Despotism (Greek: Δεσποτισμός, despotismós) is a form of government in which a single entity rules with absolute power. Normally, that entity is an individual, the despot, as in an autocracy, but societies which limit respect and power to specific groups have also been called despotic.
Colloquially, the word despot applies pejoratively to those who abuse their power and authority to oppress their populace, subjects, or subordinates. More specifically, the term often applies to a head of state or government. In this sense, it is similar to the pejorative connotations that are associated with the terms tyrant and dictator.
The English dictionary defines despotism as "the rule of a despot; the exercise of absolute authority."
The root despot comes from the Greek word despotes, which means "master" or "one with power." The term has been used to describe many rulers and governments throughout history. It connoted the absolute authority and power exercised by the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, signified nobility in Byzantine courts, designated the rulers of Byzantine vassal states, and acted as a title for Byzantine Emperors. In this and other Greek or Greek influenced contexts, the term was used as an honorific rather than as a pejorative.
Due to its reflexive connotation throughout history, the word despot cannot be objectively defined. While despot is closely related to other Greek words like basileus and autokrator, these connotations have also been used to describe a variety of rulers and governments throughout history, such as local chieftains, simple rulers, kings, and emperors.
Of all the ancient Greeks, Aristotle was perhaps the most influential promoter of the concept of oriental despotism. He passed this ideology to his student, Alexander the Great, who conquered Persia, which at the time was ruled by the despotic Darius III, the last king of the Achaemenid dynasty. Aristotle asserted that oriental despotism was not based on force, but on consent. Hence, fear could not be said to be its motivating force, but rather the servile nature of those enslaved, which would feed upon the power of the despot master. Within ancient Greek society, every Greek man was free and capable of holding office; both able to rule and be ruled. In contrast, among the barbarians, all were slaves by nature. Another difference Aristotle espoused was based on climates. He observed that the peoples of cold countries, especially those of Europe, were full of spirit but deficient in skill and intelligence, and that the peoples of Asia, although endowed with skill and intelligence, were deficient in spirit and hence were subjected to slavery. Possessing both spirit and intelligence, the Greeks were free to govern all other peoples.
For the historian Herodotus, it was the way of the Orient to be ruled by autocrats and, even though Oriental, the character faults of despots were no more pronounced than the ordinary man's, though given to much greater opportunity for indulgence. The story of Croesus of Lydia exemplifies this. Leading up to Alexander's expansion into Asia, most Greeks were repelled by the Oriental notion of a sun-king, and the divine law that Oriental societies accepted. Herodotus's version of history advocated a society where men became free when they consented lawfully to the social contract of their respective city-state.
As the attention of the new emperor was diverted by the most trifling amusements, he wasted many months in his luxurious progress from Syria to Italy, passed at Nicomedia his first winter after his victory, and deferred till the ensuing summer his triumphal entry into the capital. A faithful picture, however, which preceded his arrival, and was placed by his immediate order over the altar of Victory in the senate-house, conveyed to the Romans the just but unworthy resemblance of his person and manners. He was drawn in his sacerdotal robes of silk and gold, after the loose flowing fashion of the Medes and Phoenicians; his head was covered with a lofty tiara, his numerous collars and bracelets were adorned with gems of an inestimable value. His eyebrows were tinged with black, and his cheeks painted with an artificial red and white. The grave senators confessed with a sigh, that, after having long experienced the stern tyranny of their own countrymen, Rome was at length humbled beneath the effeminate luxury of Oriental despotism. (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Book One, Chapter Six)
In its classical form, despotism is a state in which a single individual (the despot) holds all the power and authority embodying the state, and everyone else is a subsidiary person. This form of despotism was common in the first forms of statehood and civilization; the Pharaoh of Egypt is an exemplary figure of the classical despot.
The word itself seems to have been coined by the opponents of Louis XIV of France in the 1690s, who applied the term despotisme to describe their monarch's somewhat free exercise of power. The word is ultimately Greek in origin, and in ancient Greek usage, a despot (despótès) was technically a master who ruled in a household over those who were slaves or servants by nature.
The term now implies tyrannical rule. Despotism can mean tyranny (dominance through threat of punishment and violence), absolutism, or dictatorship (a form of government in which the ruler is an absolute dictator, not restricted by a constitution, laws, or opposition, etc.)
However, in enlightened absolutism (also known as benevolent despotism), which came to prominence in 18th century Europe, absolute monarchs used their authority to institute a number of reforms in the political systems and societies of their countries. This movement was quite probably triggered by the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment.
