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What is Political Power? (Theory of Political Consciousness and Integrated Concept of Power)

Mehdi Shokri*

Department of Politics and Philosophy, Freie Universitat Berlin, Berlin, Germany

*Corresponding Author:
Shokri M
Department of Politics and Philosophy
Freie Universitat Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Tel: +491791698814
E-mail: [email protected]

Received Date: April 26, 2017; Accepted Date: May 05, 2017; Published Date: May 12, 2017

Citation: Shokri M (2017) What is Political Power? (Theory of Political Consciousness and Integrated Concept of Power). Arts Social Sci J 8: 269. doi:10.4172/2151-6200.1000269

Copyright: © 2017 Shokri M. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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It has been assumed that ‘Power’, following Gallie’s analysis, is an essentially contested concept. However, in this paper, it is argued that the modern concept of power is beyond this primitive definition. In order to understand the concept of political power, one must consider the notions of ‘rights’ and ‘power’. Hence, the first aim of the paper is to introduce power as an ‘essentially integrated concepts’. Furthermore, the reciprocal relation between the concepts of political power and political rights produces what here is called ‘the political consciousness’. Commemorating the complex but reciprocal relationship between power and right not only invites us to have a new perspective on the concepts of power but also helps us to understand the theory of political consciousness. After categorizing the concepts of power, the final part of the paper defines sovereignty (Herrschaft), power (Macht) and legitimate power.


Power; Rights; Essentially integrated concepts; Sovereignty; Political consciousness; Justification; Legitimacy; Democratization


Conceptualization: Essentially integrated concepts vs. essentially contested concepts

Political power is all around us, visible and invisible. It is manifested in the everyday social relations, in people ideologies and their actions [1]. When a man seeks power, power affects the process; but when a man wields power, power is the man. Based on its ubiquitous presence, it is assumed that it fits in the category of the taken-for-granted-things. Yet, to comprehend the concept of political power, one may step beyond the taken-for-granted-things and look into the process that power constantly evolves.

Of course, the concept of power includes the bias. However, to those scholars who are familiar with this concept, the source of power, the necessity of its existence, and the power relations do not intrinsically lay in the category of the taken-for-granted-things. This is an initial challenge which I present under the title of ‘the essentially contested/ integrated concepts of power’. Hence, we address this challenge and then move on to explain the constituent concepts of power. Here, we have to ask: what is the first step to understand the nature of political power?

In ‘On the social evolution of power to/over’, Jonathan Hearn begins his argument by saying that “we are much more comfortable critiquing power than we are matter-of-factly describing it” [2]. This is true to some extent. However, recently, scholarly disciplines such as Sociology, Psychology, Philosophy, Economics, and Political science in one way or another try to define power. Both, the critique of Hearn and the endeavor of classic and modern scholars to define political power are due to the complexity of it. In fact, political power is not only a complex concept but also it is the core essence of a society. When power evolves, it affects the core essence of a society [2].

So, after addressing the initial challenge, we try here to fully realize this concept by analyzing it and its instruments and by addressing the social evolution that affected by it.

Essentially Contested Concepts of ‘Power’

If we look back at the works written on the concept of power, we realize that some scholars identified power as a single concept. Following such method, they have presented political power as identified with its exercise [3], domination [4], subject dispositions [5,6], freedom [7] or empowerment [8]. Among these concepts, the most primitive yet prevailing concept of power is the preserve the powerful by ‘domination’ or ‘power over’ those with less power or the powerless.

Despite a long history of discussions, arguments, wars and compromises on the different notions of political power, theoretically and pragmatically, never these challenges cause a shift from the single concept of power to the mixed or integrated concepts that can provide us a sufficient and comprehensive definition of modern power along its legitimacy. The literature is replete with the examples of the theories of the single concepts of power that are applied contradictorily [9]. Emphasis on the single concept of political power led to the lack of unanimity in saying that which definition is adequate, and which of them implies the justification and legitimacy of power. Based on such differentiated approaches, it has been believed that ‘power’, as the Scottish social theorist Walter Gallie first proposed in 1956, is an “essentially contested” concept [10].

