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Related to despotism: Oriental despotism


government by an absolute ruler unchecked by effective constitutional limits to his power. In Greek usage, a despot was ruler of a household and master of its slaves. The title was applied to gods and, by derivation, to the quasi-divine rulers of the Middle East. In the Byzantine Empire, despot was a title of honor of the emperors and their relatives and of vassal princes of the tributary states and dignitaries of the Eastern Church. The Ottoman Empire perpetuated the term as applied to church officials and territorial princes. The 18th-century doctrine of the Enlightenment influenced such absolutist rulers as Frederick the Great of Prussia, Catherine II of Russia, and Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II toward a rule of beneficent intent known as benevolent despotism. However, despot is now a term of opprobrium.


See L. Krieger, ed., An Essay on the Theory of Enlightened Despotism (1975); K. A. Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power (1981); F. J. Maitland, The Theory of Despotism in Germany (1988).





a form of government and administration in which an autocratic ruler exercises unlimited power, treating his subjects as if he were their master and lord. Classic despotic governments existed in antiquity in the Near and Far East (for example, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, India, Iran, and China), where the basic power to dispose of land and the main means of production was concentrated in the hands of a central governmental power. Engels observed that “in the period when the commune works the land collectively or allows individual families to use the land only temporarily and where private ownership of the land has not yet developed, state power takes the form of despotism” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 19, p. 497). Examples of feudal despots include the caliph of Baghdad (eighth through ninth centuries), the Great Moguls in India (16th-17th centuries), and the rulers of the Ottoman Empire (14th-16th centuries).

In the history of political thought the concept of despotism as a special form of rule was first proposed by Aristotle. Later , the concept was used by progressive critics of absolute and autocratic rule, unlimited monarchy, and elitist totalitarian states. Marx wrote: “The only principle of despotism is contempt for man and dehumanization of man” (ibid., vol. 1, p. 374).



the rule of a despot; arbitrary, absolute, or tyrannical government
References in classic literature ?
It has been stated that under despotisms artists have produced lovely work.
On the ancient monuments of barbarism and despotism I will inscribe great words of justice and mercy.
Then," Ernest answered, "you, and labor, and all of us, will be crushed under the iron heel of a despotism as relentless and terrible as any despotism that has blackened the pages of the history of man.
Squeers, casting a triumphant glance at his assistant and a look of most comprehensive despotism on the boys, left the room, and shortly afterwards returned, dragging Smike by the collar--or rather by that fragment of his jacket which was nearest the place where his collar would have been, had he boasted such a decoration.
The whole field of religion and knowledge had become largely stagnant under an arbitrary despotism.
She knows her power, and she uses it too; but well knowing that to wheedle and coax is safer than to command, she judiciously tempers her despotism with flattery and blandishments enough to make him deem himself a favoured and a happy man.
There is no despotism here; that's the great thing.
The despotism and hatred of Liberalism which animated the Continental Governments had had the effect of driving to our shores a number of men who might have made excellent citizens were they not soured by the recollection of all that they had undergone.
He enlisted many veterans of the Sullan dictatorship in his movement, men who had expended their spoils since the death of their leader and wished to renew the despotism which had once rewarded them.
His reforms, though long overdue, had been instituted by force of arms, setting Rome on a path toward despotism from which recovery was increasingly unlikely.
In the absence of such openness, he declared, "we must fall at once into despotism and anarchy.
to consider the [federal] judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions, a very dangerous doctrine indeed and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.