The Enlightenment philosopher Montesquieu believed that despotism was an appropriate government for large states. Likewise, he believed that republics were suitable for small states and that monarchies were ideal for moderate-sized states.
Although the word has a pejorative meaning nowadays, it was once a legitimate title of office in the Byzantine Empire. Just as the word Byzantine is often used in a pejorative way, so the word despot now has equally negative connotations. In fact, Despot was an Imperial title, first used under Manuel I Komnenos (1143–1180) who created it for his appointed heir Alexius-Béla. According to Gyula Moravcsik, this title was a simple translation of Béla's Hungarian title úr, but other historians believe it comes from the ancient Greek despotes (literally, the master). In the Orthodox Liturgy, if celebrated in Greek, the priest is addressed by the deacon as Despot even today.
It was typically bestowed on sons-in-law and later sons of the Emperor and, beginning in the 13th century, it was bestowed to foreign princes. The Despot wore elaborate costumes similar to the Emperor's and had many privileges. Despots ruled over parts of the empire called Despotates.
The United States Declaration of Independence accused the British government of "a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinc[ing] a design to reduce [the people] under absolute Despotism".
According to Montesquieu, the difference between absolute monarchy and despotism is that in the case of the monarchy, a single person governs with absolute power by fixed and established laws, whereas a despot governs by his or her own will and caprice.
The 1866 State of the Union Address was given by the United States' 17th President, Andrew Johnson, on Monday, December 3, 1866. It was not a spoken address, but a written one. The Reconstruction Era had begun, and Johnson wanted a policy that pardoned the Confederates. He began with, "In all of the States civil authority has superseded the coercion of arms, and the people, by their voluntary action, are maintaining their governments in full activity and complete operation." In the middle, he said,"In our efforts to preserve "the unity of government which constitutes as one people" by restoring the States to the condition which they held prior to the rebellion, we should be cautious, lest, having rescued our nation from perils of threatened disintegration, we resort to consolidation, and in the end absolute despotism, as a remedy for the recurrence of similar troubles." The rebellion he is referring to is the American Civil War, which ended in 1865.Anarchism in Poland
Anarchism in Poland first developed at the turn of the 20th century under the influence of anarchist ideas from Western Europe and from Russia.Prior to Polish independence from the Russian Empire, several anarchist organizations emerged within the area that would become the Second Polish Republic. The first of these, known as "The Struggle", formed in Białystok in 1903. In the following years similar organizations established themselves in Gniezno, Warsaw, Łódź, Siedlce, Częstochowa, Kielce, and other towns. One of the most active, a group known as "International", had its base in Warsaw. This group, composed of Jewish workers, organized strikes throughout the city during the Polish insurrection of 1905.The tsarist régime (which controlled much of Poland before 1914) acted with a high level of despotism. The authorities commonly fired on demonstrating workers. In January 1906 the authorities arrested sixteen members of the International group and shot them without trial.
Significant Polish theorists of anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism included Edward Abramowski (1868-1918), Jan Wacław Machajski (1866-1926), Augustyn Wróblewski (1866-1923) and Rafał Górski (1973-2010).Aristocracy
Aristocracy (Greek ἀριστοκρατία aristokratía, from ἄριστος aristos "excellent", and κράτος, kratos 'rule') is a form of government that places strength in the hands of a small, privileged ruling class. The term derives from the Greek aristokratia, meaning "rule of the best-born".The term is synonymous with hereditary government, and hereditary succession is its primary philosophy, after which the hereditary monarch appoints officers as they see fit. At the time of the word's origins in ancient Greece, the Greeks conceived it as rule by the best qualified citizens—and often contrasted it favourably with monarchy, rule by an individual. In later times, aristocracy was usually seen as rule by a privileged group, the aristocratic class, and has since been contrasted with democracy. The idea of hybrid forms which have aspects of both aristocracy and democracy are in use in the parliament form.Benevolent dictatorship
A benevolent dictatorship refers to a government in which an authoritarian leader exercises absolute political power over the state but is perceived to do so with regard for benefit of the population as a whole, standing in contrast to the decidedly malevolent stereotype of a dictator. A benevolent dictator may allow for some economic liberalization or democratic decision-making to exist, such as through public referenda or elected representatives with limited power, and often makes preparations for a transition to genuine democracy during or after their term. It might be seen as a republican form of enlightened despotism.