The theories of the ‘singular concept of power’ are the foundation of an initial assessment of the concepts of power [4,11]. In this sense, they are no less important than the more complex ones. Yet, such a theory focuses on the theorists rather than the concepts, suggesting that ‘essentially contested concepts’ are carrying the intention of the scholars, not that they in themselves are essentially definable. They can be defined as the user of the concepts wishes. For example, when a theologist uses the concept of power, its legitimacy or the concept of political rights, their view of such concepts entails a clear religious definition of a power structure. A socialist has a different view of power which emphasizes every aspect of social life, while a liberal’s definition of power is circumscribed in a scoop which emphasizes a strict distinction of the public and the private sphere [12]. While a theologist may ignore the social variables, a socialist may ignore the effects of religion in the formation or transition of power. Such relativity between a theorist and the concepts is actually the consequence of a tension between the normative evaluation of the concepts and empirical evaluation of the concepts. This form of conflict causes scholars to imply that there could be no agreement on a singular concept that can define political power; hence they agree to not agree [12].

Here, the question follows with a very important consequence: ‘does the concept of political power, just like ‘democracy’ and ‘legitimacy’, carry the evaluative referent or calculative referent?’ Perhaps such a question leads us to analyze in a single scale scientific approach, or perhaps scholars belonging to each side of academic disciplines, namely Sociology, Philosophy, or Political science, would declare that a concept of political power falls squarely within their field, this claim simply debatable.

If political power, as well as democracy, human rights, and legitimacy are merely evaluative concepts and only fall into the normative evaluation of political sphere, or, if these concepts are merely calculative and fall into the empirical calculation of political sphere, how do we practice critique if there is no connection?

Thus, following the evolutionary process of historical consciousness1, there must be an incentive to welcome the interrelationship between the intensive and extensive, and particular and universal factors to analyze different concepts of political power, as well as legitimacy, democracy, etc. In this sense, both normative and empirical evaluations are needed for the assessment of the concept of power.

Essentially Integrated Concepts of ‘Power’ and ‘Rights’

In the pragmatic sphere, the concept of political power is a bit clearer, yet we should be careful to hold it far from the taken-forgranted- things. Different societies have experienced different forms of political power as authorities and sovereigns have formed different power structures. Nevertheless, different concepts of political power are the products of the capacity of the people in each region and their own unique experience in life through a long historical-political process [13]. Here, an important point to note and central argument of this work is to show that the main reason for existence of different forms of political power and different power relations is the interdependency of the concepts of political ‘power’ and political ‘rights’.

Hence the ‘essentially integrated concepts’ of power and rights, while the essentially integrated concepts of power and right emphasizes on all concepts of power, the exercise of power and formation of state is more understandable.

Thus, political power is an integrated concept: it comprises the concept of political ‘power’-qua authority and political ‘rights’ [14,15]. Only with this approach, power can be appreciated as the key concept with which we can have the better understanding of politics, political lives, organizations and political phenomenon [16].

Given our attention to the concept of civil and political rights, we can refer to the different concept of political power, namely ‘power over’ as domination, ‘power to’ as rights, and ‘power of ’ as the moral significance to those rights. Surly, possession of rights, the concept of ‘power to’, makes claiming the rights possible, yet the “moral significance” of rights depend on the possibility of claiming them [17,18]. This is a new concept presented in this work which it is called the concept of ‘power of ’. It implies the will and the intuition - of a person or political organization to act autonomously to claim the rights, and also being aware of or being conscious of the two other concepts of power: the concept of ‘power over’ and ‘power to’. In other words, to have a valid claim on others for possession of the political rights [19], these concepts of power are the crucial and determining factors for each political order since it puts an agenda through which power is formed and exercised2.

Even if a theorist particularly interested in the concept of power qua authority or the concept of ‘power over’, they have to admit that this implicitly involves some sort of the concept of political rights which can be held as an essential factor to understand this concept of power. As authority is always embodied in the voice of God or the worldly leaders and personalities, the concept of power has always implied the claimant to it. This approach can explain, from both the normative and empirical evaluations, why different forms of power relations can carry different definitions of what is assumed as “essentially contested concepts”.

In other words, political power is not comprised the “essentially contested concept”. It is comprised “the integrated concepts” of power - over - and - political - rights. From now on, the concept of power is characterized by a systematic recognition and observance of rights, namely ‘right to cede the right’ and ‘right to rule’.

