des·​po·​tism | \ ˈde-spə-ˌti-zəm How to pronounce despotism (audio) \

Definition of despotism

1a : oppressive absolute (see absolute sense 2) power and authority exerted by government : rule by a despot an excess of law is despotism, from which free men revolt— S. B. Pettengill
b : oppressive or despotic exercise of power educational despotism
2a : a system of government in which the ruler has unlimited power : absolutism
b : a despotic state enduring the despotism of the czars

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Examples of despotism in a Sentence

by the end of the 20th century many countries around the world had rejected despotism in favor of democracy
Recent Examples on the Web Through schisms, invasions, wars, despotism, and depressions, from Huns to Flagellants, Jacobins, Reds, and Nazis, custodians of heritage in the Old World keep their collective eye on what’s sculpted, painted, gilded, and wrought. Brian T. Allen, National Review, "Museum Art Vaults, Raided for Cash?," 25 Mar. 2021 Arendt’s true subject is the appeal of authoritarianism and the ease with which despotism can take hold. Erin Overbey, The New Yorker, "New Yorker Classics That Resonated in 2020," 29 Dec. 2020 But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. Jack Butler, National Review, "The Presidency Matters Far Too Much," 3 Nov. 2020 This was the climate in which Federalist and Democratic-Republican partisans fought the 1800 election, each side convinced the other would unravel the American experiment and bring the republic to either anarchy or despotism. Jamelle Bouie, Star Tribune, "Democracy in crisis: What would the Founding Fathers do?," 3 Oct. 2020 For Lincoln, America, like Eden, could be maintained only by the willingness of the people to deny themselves certain pleasures; in particular, the pleasure of despotism, of ruling others without their consent. Cameron Hilditch, National Review, "Self-Interest Is Not Enough: Lincoln’s Classical Revision of the Founding," 18 Sep. 2020 As Alexis de Tocqueville noted, despotism can do without religious faith, but freedom cannot. Nr Staff, National Review, "Liberty and Justice for All: An Open Letter to Fellow Citizens in Defense of American Institutions," 10 Sep. 2020 Her life is a series of insurrections against male despotism, beginning with her father’s. Judith Thurman, The New Yorker, "What Brings Elena Ferrante’s Worlds to Life?," 24 Aug. 2020 At least the fellow travelers of the Cold War had the decency to defend despotism for ideological reasons. David Harsanyi, National Review, "R.I.P. Hong Kong," 12 Aug. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'despotism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of despotism

circa 1727, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for despotism

see despot

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Time Traveler for despotism

Time Traveler

The first known use of despotism was circa 1727

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Statistics for despotism

Last Updated

2 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Despotism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Apr. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of despotism

: rule by a despot

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