Pols 374 foundations of global politics
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POLS 374 Foundations of Global Politics. People and Power Lecture Week Two: October 4, 2005. People and Power Key Questions. What is power? Who or what has power? What is the primary or most importance source of power?. People and Power One more question ….

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POLS 374 Foundations of Global Politics

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Pols 374 foundations of global politics

POLS 374 Foundations of Global Politics

People and Power Lecture

Week Two: October 4, 2005

People and power key questions

People and PowerKey Questions

  • What is power?

  • Who or what has power?

  • What is the primary or most importance source of power?

People and power one more question

People and PowerOne more question …

  • Why is the authors’ discussion of power critical to their overall argument?

  • Answer:It is critical because you have to establish that ordinary people actually have power; if they don’t then the premise that “people matter” in global politics would be unsupportable, even absurd.

People and power traditional conceptions

People and PowerTraditional Conceptions

  • When most people think about power, they think in terms of power-over.

  • This is reflected in Robert Dahl’s famous definition: Power is the “ability of A to make B do what A wants when B would prefer to do something else.”

People and power traditional conceptions1

People and PowerTraditional Conceptions

  • Power-over suggests that the only power that matters is force--e.g., violence or the threat of violence.

This cartoon suggests that, without force, Saddam Hussein could thumb his nose at the the U.S. and the rest of the world. The application of force, however, changed everything. Now Hussein would have to listen!

People and power traditional conceptions2

People and PowerTraditional Conceptions

  • Power-over tells us that the United States is the most powerful country on earth. It is the most powerful because it has the largest economy and the strongest, best trained, best equipped, and most deadly military force. Right?

The Rest of the World:

A “99-pound weakling”

The United States: Power on Steroids

People and power power as military strength

People and PowerPower as Military Strength

People and power alternative conceptions

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions

  • Hannah Arendt argued that violence and power are not the same things; indeed, she argued that “violence erases power.”

  • As she put it: ”Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power's disappearance.”

People and power alternative conceptions1

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions

  • To understand this perspective, we need to recognize that there are many dimensions of power. We all know about power-over, but there is also power-with: that is, the ability to join forces to achieve a common goal.

People and power alternative conceptions2

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions

  • Power-with implies that power is not primarily an attribute of individuals per se, but instead grows out of an ensemble of persons who empower one another when they decide to act.

People and power alternative conceptions3

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions

  • Power-with implies that power is not just a function of having a lot of “stuff.” Stuff may be important, but without power-with, it may be useless. To see this consider …

… the recent hurricanes, especially Katrina. No doubt, the United States has a lot of stuff--massive amounts of stuff--but all the stuff in the world is useless if people don’t get together and decide how to best use it. It’s useless if people don’t communicate and don’t cooperate.

People and power alternative conceptions4

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions

  • Also consider how cooperation, even when you don’t have a lot of stuff, can give certain groups tremendous power. The best, although not admirable, example of this is al Qaeda. This organization doesn’t really have much stuff, but when the leadership gets together to decide how to use what little stuff they have, they have proven to be extraordinarily effective and powerful. (At the same time, the use of violence by al Qaeda may condemn the organization to powerlessness.)

People and power alternative conceptions5

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions

  • Another Example:

  • If we consider the war in Iraq, it is clear that all the “stuff” the US has--it’s overwhelming military force--still isn’t enough. The US military, so far, has been unable to defeat a ragtag, under-equipped, under-trained group of insurgents, whose most deadly weapon is the AK-47, the rocket-propelled grenade, and the improvised explosive device. No tanks, no aircraft, no missiles, no satellites, not much of anything.

  • Killing all Iraqis to “save” Iraq, moreover, isn’t an option. Such massive violence would “erase” American power.

People and power alternative conceptions6

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions

  • The authors, however, are not content to define power as only power-with; there is also power that derives from formal and informal rules -- that is, the ability of agents to create and enforce rules, not through coercion per se, but through consent.

  • The authors use the word “hegemony” to describe this type of power.

  • So, what is …

H E G E M O N Y ?

People and power alternative conceptions7

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions

  • Hegemony (as it is used in the chapter) derives from the work of Antonio Gramsci, who was one of the founding members of the Italian communist party in the early 1900s. Gramsci was jailed in 1926 and spent most of his adult life in prison, where he did a lot of his writing.

Antonio Gramsci (1891 - 1937) was a leading Italian Marxist. He was an intellectual, a journalist and a major theorist who spent his last eleven years in Mussolini’s prisons. During this time, he completed 32 notebooks containing almost 3,000 pages. These notebooks were smuggled out from his prison and published in Italian after the war but did not find an English-language publisher until the 1970s. The central and guiding theme of the Notebooks was the development of a new Marxist theory applicable to the conditions of advanced capitalism.

People and power alternative conceptions8

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions


  • One of the key questions that motivated Gramsci’s work was this: Why had it proven so difficult to promote revolution in Western Europe, where the ills of capitalism were so clearly damaging to the ordinary worker? In other words, why was the working class seemingly so passive, even accepting of capitalism?