The Theory of Political Consciousness and Legitimacy of Power

The essentially integrated concepts, the political consciousness and legitimacy

A community without power is chaos. Chaos is not merely the absence of power but the absence of political power and political rights is merely the absence of order. Mostly, the chaotic situations lead to the emergence of the dictators and tyrants. Power can be the cause of the subordinate experience, humiliation, and threat. On the one hand, it identifies a group of people as one entity, e.g. nation, society, political community and a state, under its umbrella; on the other hand, it can threaten the identity of some groups. It gives security to the political community or an institution to thrive and develop, and yet those who hold power, or seek to do so, can be at odds with one another or the people whom they govern, and thus, pose a threat to their own existence and others. In this sense, political power is among the most important issues as it is the most problematic one because balance is so difficult to achieve. So what are the consequences of such an inevitable aspect of social-political life?

In general, different interpretations in these factors, domination, exercise of power, and political rights determine whether one person or group can exercise political power over others. Political power, by which the different forms of power relations appear, is the basic and crucial part of the political order. Furthermore, political power is the primary factor for the establishment, identification, survival, and development of a state (Staat) or a political institution. We can see how the debates on the appropriate power relation have been a contentious issue in the history of civilization. From the social engineering perspective, political power is the cornerstone of harmony and homogeneity in political community by which “the generality of a system of values in a community allotting recognition” not only to individuals and groups, but also to the different approach of such classification under a regularized system [20].

The unfortunate effect of the separation of the concepts of ‘power’ and ‘rights’ is the political disasters throughout the times when a quasi Rechtsstaat (constitutional or legal state) based on the “rule of law” or legal order, or in contrast, a Machtstaat (dictatorship or tyranny) based on the ‘admiration’ and ‘belief ’ produces a concept of authoritarianism/totalitarianism [20,21]3. The separation of ‘power’ and ‘right’ is a reason for asymmetric power relations in which the concept of ‘power over’ or domination subjugates the other concept of power.

On the contrary, the only remedy for such asymmetric power relations is the presence of the reciprocal, constitutive, and integrated concepts of power and rights. In other words, the appreciation of power as the ‘essentially integrated concepts’ of political ‘power’ and political ‘rights’ produces a symmetric relation between the concepts of power. The balance between the ‘power’ and ‘right’ is a major ground for a cognitive, pragmatic, and progressive legitimate power. The essentially integrated concepts of power viz. the integrated concepts of ‘power’ and ‘rights’ are not only based on the historical claim of legitimate power that may be restricted to specific social and historical variable and to certain people but also contains a comprehensible concept of universality. It emphasizes on the whole definition of power and on all of the comprising elements of it. Thus, our definition of legitimate power should be practical in a way that we would be able to set it as an evaluative element to assess other definitions of power.

Given the three main concepts of power, namely the concepts of ‘power over’, ‘power to’, and ‘power of ’, and our theory of ‘the essentially integrated concepts’ of power, our definition of power should be the definition of legitimate power which can be applied universally. This idea is elaborated once by a prominent German philosopher and political theorist, Dolf Sternberger.

“Legitimacy is the foundation of such governmental power”, Sternberger wrote, “as is exercised both with a consciousness on the government's part that it has a right to govern and with some recognition of that right by the governed” [22]. This combination embraces all concepts of political power in a form of essentially not contested concepts – but, on the contrary, the essentially integrated concepts - , which is a reciprocal constitutive part of political power. In other words, the legitimacy of political power is the effect of a developing capacity or ability in a power relation which is based on the rational and historically intended wills. Such phenomenon can be called as ‘consciousness of rights’ or ‘political consciousness’, which engages with both sides of the government and the governed. It helps that each side of this political spectrum to recognize both their rights and the rights of other side, and to produce confidence [22]. It also shapes the concept of power as the essentially integrated concept of ‘power’ and ‘rights’.

