des·​po·​tism | \ˈdes-pə-ˌti-zəm \

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

The worst of all despotisms is the heartless tyranny of ideas. Daniel Pipes, WSJ, "Venezuela’s Tyranny of Bad Ideas," 26 Aug. 2018 Today the country with the world’s largest oil reserves suffers from a severely contracting economy, runaway inflation, despotism, mass emigration, criminality, disease, hunger and starvation, with circumstances deteriorating daily. Daniel Pipes, WSJ, "Venezuela’s Tyranny of Bad Ideas," 26 Aug. 2018 Fiction and poetry were Mario’s refuge from Ernesto’s domestic despotism. Marcela Valdes, New York Times, "The Elder Statesman of Latin American Literature — and a Writer of Our Moment," 20 Feb. 2018 Then some come and try to put us between two impossible options; either despotism or terrorism. Alessandra Codinha, Vogue, "Tawakkol Karman Has Not Given Up On Yemen—And Neither Should You," 27 Mar. 2018 Anyone who refuses to recognize that Donald Trump has raised the hate meter in this country to DEFCON 1 (our nation’s highest threat alert) is choosing politics over patriotism, despotism over common sense, anarchy over democracy. Rochelle Riley, Detroit Free Press, "Rochelle Riley: Threats to journalists are threats to America," 8 July 2018 China slipped back into despotism, warlordism and (following an invasion by Japan) all-out civil war. The Economist, "The next sunriseIdeas from abroad take time to percolate," 17 May 2018 The two-term limit was imposed in the wake of China's traumatic Cultural Revolution, when the country was still reeling from the bloody despotism and personal whims of the long-ruling Mao Zedong. Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, "China’s Xi steps up as the leader of the unfree world," 27 Feb. 2018 Instead Russia exchanged one form of political oppression – the tsars – for Communism and the despotism of Stalin, the reign of terror and the gulags. Anna Diamond, Smithsonian, "A Century Ago, the Romanovs Met a Gruesome End," 26 June 2018

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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Last Updated

6 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for despotism

The first known use of despotism was circa 1727

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English Language Learners Definition of despotism

: rule by a despot

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to enclose within walls

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