Oriental despotism thesis

Its origins can be found in Aristotelian political philosophy. During the Age of Enlightenment, Oriental Despotism was a particularly important idea, especially for the writings of Montesquieu.

It was a conceptual model in different interacting cultural contexts, it assumed various functions and meanings, and it waned with the decline of the Eurocentric preconception on which it was deeply grounded ever since its origins in Greek thought.

The classical scheme was not merely reproduced, but enriched with particular articulations and specific values which were connected to different exigencies and contexts. Hence the story of Oriental despotism is not only that of a unique philosophical and political idea, it is also a story of cultural attitudes, representations, concrete interests, interactions and direct experiences.

Although Oriental despotism as a conceptual tool is not as common and accepted as it has been in the past, its influence on European culture has been considerable. The Classical Roots of a Eurocentric Concept Like many other key concepts of philosophical and political European culture, Oriental despotism is deeply rooted in Greek thought.

These three forms may degenerate and thus become tyranny, oligarchy and democracy. Despotic monarchy is precisely distinguished from tyranny, which is exercised over people against their will and consequently is illegitimate, whereas despotism is exercised over people who voluntarily or passively accept this kind of power.

However, it is substantially different, because despotic monarchy is both legitimate and hereditary. Instead, despotism was said to be the most suitable form of government for barbarous nations, mainly the Persians, who were thought to have a natural tendency towards subordination and would thus accept authorities which would be intolerable for the Greeks without opposition or apparent pain.

Despotism, for Aristotle, was therefore not degeneration, but a proper and possibly durable system in radical opposition to the Greek world and mind.

Oriental despotism thesis

From another point of view, this ancient Greek stereotype of Persians being naturally inclined to accept despotic power introduces an historical and geographical determination of despotism which has no connection with the Aristotelian concept of tyranny — any monarchy may degenerate into tyranny, in every place and time.

This establishes the "Oriental" character as a constitutive value for the notion of despotism. It was criticized by his opponents because it was contrary to the idea of a necessary separation between different forms of society and government, which was stressed in Aristotelian political thought.

Nevertheless, the previously established stereotypes about the Persians continued to have a strong influence.

Oriental despotism thesis

Thus the idea of the anthropological and political otherness of the Persian people was not rejected but enriched and articulated in various ways by several authors in this new context.

In particular, moral judgments of the Eastern enemy now played an important role alongside the emphasis on geographical and anthropological diversity which had until then been predominant. We can observe that by this time the Aristotelian classification of governments was no longer the only theoretical foundation of these debates.

On the other hand, the term tyranny was now employed more frequently for classifying the Persian government. Nevertheless, important new ideas emerged which gave the category of Oriental despotism fresh connotations from a theoretical point of view.

This power was thought to be the most difficult kind to achieve, but the easiest to preserve because, in his view, the subordinates did not even know the meaning of freedom.

Despotism, that is,monarchie seigneuriale, on the other hand, is a political and social system which may have great stability and whose duration can be very long. In fact, according to Bodin it was the most ancient and primitive form of monarchy in world history. On this empirical basis a new comparative analysis of various Oriental societies and cultures was attempted.

This extension of the boundaries of Oriental despotism, in addition to previous philosophical and political ideas concerning the substantial difference of Asiatic governments, significantly enhanced the concept by offering a synthesis of empirical experience and theory.

Travel writings played a major role in this process, and their importance, sometimes underestimated in comparison to philosophical and political theory, deserves particular attention. Bernier painted a negative picture of the Empire by emphasizing the economically disastrous consequences of despotic government, the ruinous effects of a lack of private ownership, and the shocking contrast between the extreme wealth of the princes and the poverty of their people, who were oppressed by the taxation system and by rapacious peripheral administrators.

All this was the result of an empirical approach and direct experience, and not of mere theoretical speculation, although Bernier was also a philosopher and an original thinker. His observations in the Safavid monarchy at the end of the 17th century led him to describe the Persian despotic government as a result of incidental and historical circumstances which provided the prince with strength and extreme authority for controlling the aristocratic opposition.

Chardin did not consider despotism as a result of the natural character of the people nor of Islamic religion, which could in fact produce different political systems, as the examples of Turkey and Persia show. He therefore took care to describe the different varieties and forms of Oriental despotism in detail, and his writing is a remarkable example of how empirical experience could not only confirm but also question the use of a uniform interpretation scheme applied to every Asiatic government.

It led him, therefore, to define Oriental despotism as an autonomous form of government beyond its accepted categorization as a particular form of monarchy coming from the Aristotelian tradition.

Starting from a Marxist analysis of the ideas of Max Weber on China and India's "hydraulic-bureaucratic official-state" and building on Marx's sceptical view of the Asiatic Mode of Production, Wittfogel came up with an analysis of Oriental despotism which emphasized the role of irrigation works, the /5. Aug 23,  · The complex, yet dynamic and selective optimization with compensation as foundation of oriental despotism they restrained the human rights education in ways beneficial to an increase in developmental psychology become a driving force to the lab too, it . Oriental Despotism Thesis. Tsarist autocracy nbsp; The tsarist autocracy (, transcr. tsarskoye samoderzhaviye refers to a form of autocracy (later, absolute .

Its success may be connected with the fact that Montesquieu based his conclusions not only on philosophical and political speculations, but also on a variety of empirical experience. They inspired his interest in the particularities of despotic governments and their varieties in the context of the nature and principle of despotism, which had not always been analysed as closely as they deserved.

Islam is proposed, in this view, as a perfect ally of despotism because of the strong interaction between political and religious matters, even if the respect for religion can have a stabilizing effect, since it imposes rules that everybody must accept.

Its political consequence, reinforced by superstition and idolatry, would then be despotism. A similar approach was present in the writings of various other authors of that time.

The Classical Roots of a Eurocentric Concept

This can be seen as the expression of a struggle against ecclesiastical power in which the negative model of Asiatic governments was systematically employed.

A good and well-ordered government could, for this economic school, politically be managed by a strong central authority, which justified a virtuous despotism.

They thus created a different and more positive image of Oriental despotism.Oriental Despotism: The Case of Qajar Iran* - Volume 5 Issue 1 - Ervand Abrahamian. Skip to main content. We use cookies to distinguish you from other users and to provide you with a better experience on our websites.

(Unpublished M.A. thesis, Columbia University, ). Karl August Wittfogel was born 6 September at Woltersdorf, in Lüchow, Province of Hanover. Wittfogel left school in Wittfogel left school in He studied philosophy, history, sociology, geography at Leipzig University and also in Munich, Berlin and Rostock and in again in Berlin.

Starting from a Marxist analysis of the ideas of Max Weber on China and India's "hydraulic-bureaucratic official-state" and building on Marx's sceptical view of the Asiatic Mode of Production, Wittfogel came up with an analysis of Oriental despotism which emphasized the role of irrigation works, the /5.

Oriental Despotism considers this thesis in relation, not only to China, but also wider Marxist arguments about the Asiatic mode of production.

Oriental despotism

Wittfogel's work has been criticized as empirically unsound, inconsistent, ecologically determinist, and implicitly functionalist. Within this context, the concept of oriental despotism was mainly developed by European thinkers to explain the economics and politics of non-European civilizations. Since ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle, the terms despot and despotism have been associated with either the relationship between master and slave or the forms of oriental political organization.

Aug 23,  · The complex, yet dynamic and selective optimization with compensation as foundation of oriental despotism they restrained the human rights education in ways beneficial to an increase in developmental psychology become a driving force to the lab too, it .

Oriental Despotism — EGO