Tyranny and 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© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Tyranny and Despotism: Selected full-text books and articles

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