Power is the stuff of current politics; our current political process is a competition to gain control of the state with the objective of getting control of the power of the state to implement ones preferred policies.
What of the alternative I am proposing; collaboration to achieve good governance
Just because I advocate a redefinition of politics that has the word collaboration in it does not mean that collaboration will start to happen, or that the realities of power can be ignored; in fact this definition makes it critical that the approach to power used by those advocating change is fully thought out, because;
“Many have dreamed up republics and principalities which have never in truth been known to exist; the gulf between how one should live and how one does live is so wide that a man who neglects what is actually done for what should be done learns the way to self-destruction rather than self-preservation. The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous. Therefore, if a prince wants to preserve his rule he must learn how not to be virtuous and to make use of this or not according to need.” (Machiavelli)
Now, changing the definition of politics does offer two important and immediate advantages which are concerned with framing.
- When politics is a competition to get control of the state the stakes are very high. By making politics a power-struggle the temptation to cheat always remains and dirty tactics are justified through the use of metaphors invoking conflict, war and defeat of one’s enemies. Replacing the definition of politics with collaboration for good governance delegitimises conflict and changing the frame of reference of the debate.
Even so power still has to be used and confronted
- It allows us to ask the question; is power being used to deliver good governance? And if we then answer with a resounding NO we have taken a step towards delegitimising one of the status quo’s sources of power (and so weakening it), that competition works. Who wants to be on the side that is against good governance or take up the task of justifying the use of power to prevent the achievement of good governance?
- We can frame a choice; by all means be in favour of a system where the rewards go to the strongest and the losers get short shrift – just be open and say that is what you believe. On the other hand, if you believe in equal citizenship and minimum standards, welcome to the debate about how to collaborate on the best ways to achieve it.
There big challenges are
- The need to confront and overcome the powerful who would keep the status quo (which has inertia as well as power to shore it up)
- To develop power to change the governance arrangements so that collaboration to achieve good governance be delivered.
This fundamental change in framing is a good start, but that’s all it is. It needs to be developed and supported with an understanding of power and many practical measures.
There are some interesting pieces written about power; in political science an example would be The Anatomy of Power. For understanding the power available for social activism, we could look at The Power Cube which comes from the Department of Development studies at the University of Sussex. In order to demonstrate the validity of the Human Activity System as an analytical tool, and so as not to overburden the reader with a new set of concepts I am going to use the model of human behaviour from Part 1 Review.
What is power?
A simple (conventional) definition of power is the ability of a person or group to make another person or group carry out their wishes.
(The dictionary definition also covers power in a personal sense, to have the power to do something, I am interested in power that can be used on or over people)
It only needs a moment’s thought to come up with some fundamental questions about the exercise of power
- What is the intent of the wielder of power and what means are being used?
- What is the reaction by those subject to the power, are they willing, compliant or reluctantly coerced? Can they resist with countervailing power of their own and if so when?
Before we go any further let’s pause to ask the question where does power come from and how is it used?