia, he then would be destroying his own army. The Enlightenment failed in Prussia because Fredrick William I could not separate the power of the nobility from the institution of Enlightenment ideas.
Throughout most of Europe, the Ruling classes were able to keep power. These nobles tried to keep Monarchs most of which feared losing their power, from toying with enlightened ideas. In Austria, Prussia, and Russia, the Monarchs thought about adding enlightened ideas to help the mass of their population. Consequently they realized that the Ruling Nobility would do anything to get rid of these ideas, which threatened the monarch’s power. The monarchs bowed to the demand of the Nobility, which brought about the failure of the Enlightenment movement.