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MY LECTURES ON “WHAT IS POLITICS?”                                                                2010

                                         LECTURE SIX
                        “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’’

                                      “POLITICS AS POWER”
                                            (Part One)
      We have discussed in our third lecture that politics is traditionally understood as an art of government and
      then moved our discussion in fourth lecture to understand politics as public affair. We have also expanded
      the horizon of politics in fifth lecture by treating politics as an activity that concerned with “compromise
      and consensus.” Today in this sixth lecture we will explore the “nexus between politics and power”.
  •   It is now settled that Politics is primarily concerned with power or it is mainly a KISSA KURSI KA.
      Disraeli says, “Politics is the possession and distribution of power”. Similarly Bismark remarked, “Politics
      is the science of power.” Lasswell maintains, “Politics is the study of influence and influenced. It is also a
      study of shaping and sharing of political power.” Max Weber says, “Politics is the struggle to share or
      influence the distribution of power, whether between States or among the groups within a State.
  •   Though we can trace the power view of politics from ancient past, but this view has been popularised
      mainly in the 20th century. Thucydides and the Thrasymachus (he said the first “might is right”) of the
      Greek times and Machiavelli in the 16th century gave primary importance to power. Machiavelli in his book
      The Prince said that power and love are the oldest emotions. Power is a better means of control than
      love because love is personal and power is impersonal.
  •   In the 17th century, Thomas Hobbes said that life is a “perpetual and restless desire for power after
      power which ceases only in death.” Hobbes in his book Leviathan emphasised that absolute power of the
      State is the only alternative and is always better than a complete absence of power—anarchy.
  •   However, in the 18th and 19th century, the belief of absolute power of the State was denied. It was believed
      that absolute power of the State is an enemy of human rights and freedom. It was also argued that power
      has a corrupting influence. In this regard, Lord Acton said, “power corrupts and absolute power
      corrupts absolutely.”
  •   It was in 20th century, the power view of politics gained prominence and supporters of this view are: Max
      Weber, Catlin, Russel, Kaplan, Lasswell, Morgenthau etc.
  •   All agreed that politics is the study of power that inquires following questions: What is power? How to
      acquire power? How to maintain power? How is power lost? What are the basis, object, form and scope of
      power? Who exercises power, for whose benefit and in what manner with what ends? Do ordinary people
      have any power? Is the use of force the same as power?
  •   Before we advance our discussion further we must explore the question as what is power.
      1) Power is the ability to get one’s wishes carried out despite opposition.
      2) Power is the ability to affect or control the decisions, policies, values or fortunes of others.
      3) Power involves the bringing about of an action by someone against the will or desire of another.
      4) Power is the possibility to influence the behaviour of others in accordance with the actor’s own
      purposes.
      5) Power is the production of intended effects and it is identified with the ability to cause things to
      happen.
      6) Power is a relationship in which one group of persons is able to determine the actions of another in
      the direction of the former’s own ends.
      7) Power is the ability to achieve desired outcome.
  •   Max Weber used the phrase “legitimate force”. But how does the notion of “legitimate force” connect to the
      notion of power? Is the use of force same as power? Both the term sound similar, in fact both are different.


