Despotism – What it is, definition and concept

Despotism is the abuse of power by an authority. It is done arbitrarily and outside the limits of the law.

This term is usually applied to the governmental sphere, thus despotism is a form of government. In this, power is applied without limits and arbitrarily.

It can also be spoken of despotism applied to any area in which an authority exercises its power in an abusive way. For example, in a company, in an official body, in an association, or in the family itself. That is, it is a term that can be applied to any situation in which this abusive behavior can be perceived.

What is a despot?

The despot is the person who presides over the despotic government or who is the protagonist of the despotic situation.

It is a term that has historically been attributed to the kings of absolute monarchies, but also to who led other types of non-democratic regimes. The despot is characterized by the performance of his duties arbitrarily and outside the law, as well as by treating his subjects through humiliation and servitude.

In other settings, the despot may be an exploiting boss or abusive parent. Since they exercise their functions through abuse and outside the legally established limits.

Enlightened Despotism

Enlightenment despotism was a form of government in the 18th century. In this, the absolute monarchies exercised their power without limitations, but many of their decisions were in favor of their citizens, thus promoting the advancement of society.

These decisions were based on the illustration, accepting reason as the cornerstone of progress.

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In fact, “all for the people, but without the people” is the phrase that best sums up the idea of ​​enlightened despotism. It summarizes that the measures were taken for your benefit but without your participation.

This form of government had the following characteristics:

  • Power was absolute on the part of the monarch.
  • Reason as the engine of social and economic development.
  • Reforms were made in agriculture, commerce and industry.
  • General modernization of cities.
  • Development of science and art.

Differences between despotism and tyranny

Tyranny and despotism may seem synonymous, since both refer to the exercise of power in an abusive way, but several authors have focused on establishing their differentiation.

For the historian Mario Turchetti, despotism is legitimate and even legal in some countries, on the contrary tyranny is illegitimate and illegal, since it does not have the support of the people and, in addition, it systematically violates human rights.

For Rousseau, the tyrant is the one who usurps authority and who comes to power against the laws, but rules with them; and the despot is the one who usurps the sovereign power and believes himself superior to the laws themselves.

Examples of despotic regimes

As representatives of enlightened despotism we have the examples of Carlos III in Spain, Frederick II of Prussia and Catherine II of Russia.

As more modern despotic regimes we can highlight Saudi Arabia and North Korea.

The Arab country is governed by an absolute monarchy whose law is sharia, which strictly follows the most radical Islamic principles. This leads to obvious discrimination against women and other minority groups, such as practitioners of other religions. In addition, the murder of Khashoggi, a journalist highly critical of the regime, left many doubts about the judicial effectiveness of the country.

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On the other hand, the Korean country has been ruled by a dynasty since the middle of the 20th century in a totally despotic way. Cases of executions, disappearances, persecution of dissidents and other totalitarian practices revolve around the Kim Jong-un government. The leader has complete freedom to do and undo according to his personal criteria.

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