On the nature and use of power, the balance between means and ends

Part 3 On Power

Making politics about good governance does not remove the need to deal with power. However the way power is dealt with acts as a signifier - it shows how sincere the belief in an alternative is and therefore how likely people will be to accept it. It requires balancing ends and means in creative ways. There are practical (albeit challenging) ways to do this so that, although holistic political economy aligns with an ethical approach, it does so realistically. The case is built on the long term utility and efficacy of its approach.

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.

Usually persuasion, social control and coercion are used in politics. Coercion and force are used in war. Clausewitz statement that war is the exercise of policy by other means is quite well known, this points it up exactly. To go to war is to chose to use force and coercion as the means in the pursuit of an end.   

Since we can transfer power without bloodshed and violence we should not stop the consideration of power – there are still choices to be made about ends and means.

Both the group or the individual may have access to resources that help; they can buy influence or arms, resources can be offered as rewards or withheld as punishments. As soon as we start to think about using power we come up against one of the classic issues in philosophy – the relationship of ends and means.

Given the difficulties and dangers of power it must certainly be used carefully. By the circumspect use of power I mean using it in such a way that means are carefully crafted to complement ends and that likely utility is applied as the test before action is taken. In order to see how this is possible (and practical) I look at two sets of guidelines, one entirely pragmatic the other with an ethical basis.