The term enlightened absolutism refers to the absolutist rule of an enlightened monarch (or enlightened despot). This is a reference to the so-called Enlightenment, a historical period of the 18th and early 19th centuries. The main Enlightenment-era proponent of this system was Voltaire. Notes Spielvogel, "Recent scholarship...has questioned the usefulness of [this] concept."
Enlightened despots were monarchs who distinguished themselves from regular despots by the way they governed. Enlightened despots ruled their subjects with the principles of the Enlightenment. This meant that the monarchs ruled with the purpose to develop their subjects. They didn't rule by pleasing the nobility, as regular despots did, but ruled for the well-being of their subjects.
Although their reigns were based upon Enlightenment, their thought about royal power were similar to that of regular despots. Enlightened despots believed that they had the right to govern by birth.
Emperor Joseph II once said: "Everything for the people, nothing by the people".
The Enlightened Despots