The label has been applied to leaders such as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk of Turkey, Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, and France-Albert René of Seychelles.Cultural materialism (anthropology)
Cultural materialism is an anthropological research orientation first introduced by Marvin Harris in his 1968 book The Rise of Anthropological Theory, as a theoretical paradigm and research strategy. It is said to be the most enduring achievement of that work. Harris subsequently developed a full elaboration and defense of the paradigm in his 1979 book Cultural Materialism. To Harris social change is dependent of three factors: a society's infrastructure, structure, and superstructure.Harris's concept of cultural materialism was influenced by the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, as well as their theories as modified by Karl August Wittfogel and his 1957 book, Oriental Despotism. Yet this materialism is distinct from Marxist dialectical materialism, as well as from philosophical materialism. Thomas Malthus's work encouraged Harris to consider reproduction of equal importance to production. The research strategy was also influenced by the work of earlier anthropologists including Herbert Spencer, Edward Tylor and Lewis Henry Morgan who, in the 19th century, first proposed that cultures evolved from the less complex to the more complex over time. Leslie White and Julian Steward and their theories of cultural evolution and cultural ecology were instrumental in the reemergence of evolutionist theories of culture in the 20th century and Harris took inspiration from them in formulating cultural materialism.Despot
Despot may refer to:
Despot (court title), a Byzantine court title
Despotism, a form of government in which power is concentrated in the hands of an individual or a small group
Despot (rapper), rapper Alec Reinstein's stage name
Šifra Despot, a TV seriesEnlightened absolutism
Enlightened absolutism (also called enlightened despotism or benevolent despotism) refers to the conduct and policies of European absolute monarchs during the 18th and 19th centuries who were influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment, espousing them to enhance their power. The concept originated during the Enlightenment period in the 18th and into the early 19th centuries.
An enlightened despot is a non-democratic or authoritarian leader who exercises their political power for the benefit of the people, rather than exclusively for themselves or elites.
Enlightened despots distinguished themselves from ordinary despots by claiming to rule for their subjects' well-being. They may focus government priorities on healthcare, education, nonviolent population control, or physical infrastructure. The leader may profess a commitment to peaceful relations and/or allow some democratic decision-making, such as public referenda, but would not propose reforms that undermined their sovereignty or disrupted the social order. Some people say that despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement.Enlightened despots' beliefs about royal power were typically similar to those of regular despots, both believing that they were destined to rule. Enlightened rulers may have played a part in the abolition of serfdom in Europe.The enlightened despot Emperor Joseph II of Austria summarized, "Everything for the people, nothing by the people".François Quesnay
François Quesnay (French: [fʁɑ̃swa kɛnɛ]; 4 June 1694 – 16 December 1774) was a French economist and physician of the Physiocratic school. He is known for publishing the "Tableau économique" (Economic Table) in 1758, which provided the foundations of the ideas of the Physiocrats. This was perhaps the first work attempting to describe the workings of the economy in an analytical way, and as such can be viewed as one of the first important contributions to economic thought. His Le Despotisme de la Chine, written in 1767, describes Chinese politics and society, and his own political support for constitutional Oriental despotism.Guided democracy
Guided democracy, also called managed democracy, is a formally democratic government that functions as a de facto autocracy. Such governments are legitimized by elections that are free and fair, but do not change the state's policies, motives, and goals.In other words, the government controls elections so that the people can exercise all their rights without truly changing public policy. While they follow basic democratic principles, there can be major deviations towards authoritarianism. Under managed democracy, the state's continuous use of propaganda techniques prevents the electorate from having a significant impact on policy.The concept of a "guided democracy" was developed in the 20th century by Walter Lippmann in his seminal work Public Opinion (1922) and by Edward Bernays in his work Crystallizing Public Opinion.
After World War II, the term was used in Indonesia for the approach to government under the Sukarno administration from 1957 to 1966. It is today widely employed in Russia, where it was introduced into common practice by Kremlin theorists, in particular Gleb Pavlovsky. Princeton University professor Sheldon Wolin describes this process as inverted totalitarianism.
