chapter  2
76 Pages

The classical understanding: Tyranny and despotism


Leaving aside the diversity of cultural traditions in Europe, the classical

vocabulary provided a first linguistic means by which to understand the new

forms of illegitimate rule that arose in the twentieth century. Further still: it

entailed a power to mobilise that enabled – at least potentially – a degree of

distance and immunity with regard to the modern despotisms. Here,

modern divergences from the ancient concepts must be considered, as must

the varying degrees of presence and validity that the concepts enjoyed

within the individual European countries. Whereas a relative continuity between classical and modern conceptual forms has predominated in Great

Britain and the Anglo-Saxon world, continental Europe has been divided.

Here, elements of the tradition on the one hand and deconstructive ten-

dencies that have levelled the traditional vocabulary on the other have held

the scales in balance.