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Despotism is a form of government by a single authority, either an individual or tightly knit group, which rules with absolute political power. In its classical form, a despotism is a state where one single person, called a Despot, wields all the power and authority, and everyone else is considered their slave. This form of despotism was the first known form of statehood and civilization; the Pharaoh of Egypt is exemplary of the classical Despot.
The term now implies tyrannical rule. However, in enlightened absolutism (also known as benevolent or enlightened despotism), which came to prominence in 18th century Europe, absolute monarchs used their authority to institute a number of reforms in the political systems and societies of their countries. This movement was probably largely triggered by the ideals of the Age of Enlightenment.
Even though the word has a pejorative meaning nowadays, it was once a legitimate title of office in the Byzantine Empire. Just as the word "Byzantine" is often used in a pejorative way (for specific reasons by certain Enlightenment authors wishing to express disapproval of that period in history), the word "Despot" was equally turned around for negative meaning. In fact, "Despot" was an Imperial title, first used under Manuel I Komnenos (1143–1180) who created it to his appointed heir Alexius-Béla. According to Gyula Moravcsik this title was a simple translation of Béla's Hungarian title 'úr', but other historians believe it comes from the ancient Greek, despotes (literally, 'the master'). In the Orthodox Liturgy, if celebrated in Greek, the priest is addressed by the deacon as "despot" even today.
It was typically bestowed on sons-in-law and later sons of the Emperor, and beginning in the 13th century it was bestowed to foreign princes. The Despot wore an elaborate costume similar to the Emperor's and had many privileges. Despots ruled over parts of the empire called Despotates.
The English government is cited to have reduced the American people under absolute despotism in the United States Declaration of Independence. "But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."