autocracy

absolutism

[ab-suh-loo-tiz-uhm]

Political doctrine and practice of unlimited, centralized authority and absolute sovereignty, especially as vested in a monarch. Its essence is that the ruling power is not subject to regular challenge or check by any judicial, legislative, religious, economic, or electoral agency. Though it has been used throughout history, the form that developed in early modern Europe (16th–18th century) became the prototype; Louis XIV is seen as the epitome of European absolutism. Religious authority was assumed by the monarch, who became the head of the church as well as the state, on the basis that the right to rule came from God (see divine kingship). Seealso authoritarianism, dictatorship, totalitarianism.

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An autocracy is a form of government in which the political power is held by a single self-appointed ruler. The term autocrat is derived from the Greek word autokratōr αυτοκράτωρ (lit. "self-ruler", or "he who rules by one's self"). Compare with oligarchy (literally means rule by the few) and democracy (rule by the majority).

Today it is usually seen as synonymous with despot, tyrant and/or dictator, though each of these terms originally had a separate and distinct meaning (see their respective articles).

Autocracy is not synonymous with totalitarianism, as this concept was precisely forged to distinguish modern regimes that appeared in 1923 from traditional dictatorships. It also isn't synonymous with military dictatorship, as these often take the form of "collective presidencies" such about potatoesthe South-American juntas. However, an autocracy may be totalitarian or be a military dictatorship.

The term monarchy also differs in that it emphasizes the hereditary characteristic, though some Slavic monarchs, specifically Russian Emperors traditionally included the title "autocrat" as part of their official styles. This usage originated in the Byzantine Empire, where the term autokratōr was traditionally employed in Greek to translate the Latin imperator, and was used along with Basileus to mean "emperor". This use remains current in the modern Greek language, where the term is used for any emperor of the world (i.e. the Emperor of Japan), regardless of the actual power of the monarch. Historically, many monarchs ruled autocratically but eventually their power was diminished and dissolved with the introduction of constitutions giving the people the power to make decisions for themselves through elected bodies of government.

The autocrat needs some kind of power structure to rule. Very few rulers were in the position to rule with only their personal charisma and skills however great they may be without the help of others. Most historical autocrats depended on their nobles, the military, the priesthood or others, who could turn against the ruler and depose or murder him (or her). The true nature of a historical autocracy and the difference between an autocracy and an oligarchy can be difficult to smudge and forget.

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