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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).

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Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



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 Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the rule of a despot; arbitrary, absolute, or tyrannical government
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
He adds that "this sort of hired men (known today as the shabbiha) increase and decrease in number according to the harshness or lightness of despotism. Thus, the more a despot would be concerned with oppression, the more he would need to increase his army of men hired to praise and protect him, and the more he would need to carefully choose them from among the lowliest of criminals, men devoid of any trace of faith or conscience".
"The reported death of Muammar Gaddafi marks the end of an era of despotism and repression," said the President of the Council of the EU, Herman Van Rompuy, and the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, on 20 October, in a joint statement.
" In their fight for freedom and self-determination, and against despotism and corruption, the people of Libya continue to have exemplify the power and dignity of a people determined to reclaim control over their destiny.
The occupation and despotism guru Elliott Abrams wrote more than once that "democratic transformation started in Iraq," which they left devastated with millions of its people carrying the scars of civil strife, division and massacres.
"These days coincide with the 30th anniversary of the tragedy of displacement of Feyli Kurds, one of the most heinous crimes perpetrated by the regime of despotism and dictatorship," Talabani said during a ceremony to commemorate the displacement of Feyli Kurds in a speech read out on his behalf by his political advisor Jalal al-Mashta.
Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect, by Paul A.
TEHRAN: Iranian opposition leader Mehdi Karoubi, defying government warnings, said the Islamic republic was "plagued with despotism," in remarks published ahead of a national celebration that could trigger more protests.
Aristide faced accusations of corruption and despotism when he was forced from power in Feb.
Colin Robertson's review of Matthew Lange's recent book, Lineages of Despotism and Development, takes issue with the rather reasonable view that the illiberal character of every imperial adventure is always unwelcome to those who are colonized.
In an attempt to lure back voters, Yosano warned on Tuesday that a largely untested opposition could dominate the country's parliament, risking what he called "one-party despotism".
The concept of impossible alternatives played a part in the romantic poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, who wrote: "The rich have become richer and the poor have become poorer; and the vessel of the state is driven between the Scylla and Charybdis of anarchy and despotism."
Maybe ordinary Iranians, hearing of Saddam's sticky end, decided they were no longer willing to bow their heads to home-grown despotism.