I use ‘consciousness of rights’ or ‘political consciousness’ as a mutual recognition, observation, justification, and appreciation of rights that belong to the nature of legitimate-democratic-powers. Accordingly, the concept of mutual knowledge that supports a healthy, confident, and reciprocal constitutive character of political power and political rights, the political consciousness, builds the concept of 'state' as a unified identity of leaders and followers [23,24]4. Moreover, the political rights, as we correctly understand, is not only the capacity and rights of the citizens of taking part in the government and of being immune to their life and liberty against violation by the state power, but also in the formation of the ‘will’ of the state, of the right to govern [25].

The concept of usurpation of power stands on the contrary to the concept of legitimacy. Following Sternberger argument, the legitimacy and its opposite, the usurpation of power, distinguished by the nature of political consciousness, the state’s criteria, and the evaluation of instruments of power.

“Usurpers, after seizing power, have often tried to strengthen their positions by giving their governments a legitimate form, and these attempts to clothe a usurping power with legitimacy, whether successful or not, have often revealed what the standards of legitimacy are for a given society or civilization” [22].

Yet, the mere notion of legitimacy is endangered by the “plurality of its patterns and its sources” in different form of regimes which aim “to enjoy widespread authentic recognition of its existence or try to win such recognition” [22].

Indeed, the desire for legitimacy is rooted in all power structures. In general, if we refer to the definition of legitimacy presented in this part, then the definition of the usurpation of power can comparatively be recognizable. The usurpation of power, thus, is basically the violation of the principles by which power as is exercised based on the political consciousness.

Sovereignty and the Political Consciousness

Different premises and ideologies on political power endeavor to reach power, and their efforts to develop a high level of authority in a power relation have caused the general historical-political experience of a unique message: all individuals, groups, societies and institutions seek to establish an effective political order. The aim of a political order, good or bad, legitimate or illegitimate, is to centralize a constituent political power and develop a systematic power relation. The aim, at its best, is to build sovereignty (Herrschaft). Thus, we should ask what is sovereignty?

In On Sovereignty, Jean Bodin, a French jurist and political theorist of the sixteenth century who followed Aristotle and Niccolò Machiavelli, theorized the concept of sovereignty for the Anglo-Saxon kings [4,15,25-28]. Bodin follows closely the lines of Aristotle's Politics to lay the foundations for his discussion of sovereignty. His argument on the social basis and philosophical end of the state - the teleological approach, the analysis of the family and the distinction between family and state, the characteristics of paternal authority and the institution of slavery, are all treated in a manner that strongly suggests the Greek precursor [29]. Consequently, he defined sovereignty as “the highest power of command” [26,30] in the hands of the state which “has its origin in a deliberate act of volition on the part of a number of individuals” [29]. Furthermore, in the sixth chapter of the first book of the Commonwealth, Bodin distinguished himself from Aristotle theory of state and followed Machiavelli’s path [31]. He rejected the confused and contradictory criteria of citizenship in Aristotle's Politics, specially the assertion that participation in some political rights is a characteristic of the citizen. A citizen, says Bodin, is "a free man who is subject to the sovereign power of another” [31].

Indeed, Bodin’s theory of sovereignty responded to a number of pressing problems of his time and place besides “the moderation of religious conflict between the Huguenots and the Catholic League” [32]. His theory of sovereign and state was an outgrowth of the revival of Roman law in Europe and was basically adopted by the other theorists, namely by Thomas Hobbes, Samuel Pufendorf, and later by Jeremy Bentham, John Austin, Max Weber and recently by Steven Lukes.

However, sovereignty is something beyond a mere force and its instruments. Something that gives this force a sense of justification, in this process, on the contrary to the tradition of Bodin and Hobbes thoughts, Montesquieu stands against Bodin and Rousseau stands against Hobbes. Yet, Montesquieu used the same method of Bodin and Rousseau used the method of Hobbes. Montesquieu's work emphasizes those elements in social and political life which are most independent of human volition, and hence to minimize the significance, if not to exclude the conception, of absolute sovereignty. Rousseau, on the contrary, intensified, if possible, the absoluteness of the sovereign human will as conceived by Hobbes, and made it the sole basis of his theory of democracy [29].

However, sovereignty is something beyond a denial of human volition or an absoluteness of sovereign people’s will. Something that gives this force a sense of authority, one of the core thesis of this work is to consider the both sides of political spectrum, which is the right of the government and the rights of governed, in any analysis that it sets forth. Given this framework, the definition of sovereignty, along with political power, is a product of mutual political relation in the political spectrum. Thus, one finds the definition of sovereignty here far from the power of state over people qua ‘state sovereignty’ and close to the definition of ‘popular sovereignty’ which we call it democracy. Yet, the definition of sovereignty which will be presented is not exactly as the same definition of the popular sovereignty or democracy [33].

