New publication

The New Despotism

John Keane looks with concern at political developments in many countries of the world, as the values and institutions of liberal democracies are increasingly coming under threat. In his new publication “The New Despotism”, published recently by Harvard University Press, he warns of the dangers posed by new forms of despotism and addresses the current threats to democracy.

Casting doubt on such fashionable terms as dictatorship, autocracy, fascism, and authoritarianism, WZB’s Research Professor Keane makes a case for retrieving and refurbishing the old term “despotism” in order to make sense of how these regimes function and endure. 

In addition to a historical classification of the term, he describes features of this new despotism which he locates in Russia and China, but also in some parts of Central Asia, the Middle East, even Europe. He shows how the new despots cooperate regionally and globally and draw strength from each other’s resources while breeding global anxieties, thereby harming the values and institutions of democracy. 

Like Montesquieu in the eighteenth century, John Keane stresses the willful complicity of comfortable citizens,  the middle class, in all of these trends. And, like Montesquieu, he worries that the practices of despotism are closer to home than we care to admit.



john keane
David Ausserhofer

John Keane is Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney and Research Professor at the WZB.

John Keane Cover

John Keane: The New Despotism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press 2020

Podcast: Listen to John Keane discuss the anti-democratic practices of despotic governments sweeping the world, Australian radio program Uncommon Sense 

"Despoten unter uns: Wie Machthaber in aller Welt die Demokratie unterwandern".
Article about John Keane's new book in: Handelsblatt, 30.5.2020 (in German)