“Political Science… is the study of shaping and sharing power,” according to Harold Lasswell. It surprises me how rarely power is discussed within the literature of political science. Moreover, it is a surprise how scholars segment power into politics because power encompasses so much of modern society.

Power depends on resources. Resources are found in wealth, people or knowledge. Wealth is not just money. Natural resources are wealth. Land is wealth. Anything that has value in exchange is a form of wealth. The presence of oil in the Middle East is a source of power for the region and those countries who possess oil fields. But businesses and corporations also have power. And individuals who amass or inherit wealth have disproportionate power to the poor and impoverished.

Power is also based in people. Democracy elevates the political power of organizations capable of mobilizing segments of the population into votes and support. But people have always been a source of power. A large population has traditionally implied a large army. The population of Judah was a source of its power because it produced a large army in the field of combat. But a large population also produces greater economic resources as well. A large population which is poor can have greater wealth than a small population that is rich. China has the second largest economy in the world even though it lags European countries in per capita income.

Knowledge is meant in the broadest sense. I include skills in knowledge. And information. Perhaps it is more precise to break knowledge down into its constituent parts and consider them individually. But I have preferred parsimony. And knowledge is power. A small but highly skilled army is worth more than a large but untrained and undisciplined army. The three hundred Spartans is the best-known example of the power found in a small but well-trained army. But the Navy Seals or Green Berets are modern examples where a small, elite force is worth far more in combat than a comparable size group of untrained civilians.

The possession of power is not found in its use but in its potential. Because the use of power expends its resources. A loss of resources is a loss of power. But power does not decay over time. Instead, those who have power find ways for it to grow with interest. Power centralizes within those people and institutions who possess the most. The state has become the most powerful institution within modern democratic societies. Naturally, the State has grown. Every generation the State has become involved in new services and new roles. The State grows because power centralizes within its most powerful institutions.

But modern society is not centralized into a state reminiscent of 1984. On the contrary, power is decentralized throughout society. Power is decentralized into more organizations, institutions and individuals than any other time in history. Economic power is decentralized into businesses and corporations. While the government has influence over the economy, it is managed by private companies. Religious power is decentralized into a vast number of churches and faiths. Even political power in the United States is decentralized into different branches, political parties and interest groups.

I made a mistake by referring to political power. All power is political. So, politics encompasses all of society. Pluralism is possible because power has been decentralized and segmented into countless constituent parts. The paradox is power continues to centralize after its decentralization into new segmentations.

For example, the internet began as a vast world of limitless freedom and opportunity. And the potential still exists. But power on the net has centralized into companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon who have disproportionate influence on the revenue, services and, most importantly, information produced online. Why?

jmk, carmel, indiana, democracyparadoxblog@gmail.com

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