form of government
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Despotism is a form of government that is controlled by one person or a small group of people.[1] The person who controls the state is called a despot. They have no elections, or the elections are rigged. The despot has complete control of the state, like a dictator or tyrant.[2]

In history, the pharaohs of Egypt were despots in the sense that they ruled Egypt. But their rule was usually passed on to a relative, so that is rather like a monarchy. There is evidence that if they ruled badly, they were opposed or deposed.[3]

The word despot is thought to come from the Ancient Greek word despotes, which means "the master". According to Montesquieu, the difference between absolute monarchy and despotism is as follows. 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.[4]

The importance of the idea of despotism is that today it is a very common type of dictatorship or direct rule. Ruling monarchies are today few in number.

Even when there are elections, as there are for the Russian presidency, opposition candidates are at such a disadvantage that they are rarely, if ever, successful.

Despotism has always been associated with Eastern rather than Western states.[5] Of the former Soviet Union, it is only the new states to the west which have attempted, with difficulties, to build genuine democracies (such as Moldova and Ukraine).[6] Former Yugoslavia is an interesting case because its collapse has left several communities which regard themselves as separate, and are indeed ethnically different, yet none is as stable as the former Yugoslavia.


  1. Despotism. (film documentary). Prelinger Archives. Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 1946. OCLC 6325325. Retrieved 2015-01-27.
  2. Pop, Vox (2007-09-29). "Are dictators ever good?". the Guardian.
  3. Examples here can be found in standard sources. The classic case is Akhenaten.
  4. Montesquieu, "The Spirit of Laws" Archived 2014-08-14 at the Wayback Machine, Book II, 1.
  5. Gibbon, Edward 1776–89. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. London. Book One, chapter 6.
  6. "History, official site of Republic of Moldova". Republic of Moldova • Archived from the original on 22 December 2013. Retrieved 9 October 2013.