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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: June 2012

4 - On despotism


Despotism comes from the Greek word δεσπóτηξ, meaning master. There is despotism whenever men have masters, that is to say, whenever they are subjected to the arbitrary will of others.

The despotism of one man exists only in the imagination, but the despotism of the few over the many is very common, and has two causes: the ease with which a small number of men can unite; and their wealth, which enables them to buy other forms of power.

If you look at the history of countries where you think you have found [an example of] a one-man despotism, you will always see a class of people or a number of small groups sharing power with him. In Turkey, the janissaries and the tribe of lawyers; in Rome, the praetorian guard and a dozen frontier armies; in France, a dozen parlements; in Prussia, the army; in Russia, regiments of guards and the nobility.

There are two types of despotism which we might call de jure and de jure (if the word jure [right] can be associated with the word despotism) but which I shall call direct despotism and indirect despotism. Direct despotism occurs in every country where the people’s representatives do not enjoy the full right of veto and they do not have enough power to reform laws they i nd contrary to reason and justice. Indirect despotism occurs when, in spite of the requirements of the law, representation is neither equal nor real, or when people are compelled to submit to an authority with no basis in law.

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Condorcet: Political Writings
  • Online ISBN: 9781139108119
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