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Oriental Despotism and European Orientalism: Botero to Montesquieu

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The issue of how European images of the East were formed, used, and contested is far from simple. The concept of oriental despotism allowed early-modern Europeans to distinguish themselves from the most powerful and impressive non-European civilizations of the Ottoman Middle East, Persia, India, and China on grounds which were neither fundamentally religious nor linked to sheer scientific and technological progress, but political and moral. However, it would be incorrect to treat this as a pure European fantasy based on the uncritical application of a category inherited from Aristotle, because both the concept and its range of application were often hotly contested. By assessing the way travel accounts helped transform the concept from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, this article argues that oriental despotism was not a mental scheme that blinded Europeans to the perception of the true Orient, but rather a compelling tool for interpreting information gathered about the Orient, one which served a common intellectual purpose despite important differences of opinion in Europe about the nature of royal power.

10.1163/1570065054300275
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/content/journals/10.1163/1570065054300275
2005-01-01
2016-12-08

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