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.