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Despotism is government by a singular authority, either a single person or tightly knit group, which rules with absolute power. The word implies tyrannical rule; it suggests a form of government which exercises exacting and near-absolute control over all of its citizens.
A related term is benevolent despotism, which refers specifically to a form of rulership that came to prominence in the 18th century. In this instance, the absolute monarchs ruling certain nations used their authority to institute a number of reforms in the political and social structures of their countries. This movement was probably largely triggered by the ideals of the Enlightenment.
- Dictionary of the History of Ideas: despotism