Our definition of sovereignty is comprised of two parts which come as follow: (i) ‘Sovereignty’ am a justified intended force which is implemented by the legal order. (ii) Sovereignty is the intended collective will in a possible authority which is in conformity either to moral values, or political consciousness, or both of them. The definition of sovereignty, here, presents a balance between the ‘absolute state’s sovereignty’ and the mere ‘people’s sovereignty’, between the independent from any human volition and the absoluteness of the sovereign human will. In this sense, sovereignty is not equivalent, nor can it be merely reduced to “the highest power of command” and it is beyond the concept of mere force. It is related to the concepts of legitimacy and legality in the theory of power. Moreover, sovereignty is not equivalent to the property of the legal order. A true sovereignty can only be understood by the essential integrated concepts of power and rights. It is a middle ground, which to some extent has value in itself, and to some extent is the subset of the state and the people. In this sense, the concepts of sovereignty and justified political power are close to each other. However, the concept of sovereignty and legitimate political power can be close or can be opposite to each other. The difference between them is related to the elements of legitimacy. Where an approach to the concept of political power emphasizes on the concept of ‘right’, an approach to the concept of sovereignty emphasizes on the justified intended force accompanied by the legal system. Yet, the legitimacy of a claim to right by which a political order utilizes the instruments of power is not merely based on the concept of empowerment. It also related to other elements which legitimacy is comprised of them.

The question on the sovereignty has seldom been fixed. As a rule, competing interpretations have striven for primacy. The great debates about the power, sovereignty, and their legitimacy are reflected in the both normative and analytical competition. The question of sovereignty is “what it is”. Asking this question about ‘sovereignty’ does not mean limiting oneself to describing its effects but relating those effects either to cause or to a basic nature, yet the question of “who hold it” is not accurate [34]. The question of who hold it ask in particular the subsidiary question whether it belongs to an individual or a collective, hence make the concept of ‘sovereignty’ either mysterious or relative. In fact the question of ‘who’ should be design for ‘power’ not sovereignty. The question of sovereignty is not whether it belongs to an individual or collective since it is a qualitative character of a political actor whether it is individual or a collective.

Furthermore, the historical-political process in which an observation to reach a form of sovereignty occurs can be called ‘the rivalry of political power’. The main aim in the rivalries of political power is to establish a power structure that is controlled by a sovereign political actor and that is based on some ideology and norms. This does not mean, as Wright Mills implied, that "the ultimate kind of power is violence" [35], or as Weber elaborated, that power is "rule of man over man,” which is allegedly legitimate violence [36].

On the contrary, in On Power, Bertrand de Jouvenel admitted that if we take a close look at history, it shows us that it is the register of political rivalries [37]. Every sort of rivalries between political powers or organized political units would utterly end in one form of sovereign order since norms and ideology cannot be applied in chaos and maintain in demoralized nothingness [38].

In fact, the rivalry of political power is something beyond violence and war; it is the formation of sovereign which is a result of a continuing integration process [39]. Furthermore, politics is a realm in which the rivalries between political powers can be resolved by victory and can be defeated by a conciliation that is a compromise. In the realm of politics, the clash of decisions or result of their interactions is ended by the concept of a sovereign who consists of both a legal force of a hegemonic political unit and political consciousness. It is in the harmony between the state’s authority and the political consciousness of a society that the collective “will” [25] of the political unit as it is comprised by both the government and the governed is manifested, which is the guarantor of order within the boundaries of constituent power [40-44].

The Concept and Definition of Political Power

The single-dimension concept of ‘power over’

Power is a problematical concept according to its variation or, at least, the interpretation of it. Based on the ruthless pragmatism and the order of nature, one may believe that the concept of power is takenfor- granted which self-evidently is obtaining immunity of powerful. This is possible only if power sustains an intense and sometimes brutal love of self that fully expressed by the ‘domination’ or the concept of ‘power over’ [37].

