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) 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 use 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
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
; the Pharaoh
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 refer to any absolutist or dictatorial regime or leader.