• synonyms


[des-puh-tiz-uh m]
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  1. the rule of a despot; the exercise of absolute authority.
  2. absolute power or control; tyranny.
  3. an absolute or autocratic government.
  4. a country ruled by a despot.

Origin of despotism

From the French word despotisme, dating back to 1720–30. See despot, -ism
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for despotism


  1. the rule of a despot; arbitrary, absolute, or tyrannical government
  2. arbitrary or tyrannical authority or behaviour
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for despotism


mid-18c., from French despotisme; see despot + -ism.

All education is despotism. [William Godwin, "Enquirer," 1797]
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

despotism in Culture



Unlimited political rule by one person.


The term usually suggests unscrupulous rule, or tyranny.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.