However, this definition of power is primitive, tautological and traditional; therefore it would satisfy neither the modern philosophers nor the political scientists nor sociologists. Despite of this dissatisfaction, some of the classic and modern renowned political and social theorists, namely Max Weber, formulated a definition of power similar to the primitive and bias one:

“Power is the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which that probability rests” [45].

Since the early years of the twentieth century, this definition reemphasized on the traditional and prevailing single concept of power over which repeated and refined by other theorists many times.

Surprisingly, even Robert Dahl, prominent American theorists of democracy, writing in ‘the Concept of Power’, formulated this single and primitive concept of power as the alphabetical ‘zero-sum’ one and presented it as if it is the ‘bedrock idea of power’.

“A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something B would not otherwise do” [3]. The word “otherwise” stands against everything the legitimate power stands for. It also implicitly denies any notion of democratic government where power is defined as the collective will of people.

In this tradition, Lukes introduced the ‘three dimensions of power’, which in fact related to the concept of power over.

“Is not the supreme and most insidious example of power to prevent people, to whatever degree, from having grievance by shaping their perception, cognitions and preferences in such a way that they accept their role in the existing order of things either because they can see or imagine no alternative to it, or because they see it as natural and unchangeable, or because they see it as divinely ordained and beneficial?” [4].

According to the ‘three dimensions of power’, Lukes admits the existence of the perception and the consciousness of people on the debates on power. However, Luck’s ‘three dimensions of power’ do not rest upon the clear idea of power as right since he considered them as the negative and subsidiary of the concept of ‘power over’ or ‘domination’ [46]. This belief and the instinct of domination promoted by Luckes remind us of the concepts of power and autonomous will which Jouvenel argued in his work, On Power.

In every condition of life and social position a man feels himself more of a man when he is imposing himself and making others the instruments of his will, the means to the great ends of which he has an intoxicating vision. To rule a people, what an extension of the ego is there! [37].

Thus, power for Jouvenel, it turns out, is an instrument of domination. One step further for reformulating and redefining the single concept of power as ‘domination’ took by Hobbes. He defines power as ‘power over’ but beyond the confines of its primitive and bias concept. He refers to power as the right to use means and instruments. As an English state-theorist in the seventeenth century, his definition of power encompasses a wider aspect of the concept of ‘power over’ of those Weber in the twentieth century.

“The Power of a Man is his present means to obtain some future apparent Good” [47], a better definition of the single concept of power highlighted by Barry Hindness. In Discourse of Power, he refers to the other concept of power, namely the concept of ‘power to’. However, he regards the concept of ‘power over’ and the concept of ‘power to’ as variants of a notion of power, regarding them as the quantitative capacity to realize an actor’s will. Although this conception mostly encompasses the basis concept of ‘power over’, it appears in relation to the concept of sovereign power, “the power that is thought to be exercise by the rule of the state or by its (central) government” [48]. Thus, his approach was a starting point to consider power as some form of ‘right’.

Beyond the Single-Dimension Concept of ‘Power over’; Understanding the Concepts of ‘Power to/of’ and Legitimacy

In contrast to Hobbes and Lukes, Arendt’s positive concept of power refutes the violence. Following the work of Alexander Passerin d'Entreves, The Notion of the State, Arendt formulated the conc ept of power distinguished from force or the mere domination. “Power”, for her, “is always, as we would say, a power potential and not an unchangeable, measurable and reliable entity like force or strength” [49]. Arendt emphasizes on the concept of empowerment, rights, and ‘power to’ [8]. In short, she concentrated her critiques of power on the concept of power qua rights.

“When we say of somebody that he is ‘in power’ we actually refer to his being empowered by a certain number of people to act in their name” [50].

However, Arendt does not only emphasize on the concept of ‘power to’, but also formulates the concept of power as the collective will and as a function of human relations:

“While Strength is the natural quality of an individual seen in isolation, power springs up between men when they act together and vanishes the moment they disperse” [49].

The relation between the concept of ‘power to’ as right and collective will introduces a new concept of power which might be called ‘power with’. In fact, the concept of ‘power with’ is “a kind of collective version of ‘power to’ proposed by Arendt” [51].