                                NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY, ORISSA                                  Page 1
MY LECTURES ON “WHAT IS POLITICS?”                                                                 2010
      Power requires compliance, whereas force does not. For example, a person with a gun demands your
      money or life. You have a choice in technical sense. But the power exercised here involves a threat of
      credible force, so that in reality your choice is merely an illusion.
  •   Can force be legitimate? By legitimacy we mean, a force that is authorised and limited. Clearly a soldier of
      army or policeman can use force. Because, this force has been authorised by parliament. Parliamentarians
      are elected by people and thus hold parliament accountable to people.
  •   Consider the question of freedom or liberty. A person is free if he is able to exercise power to change
      himself or his surroundings. However, the negative freedom means you are free when no one deliberately
      interferes in your life. Being free means merely being left alone, thus not actually exercising power. While
      positive freedom relates to a person’s capacity to do something. For example, freedom of speech is the
      power of a person to speak his mind, not the restrictions
  •   Let us distinguish between power and authority. Simply, power involves dominating someone or some
      group, telling them what to do, whereas the authority is concerned with the rightness of an action. A person
      has to be pressured into complying with power, whereas he will obey the authority in a voluntary way.
                                              Authority = Power + Legitimacy
  •   Authority consists of two important components: power and legitimacy. Legitimacy of a rule or decision
      implies that the members of society treat that rule or decision as beneficial to society as well as to
      themselves. So they willingly tend to abide by it.
  •   Power alone involves capacity to get a decision obeyed by others against their will. However, it is only the
      “legitimate power” is being referred as “authority” and power is legitimate only when the compliance
      of others is not based upon fear or force rather voluntary respect that regard the command as
      “right”, “good” or “beneficial.”
  •   Power implies constraint, force, subordination and dependence. Authority implies consent, morality, will
      and autonomy. Thus, power and authority appear to exclude one another, but they are never found apart.
  •   Power is both negative and positive. Power is negative in the sense that it relates to my ability to get you
      to do things that you would not otherwise do. Thus, power is capacity of the individual to act freely and
      take responsibility for their actions.
  •   In contrast, power is deemed positive when it is expressed as empowerment. Empowerment takes place
      when one person helps (empower) themselves or another, or when a group or community enables people to
      develop.
  •   Positive power is seen as the ability to do things by the discovery of our own strength—a capacity—a
      power to—as opposed to negative power that is seen as a power over—a domination.
  •   However, the positive and negative power cannot divorced because both are related intimately too. It is true
      that earlier notion of power was treated positive, at the same time it was repressively hierarchical: the power
      of fathers, of lords, of priests, of kings. Positive power has been exercised in the past by people who claim
      to be acting on behalf of everyone else: men acting on behalf of women, lords on behalf of their serfs,
      government on behalf of people etc. Positive power transformed into negative power when it is exercised
      for the personal benefits that hold it.
  •   Negative power is sometime called a “zero sum game” i.e. I have power because you do not. I exercise
      power over you—if I win, you lose.




                                NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY, ORISSA                                   Page 2

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Lecture six politics as power-part one

