Tag: oriental despotism

A further brief note on the concept of Oriental Despotism as it is manifested in early-21st century popular culture

Sometimes ideas are created by experts, only to be debunked many years later because they are brutally, obviously, sickeningly racist. And yet, long after they have fallen out of fashion in academic circles, these zombie-ideas continue to swirl around in the popular culture…

This is a still image from the 2007 film ‘300’. On the left is the brave, freedom-loving, and definitely heterosexual King Leonidas of Sparta. On the right is the evil, jewelery-wearing, shisha-smoking, orgy-having, languid, homoerotic-in-a-creepy-way King Xerxes of Persia. Fun fact: the real-life Spartans were a warrior-society where all the men were able to devote themselves to full-time warrioring because a huge class of slaves did all the actual work. Sexual relationships between a teenaged boy and an older man (which today would be viewed as abusive) were common and socially accepted.

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Oriental Despotism

The theory of Oriental Despotism was created by western historians, and was a reflection of the colonial mindset; it negated Indianess, Indian nationalism, Indian culture and Indian people. Western historians even refused to accept that there was an Indian freedom struggle against the British colonialism and exploitation.

The focus of this theory is on India and China, the two major civilizations of the Orient. There were comments about “unchanging stagnant India”. Since India had been ruled by despots and tyrants, the uncivilized Indians were fit to be ruled with an iron had. It was held that there had been no change in Indian custom, laws and manners because Indians are indolent in both body and mind and hence prone to inaction.

Indian thought was depicted as symbolic and mythical rather than rational and logical. Anglicists argued that western knowledge in English should displace the Eastern.

Such ideological constructs were created to derive the legitimacy to impose tyrannical rule on India. The British administrator historians or the Anglicists as they were called, developed related theory of “Civilizing Mission”, “White Man’s Burden”, “Theory of Guardianship” etc.

– Om Prakash, “Negating the Colonial Construct of Oriental Despotism: The Science of Statecraft in Ancient India”, somewhat paraphrased.