According to the normative view of power, it is clear that no power exclusively based on the single concept of ‘power over’. Furthermore, according to the pragmatic exercise of power, no regime can exclusively be based on the means of violence, since violence and the integrated concepts of power can be juxtaposed but they are antithetical. Even the theorists of the concept of ‘power over’ as the single and the only concept of power, indirectly, refer to the other aspects of power in their arguments. In fact, no theorist of power can escape from a determinate but historically coined interdisciplinary field of interpretive and pragmatic social relations.

The single concept of power is also logically impossible where the concept of power always needs a claimant to power, whether such claimant is an individual, or a group, or a society. To understand that, we need to recognize how power emerges, operated and thrives.

The signature of power

Indeed, history shows that the rivalry of political power is inevitable. The location of man to the office and his possession has always been deployed for his will and design to possess power. However, I mentioned that the definition of the rivalry of political power is something beyond violence and war, and I must now qualify this statement. First, political rivalries are the product of differences between theories and ideologies that show the concept of power on which a regime should rely. So the rivalry of political power is between the authorities which are different in kind. Second, various forms of political powers may be threatening each other. This is due to their different nature of authorities which is based on the different combination of the concepts of political power, i.e. ‘power over’, ‘power to’, and ‘power of ’ [51]. So we should ask what is the combination of the concepts of power?.

Long authorities have used the concepts of power as if they are antinomies and binary oppositions: ‘power to’/‘power over’, power as right/ as authority. Even when instances of power as right reveal both concepts of ‘power over’ and ‘power to’, this may be held in opposition to ‘power of ’ qua capacity. In The signature of power, Mitchell Dean argues that ‘what is distinctive about the concept of power is the way the notion refers us to a set of oppositions that in turn can become unities in relation to other oppositions’ [51]. He called this movement, which is “unity and renewed opposition” of the concepts of power, the ‘signature of the concepts of power’ [52].

It is helpful to add this definition to a number of known categories of regimes. Where a monarchy, autocracy, or a military regime would merely rely on the concept of ‘power over’, a constitutional monarchy or parliamentary regime would rely on both concepts of ‘power over’ and ‘power to’. Yet, with the emergence of the concept of ‘power of ’ in a hierarchical power relation, begins the process of politicization which is the major cause of reforms in the power structures or system change. It is the process of politicization that turns a monarchy or an autocracy to a constitutional democracy. This principle can be obviously seen in a long list of today’s prominent and Western powers such as Canada, England, Sweden, and Norway which have been transforming for centuries toward being more democratic by trying to make a balance a concept of check and balance between the concept of monarchical ‘power over’ and the concepts of ‘power to’ and ‘power of ’.

Along with Dean’s argument, we can argue that to detect the nature of a political regime is to view the ways in which the concepts of power is generated and constructed. If they generate and constructed as dispersed sets of apparent oppositions, the regime is to some extent despotic or it lacks the concept of sovereignty. If they generate and constructed as the integrated concepts, the regime is sufficient and legitimate.


Here, we may ask: what is ‘political power’? Can we define it in a way that it can comprise all the aspects in which the different power structures rely on it? As political power is crucial and the rivalry of political powers is inevitable, there have been discussions between political philosophers, sociologists, political anthropologies and political scientists on the different definitions of political power and the different ways in which political power can be justified. From what we have gone through, and based on the historical and political consciousness, political power can be defined as a collective will (direct democracy) or representative of a collective will (representative regimes, aristocracy, monarchy) or quasi collective will (oligarchy, autocracy, etc.) to produce effects, soft and hard, within the territory of its reproduction of justification of its authority, claims to the moral, rational, and historical responsibilities. The fatherhood of power is not only “found in violation, in the raw will to domination, in some divine sanction which makes of power a second religion; in some moment of contract between members of incipient political society,” [20] not only in decisions or policy “involving severe sanction (deprivation) [53],” but also in constant involvement of equilibrium [20], in an intuition of others and their rights [54] which make power a crucial element of respect, in the recognition of benefit, capability, and resource, in a ‘processual relation’ [55], in the autonomous will to influence asymmetrically. Moreover, political power is a resource which can never be a mere projection of will from the powerful to those subject to them, from ruler to ruled, and which cannot be monopolized by any one group [56].