  • 1. MY LECTURES ON “WHAT IS POLITICS?” 2010 LECTURE SIX “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’’ “POLITICS AS POWER” (Part One) We have discussed in our third lecture that politics is traditionally understood as an art of government and then moved our discussion in fourth lecture to understand politics as public affair. We have also expanded the horizon of politics in fifth lecture by treating politics as an activity that concerned with “compromise and consensus.” Today in this sixth lecture we will explore the “nexus between politics and power”. • It is now settled that Politics is primarily concerned with power or it is mainly a KISSA KURSI KA. Disraeli says, “Politics is the possession and distribution of power”. Similarly Bismark remarked, “Politics is the science of power.” Lasswell maintains, “Politics is the study of influence and influenced. It is also a study of shaping and sharing of political power.” Max Weber says, “Politics is the struggle to share or influence the distribution of power, whether between States or among the groups within a State. • Though we can trace the power view of politics from ancient past, but this view has been popularised mainly in the 20th century. Thucydides and the Thrasymachus (he said the first “might is right”) of the Greek times and Machiavelli in the 16th century gave primary importance to power. Machiavelli in his book The Prince said that power and love are the oldest emotions. Power is a better means of control than love because love is personal and power is impersonal. • In the 17th century, Thomas Hobbes said that life is a “perpetual and restless desire for power after power which ceases only in death.” Hobbes in his book Leviathan emphasised that absolute power of the State is the only alternative and is always better than a complete absence of power—anarchy. • However, in the 18th and 19th century, the belief of absolute power of the State was denied. It was believed that absolute power of the State is an enemy of human rights and freedom. It was also argued that power has a corrupting influence. In this regard, Lord Acton said, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” • It was in 20th century, the power view of politics gained prominence and supporters of this view are: Max Weber, Catlin, Russel, Kaplan, Lasswell, Morgenthau etc. • All agreed that politics is the study of power that inquires following questions: What is power? How to acquire power? How to maintain power? How is power lost? What are the basis, object, form and scope of power? Who exercises power, for whose benefit and in what manner with what ends? Do ordinary people have any power? Is the use of force the same as power? • Before we advance our discussion further we must explore the question as what is power. 1) Power is the ability to get one’s wishes carried out despite opposition. 2) Power is the ability to affect or control the decisions, policies, values or fortunes of others. 3) Power involves the bringing about of an action by someone against the will or desire of another. 4) Power is the possibility to influence the behaviour of others in accordance with the actor’s own purposes. 5) Power is the production of intended effects and it is identified with the ability to cause things to happen. 6) Power is a relationship in which one group of persons is able to determine the actions of another in the direction of the former’s own ends. 7) Power is the ability to achieve desired outcome. • Max Weber used the phrase “legitimate force”. But how does the notion of “legitimate force” connect to the notion of power? Is the use of force same as power? Both the term sound similar, in fact both are different. NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY, ORISSA Page 1
  • 2. MY LECTURES ON “WHAT IS POLITICS?” 2010 Power requires compliance, whereas force does not. For example, a person with a gun demands your money or life. You have a choice in technical sense. But the power exercised here involves a threat of credible force, so that in reality your choice is merely an illusion. • Can force be legitimate? By legitimacy we mean, a force that is authorised and limited. Clearly a soldier of army or policeman can use force. Because, this force has been authorised by parliament. Parliamentarians are elected by people and thus hold parliament accountable to people. • Consider the question of freedom or liberty. A person is free if he is able to exercise power to change himself or his surroundings. However, the negative freedom means you are free when no one deliberately interferes in your life. Being free means merely being left alone, thus not actually exercising power. While positive freedom relates to a person’s capacity to do something. For example, freedom of speech is the power of a person to speak his mind, not the restrictions • Let us distinguish between power and authority. Simply, power involves dominating someone or some group, telling them what to do, whereas the authority is concerned with the rightness of an action. A person has to be pressured into complying with power, whereas he will obey the authority in a voluntary way. Authority = Power + Legitimacy • Authority consists of two important components: power and legitimacy. Legitimacy of a rule or decision implies that the members of society treat that rule or decision as beneficial to society as well as to themselves. So they willingly tend to abide by it. • Power alone involves capacity to get a decision obeyed by others against their will. However, it is only the “legitimate power” is being referred as “authority” and power is legitimate only when the compliance of others is not based upon fear or force rather voluntary respect that regard the command as “right”, “good” or “beneficial.” • Power implies constraint, force, subordination and dependence. Authority implies consent, morality, will and autonomy. Thus, power and authority appear to exclude one another, but they are never found apart. • Power is both negative and positive. Power is negative in the sense that it relates to my ability to get you to do things that you would not otherwise do. Thus, power is capacity of the individual to act freely and take responsibility for their actions. • In contrast, power is deemed positive when it is expressed as empowerment. Empowerment takes place when one person helps (empower) themselves or another, or when a group or community enables people to develop. • Positive power is seen as the ability to do things by the discovery of our own strength—a capacity—a power to—as opposed to negative power that is seen as a power over—a domination. • However, the positive and negative power cannot divorced because both are related intimately too. It is true that earlier notion of power was treated positive, at the same time it was repressively hierarchical: the power of fathers, of lords, of priests, of kings. Positive power has been exercised in the past by people who claim to be acting on behalf of everyone else: men acting on behalf of women, lords on behalf of their serfs, government on behalf of people etc. Positive power transformed into negative power when it is exercised for the personal benefits that hold it. • Negative power is sometime called a “zero sum game” i.e. I have power because you do not. I exercise power over you—if I win, you lose. NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY, ORISSA Page 2