An important distinction is the one between governments that have elections which are judged not free or fair by observers and governments which have elections considered both free and fair. The Russian Federation under Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev has also been described as an illiberal democracy. Elections take place regularly, but many foreign observers (e.g. from the OSCE) do not consider them free or fair. Thirteen Russian journalists were assassinated between 2000 and 2003. Furthermore, most major television networks and newspapers are owned or controlled by the government and only openly support current government and state approved parties and candidates during elections.Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville
Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, PC, FRSE (28 April 1742 – 28 May 1811) was a Scottish advocate and Tory politician. He was the first Secretary of State for War and became, in 1806, the last person to be impeached in the United Kingdom, for misappropriation of public money. Although acquitted, he never held public office again.Dundas was instrumental in the encouragement of the Scottish Enlightenment, in the prosecution of the war against France, in opposing the abolition of slavery, and in the expansion of British influence in India, dominating the affairs of the East India Company. An accomplished machine politician and scourge of the Radicals, his deft and almost total control of Scottish politics during a long period when no monarch visited the country, led to him being pejoratively nicknamed King Harry the Ninth, the "Grand Manager of Scotland" (a play on the masonic office of Grand Master of Scotland), the "Great Tyrant" and "The Uncrowned King of Scotland".He is commemorated by one of the most prominent memorials in Edinburgh, the 150-foot high, Category A listed Melville Monument at St Andrew Square, in the heart of the New Town he helped to establish.Hydraulic empire
A hydraulic empire (also known as a hydraulic despotism, or water monopoly empire) is a social or government structure which maintains power and control through exclusive control over access to water. It arises through the need for flood control and irrigation, which requires central coordination and a specialized bureaucracy.Often associated with these terms and concepts is the notion of a water dynasty. This body is a political structure which is commonly characterized by a system of hierarchy and control often based on class or caste. Power, both over resources (food, water, energy) and a means of enforcement such as the military are vital for the maintenance of control.Karl August Wittfogel
Karl August Wittfogel (Chinese: 魏復古; pinyin: Wèi Fùgǔ; 6 September 1896 – 25 May 1988) was a German-American playwright, historian, and sinologist. Originally a Marxist and an active member of the Communist Party of Germany, after the Second World War Wittfogel was an equally fierce anti-communist.Military junta
A military junta () is a government led by a committee of military leaders. The term junta comes from Spanish and Portuguese and means committee, specifically a board of directors. Sometimes it becomes a military dictatorship, though the terms are not synonymous.Sindh Taraqi Pasand Party
Sindh Taraqi Pasand Party (Sindhi: سنڌ ترقي پسند پارٽي, Urdu: سندھ ترقی پسند پارٹی ) is a left-wing Pakistani political party based in Sindh. Dr. Qadir Magsi is the chairman of Sindh Taraqi Pasand Party.
The Sindh Taraqi Pasand Party (STP) has been engaged in socio- political activism in Pakistans ince last two decades, by struggling against despotism, theocratic & fascist terrorism, and economic exploitation of smaller constituent units with a special focus on Sindh and Sindhi people. It is now poised to play a pivotal role in parliamentary politics of Pakistan, by contesting elections and undertaking formal activities in political and developmental spheres as an organized institution.
Membership of the STP is open for all citizens of Pakistan; men and women of 18 years and above, without any discrimination of religion, language, caste, creed, and color.Soft despotism
Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people.
Soft despotism gives people the illusion that they are in control, when in fact they have very little influence over their government. Soft despotism breeds fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the general populace. Alexis de Tocqueville observed that this trend was avoided in America only by the "habits of the heart" of its 19th-century populace.The New Despotism
The New Despotism is a book written by the Lord Hewart, Lord Chief Justice of England, and published in 1929 by Ernest Benn Limited. Hewart described this "new despotism" as "to subordinate Parliament, to evade the Courts, and to render the will, or the caprice, of the Executive unfettered and supreme". The evasion of the Courts referred to increasing quasi-judicial decision-making by the civil service and the subordination of Parliament which resulted from the growth of delegated legislation.Theatre state
In political anthropology, a theatre state is a political state directed towards the performance of drama and ritual rather than more conventional ends such as welfare. Power in a theatre state is exercised through spectacle. The term was coined by Clifford Geertz in 1980 in reference to political practice in the nineteenth-century Balinese Negara, but its usage has since expanded. Hunik Kwon and Byung-Ho Chung, for example, argue that contemporary North Korea is a theatre state. In Geertz's original usage, the concept of the theatre state contests the notion that precolonial society can be analysed in the conventional discourse of Oriental despotism.Tsarist autocracy
Tsarist autocracy (Russian: царское самодержавие, transcr. tsarskoye samoderzhaviye) is a form of autocracy (later absolute monarchy) specific to the Grand Duchy of Moscow, which later became Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire. In it, all power and wealth is controlled (and distributed) by the Tsar. They had more power than constitutional monarchs, who are usually vested by law and counterbalanced by a legislative authority; they even had more authority on religious issues compared to Western monarchs. In Russia, it originated during the time of Ivan III (1440−1505), and was abolished after the Russian Revolution of 1917.