Tyranny and Despotism

despotism

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).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Greek Tyrants
A. Andrewes.
Hutchinson's University Library, 1956
The Origin of Tyranny
P. N. Ure.
Cambridge University Press, 1922
Kings, Courts and Monarchy
Harold Nicolson.
Simon & Schuster, 1962
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Principate to Tyranny"
Non-Democratic Regimes: Theory, Government and Politics
Paul Brooker.
St. Martin's Press, 2000
Absolutism in Central Europe
Peter H. Wilson.
Routledge, 2000
The Age of Absolutism, 1660-1815
Max Beloff.
Hutchinson's University Library, 1954
Enlightened Despotism in Russia: The Reign of Elisabeth, 1741-1762
James F. Brennan.
Peter Lang, 1987
Dictatorship: Its History and Theory
Alfred Cobban.
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1939
Democratic Despotism
Rauol E. Desvernine.
Dodd, Mead and Company, 1936
The New Democracy and the New Despotism
Charles E. Merriam.
McGraw-Hill, 1939
The Struggle against Absolutism
Marshall, Michael.
The World and I, Vol. 13, No. 10, October 1998
More on the Origins of Tyranny
Sagan, Eli; Kovel, Joel.
Monthly Review, Vol. 38, February 1987
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