Power and Authority
• Central concepts in politics
• Those in power can often set the agenda, so it is important to understand how power works
Power and Authority
Power: the ability to force behavior upon those who would not otherwise choose it, implies
coercion. Alternatives to the use of coercion are 1. running through ideological control and 2.
conversion of power to authority.
Authority: associated with legitimacy, acceptance; rule by the consent of the ruled. May be
defined as legitimate power in the sense that rulers gain the acceptance of the ruled not through
coercion but by persuading them to recognize the rulers’ right to exercise power.
• A common way of distinguishing between power and authority is to equate the former with
coercion and the latter with consent.
• Legal-rational authority is the basis for authority in the modern world (Gerth and Mills, 1946).
Example: The president of France is obeyed not because she or he is charismatic or claims to
have a divine right to rule, but because she or he holds the office of the president. Political
institutions are accepted because they are subject to democratic principals. The president
remains the only part of the French polity whose constituency is the entire French electorate.
Rule Through Ideological Control
✦ Manipulation of the preferences of the ruled to reflect the interests of the ruler
✦ Eliminates the need for constant surveillance
✦ Associated with elitist thought and Marxist critiques of capitalism.
✦ This is closely related to the Marxist idea of “false consciousness”
✴ Asserts that the ruling class can distort the thought-processes of the labouring masses
to the extent that they actually come to approve of the system which exploits them.
Conversion of Power to Authority
✦ Attempt to make the ruler legitimate in the eyes of the ruled
✦To do this requires an understanding of the basis for authority
✴ Election of political leaders
✦How is legitimacy decided?
✦Although they can be treated as separate, all governments make use of both power and
✦ “Where coercion creates obedience at a high cost in manpower and equipment, authority can
control both the minds and the behavior of individuals at a very low cost” (Goodwin 2007:328)
✦In practice the distinction between the two can be very difficult to draw
✴ Authority is granted to individuals and institutions because they have power ✴ However, authority can be a product of manipulation; hence not all authority is
THREE TYPES OF AUTHORITY
• Traditional authority: based on traditional customs and values such as the divine right of
• Charismatic authority: based on the personal characteristics of the ruler, often associated
with authoritarian and totalitarian societies. (authoritarian - Stalin/Hitler)
• Legal-rational authority: based on the status of the office within a constitutional structure; as
a part of a system of constitutional rules or a religious text such as the Koran. (democratic)
Is power the same as force?
--> Power can be and often is expressed through force
--> Some argue that the use of force is an indicator that power has failed
--> Lukes: “having the means of power is not the same thing as being powerful”
ex: US in Vietnam and Iraq
Must power be exercised deliberately?
• Russell: power is “the production of intended results: the unforeseen effects of our influence on
others cannot be called power”
• Poslby: “Who benefits?...is a different question from who governs”
Is power a good thing?
• Some argue that this depends on how it is used
• Power used to productively transform can be good
• Power used to harm others can be bad
• Sometimes power is necessary even in a democracy, since the decisions taken by a majority
will always leave a minority who may be resentful that their views did not prevail.
• Liberals typically see the exercise of power as undesirable because it “involves the imposition
of someone’s values upon another” (Barry, 2000)
- Limitations on power to prevent too much power over another
Can we eliminate power?
• Thinkers like Habermas, Lukes and Marcuse argue that power needs to be kept in check
because it is illegitimately used
• Foucault argue that power is everywhere and unavoidable
• Power is not something that you “have” or “don’t have”, it is part of all relationships...there is
no way to liberate ourselves from it
• The best that can be done is to change the focus and implementation of power • Even in a democracy there needs to be some power (majority rule issue) even though
democratic states rely on authority much more than power. Similarly with authoritarian regimes
there is still some authority that comes with their reliance on power.
• Sometimes authority is granted to institutions or individuals precisely because they have power.
Even totalitarian regimes have some degree of authority.
3.Explain Gramsci’s concept of hegemony. Is it relevant in today’s world? Why or why not?
- Hegemony is when a dominating class rules another in political, social and economic
spheres, this can be domestic as well as international. (text book, terms and definition
- This is seen in the modern day world when it comes to developing countries; the
superpowers of the world take advantage of these places by capitalizing off of their
vulnerable state, lack of workers rights, and cheap resources. All the while the
developed countries claim that they are simply trying to create action in these third-
world economies, however it has become clear that there has always been another
Supreme Court of Canada: Authority, Power and Legitimacy (page 47)
• A useful example of the distinction between power and authority
• The supreme court has an established right to determine whether or not the l