People and power alternative conceptions9

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions

  • To Gramsci, this question seemed even more perplexing since, according to classical Marxist theory, revolution was supposed to start in the most advanced capitalist societies. Yet, in his lifetime, it was the comparatively backward Russia that had made the first “breakthrough.”

  • Gramsci’s answer revolved around the idea of hegemony.

People and power alternative conceptions10

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions

  • Hegemony had a very specific meaning. On the one hand, he understood it like many other thinkers of the time did--i.e., hegemony referred to the most dominant military, economic, actor in the world. This version of hegemony, however, understood power as being based primarily on coercion (power-over).

  • But to Gramsci, this was only half the equation. For, certainly, in many of the more advanced capitalist societies, it wasn’t only fear that kept workers from challenging the system, but it was also their willing acquiescence.

People and power alternative conceptions11

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions

  • More simply, it was consent that kept the system together. Indeed, in Gramsci’s view, one of the key tasks for the ruling stratum in any society is to inculcate a moral, political, and cultural system that naturalizes or legitimizes their continued rule.

  • This moral, political, and cultural system must not only reflect the values of the dominant group, but must also be accepted by subordinate groups and classes as their own.

  • Once this is done, all of the injustices, inequality, oppression, and exploitation of the system is simply accepted as the way things are “supposed to be,” and even the way things “have to be.” In short, the victims of the system become its greatest advocates and supporters.

People and power alternative conceptions12

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions

  • But this is the big question: How is consent achieved?

  • Answer: According to Gramsci, it is an unremitting and pervasive process, which takes place through the institutions of civil society: the media, the educational system, churches, voluntary organizations, even in the workplace itself. This is a process of “socialization,” a process that shapes our consciousness.

People and power alternative conceptions13

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions

  • There are two key implications of this argument:

  • First, unlike traditional Marxists, Gramsci’s analysis tells us that the system we live in today is held together as much by ideological/non-material forces as it is by material/economic forces.

  • Second, it tells us that challenges to the current system must take place in the ideological realm; in other words, society can only be transformed if the consensual element of hegemony is successfully undermined.

People and power alternative conceptions14

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions

  • Sovereign Rights and Wrongs

  • Some of the most important “rules” at the international level have to do with questions of sovereignty.

People and power alternative conceptions15

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions

  • Defining Sovereignty

  • Sovereignty, though its meanings have varied across history, also has a core meaning, supreme authority within a territory. It is a modern notion of political authority.(Source: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sovereignty/)

  • To put it more simply, sovereignty a state or government’s right to do as it pleases within its home territory.

People and power alternative conceptions16

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions

  • Sovereignty is a rule governing world politics. Historically, it is considered a legitimate, even sacrosanct rule. In this regard, the concept of sovereignty has had great power, both to spur action (that is, in times when sovereignty is challenged) and to justify inaction. Even when sovereignty is ignored by great powers, the concept itself is respected.

People and power alternative conceptions17

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions

  • The “respect” for sovereignty was used a basis (an excuse?) to prevent intervention by the international community in the genocides that occurred in Cambodia (1975), Bosnia (1991), Rwanda (1994), and many other cases.

People and power alternative conceptions18

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions

  • An Important Aside: It is critical to understand that “sovereignty” is merely an idea--something that, at base, exists inside our heads. We make it “real” because we believe it is real. In the same way, democracy, justice, human rights, nationalism, racism, and so on are merely thoughts that exist within our (collective) minds. Yet all these thoughts have power, indeed, they have great power …

People and power alternative conceptions19

People and PowerAlternative Conceptions

  • … they have the power to mobilize whole societies, to get people to willingly--often enthusiastically--kill others, and to even convince people to give up their own lives for the sake of a “greater good.”

People and power structures of power in the international system

People and PowerStructures of Power in the International System

  • When most people look at the international system, it is difficult not to conceive of it as a system dominated by one kind of power, power-over. This is certainly the position found in realism, the dominant theory of IR

People and power structures of power in the international system1

People and PowerStructures of Power in the International System

  • We think this way, in part, because we have been taught to see the world as a dog-eat-dog, everyone for himself environment where only the strongest survive – it’s Darwin’s survival of the fittest writ large (which, it is important to note, reflects the concept of anarchy the authors talk about)

People and power structures of power in the international system2

People and PowerStructures of Power in the International System

  • At the same time, war is relatively rare at the international level—at any given time, the vast majority of states are not fighting one another. Most it seems prefer to engage in peaceful, rule-governed relationships, for everyone understands that constant warfare is ultimately self-defeating

  • Thus, even at the international level, states appear to understand the importance of power-with; that is, they understand that they can accomplish more—and have better, more prosperous societies—if they cooperate and work together.

People and power structures of power in the international system3

People and PowerStructures of Power in the International System

  • Key point: the traditional view of international politics as a strict example of power-over is, on close inspection, a little problematic. We can see this, in part, by looking at the United States today.

  • It is clear, for example, that the US is a hegemonic power. But …

People and power structures of power in the international system4

People and PowerStructures of Power in the International System

  • … What if the rest of the world were to reject U.S. leadership and authority? What if the rest of the world decided to resist--even or especially non-violently-- the United States at every turn, in every forum, on every policy? Where would U.S. power and might be?

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