Without the recognition of the concepts of power, namely ‘power over’ as authority, ‘power to’ as right, and ‘power of ’ as capacity, it is hard to criticize the concept of power and to understand its rich, modern and complex definition. In this sense, we adhere to the idea that political power covers various reciprocal concepts which cannot be limited merely to one of its concepts. Hence, it is difficult to even consider the concept of 'power over' as the only concept of power since the structure in which power should be exercised always consists of relations between the different groups whose activities constitute it. In fact, the integrated concept of power and right and the concept of political consciousness make the maintenance and effectiveness of power possible. Furthermore, we can merge these three concepts of power to show that the historical-political process, in which the normative and empirical perspectives inseparably laying on the reciprocal or integrated concept of power and rights and pave the road for its justification and legitimacy. In other words, for being legitimate, a power of a regime should be comprised of the three concepts of power.

The justification of political power is an assessment to the effectiveness of the power as well as its legitimacy. Individuals, societies, and institutions seek to justify their political power since it is one main angle of preservation - obtain immunity - and effective rule. The history of blood shows that despotic authorities from time to time use the different instruments of political power- or the polygon of political power- in order to obtain their immunity, hence, to prove that their concept of ‘power over’ implies a certain shape and method of justification. Explicitly and implicitly, they try to redirect the historical-social process of politicization in order to produce and exercise sovereignty and legality. In this sense, the ‘essentially contested concepts’, do help to implicitly recognize the semi-concepts, but it does not help to recognize the essentially integrated concepts of power and rights and the polygon of political power (its instruments) as well as the ‘signature of the concept of power’ through the history of a society. In contrast, arguing for ‘no essence of power’ also divorces completely the normative evaluation from the historical consciousness [12].

The theory of ‘the essentially integrated concepts of power and rights’ as well as ‘the signature of the concepts of power’ are in conformity to explain how power is born, how power can be defined, exercised, transferred, or refuted.

In Political Power, a prominent work in political theory, Charles E. Merriam presents the context of political power as mobilization of the need for “organized political action” [20]. It is a kind of “the personality types to be adjusted and adopted in social living” [20]. He emphasizes that “power is first of all a phenomenon of group cohesion and aggregation, a child of group necessity or utility, a function of the social relation of men” [20]. In this sense, political power can similarly be seen as an inseparable recurrent character of a political community or a political institute, function in order to satisfy its “need” or to its “advantage” [20].

When we rightly evaluate any concept of power, any notion of state or any power structure and power relation, then it can be observed that we, as the legitimate child of our own history, are representing and carrying the souls of historical sequence with a certain definition of power and right in our mind. Power and rights do not corrupt nor are the corruptions; they reveal both the nature of state and the nature of the people [57].

Taking it to the next step, it is the recognition of ‘need’ or ‘advantage’ of power which is rooted the historical consciousness. If such recognition shaped by the political consciousness of a society, it creates the un-contested reciprocal constitutive concepts of political power, which includes the concepts of ‘power over’, ‘power to’, and ‘power of ’. Here, we are beginning to get a sense where the justification and legitimacy of power might lie.

Thus, when we do talk about the legitimate authority and sovereignty, we are not merely emphasizing the empirical form of a systematic power relation, i.e. ‘power over’, we are implicitly referring to the origin of the ‘constituent power’ [58-60], the right to claim such power, and the concept of empowerment, i.e. ‘power to’, which is normatively reprehensible, and, we are referring to the autonomous act and the scoop of power, i.e. ‘power of ’.

1See also speech in the City Hall of Reims on 30 March 1960 in Neuen Zürcher Zeitung, 31 March 1960, Nr.90, p.2. http:// [accessed 07 Aug. 2014].

2An appropriate power relation, here, interpreted as the one that on the one hand attributed to history and a country, and on the other hand, attributed to the rational-normative principles and the theory of political consciousness.

3Both Rechtsstaat and Machtstaat translated by author.

4The theory of political consciousness explains the capacity of legitimation of power structure based on rational normative principle. In this sense, Berger and Lockmann argue that “Legitimation ‘explains’ the institutional order by ascribing cognitive validity to its objectivated meaning.” and “Knowledge proceeds values in the legitimation of institutions.” (Berger and Luckmann, 1966: 111).


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