What is politics? Discuss the power view of politics.

Politics is the activities of the political parties and it is not surprising if his observations are often accompanied by such statement that ‘Politics is a dirty game which gentlemen should not play. Often people mistrust and dislike politicians. But the terms is widely used in contexts other then that of political parties.

A most useful answer is that politics is concerned with State and Government. It is customary to 100K upon politics as arising from and concerned with the formal political institutions such as Parliament executive, judiciary bureaucracy etc. It is considered as the science an dart of government and covers the entire field of political life and behaviour. It embraces the relative between state and individual as well as the relations among the states. In this sense, politics can be domestic, national, federal municipal, imperial or international.

The power theory takes a functional view of politics. It understands politics as the struggle for power, i.e., to share power, to influence the distribution of power and to make authoritative decisions. Politics is concerned with questions like; how to acquire power and how to maintain it ? What is the basis of power, its form and scope? What is the object of power and how is it lost? For example, Harold Lass well defined politics as a political act performed in power perspective’ or as ‘a power oriented behaviour with respect to the process of government within the framework of state.’ Another writer V.O. Key


Despite the omnipotence of power in political life, there is no widespread agreement on its meaning. The OED defines power as ‘the ability to do or act’ and ‘control, influence, ascendancy’. Webster Dictionary defines it as the ‘possession of control, authority, or influence over others’. In a broad sense, power is the production of intended effects. It is the ability to get what we want.

Max Weber defines it as ‘the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests. And rain defines it as ‘the use of resources to secure conforming conduct of others. According to Guild and Palmer, power is the ‘the ability to affect or to control the decisions, behaviour, policies, values and fortunes of other. In brief, the essence of power lies in the capacity of persons or groups to get things done effectively.


In the modern society, there are mainly three forms of power through which many are controlled by a few. Although certain writers have talked of many forms of power such as power of wealth, armaments, civil authority, influence, opinion, religion, or kingly power, naked power, revolutionary power etc., yet all these forms can be reduced to three broad categories. John Galbriath has termed them as:

  • Condign power or the power of punishment.
  • Compensatory power. It wins submission of others by an offer of reward, by giving something of value to those who submit to it.
  • Conditioned power.

This power is exercised by changing beliefs and it includes persuasion, education, culture etc. This power is central to the functioning of modern economy and polity in the capitalist and the socialist countries alike. Similarly, Friedrich points out : An inspection of the political scene discloses three primary forms of power-physical, economic and psychic. In short the three forms of power are : Political. Economic and Ideological. Let us discuss these forms in detail.


Political power is basically power of political coercion and political authority. Force is the basis of state power and although it is only a background condition on normal civilian politics, yet its presence is the essence of any political relationship. Political coercion is exercised over the citizens by agents of government using force or the immediate threat of it, leaving the citizens with no real choice about their behavior.

Today direct physical coercion is the prerogative of the state. Law is a set of rules according to which the state exercises its monopoly of coercive power, declared and enforced, as the only legitimate power. It is through the use of this power that policies are made, implemented and those who disobey are punished.


The attention towards the economic and ideological aspects of power was drawn mainly by the Marxist writers. The control over the wills of the majority by minority is exercised not only by the compulsions of law and other physical coercive means but also in a more subtle manner. With economic power, the holder of political power may bring about the compliance of the masses either by giving reward or something of value to those who submit or by denying wealth, income, goods and services to those who oppose the power wielders.

It is an important source to purchase submission. Its possession gives access to the most commonplace exercise of power which is bending the wills of others by straight forward purchase. Through economic reward or punishment, those who hold economic power are able to win daily submission of work lives of millions. The power theory of politics, however, underplays the importance of economic power.


Apart from political and economic power, there is another dimension of power known as ideological power Liberal writers like Max Weber, Lucian Pye, Sydney Verba, Almond etc., associate ideological power with religion, education, culture, literature and history. In America, this has been called ‘the opinion business’ or ‘the persuasion industry’ through which the ideas, thoughts and values of the masses are molded in a particular fashion so as not to be a threat to the wielders of political power. This is done through mass propaganda, means of education and mass media like T.V., newspapers, magazines etc.

An in-depth study of the ideological dimension of power has been made by Marxist writers like Marx, Lenin, Gramsci, Lukacs, Althusser, Milliband, Poulantzas, Nigil Harris, Marcuse etc. According to Marxism, ideological power acts like a mediator in the context of other powers in the society. If the economic power is to transform itself into political power, it uses ideological power as a means to achieve this goal.

Marxism has been very much concerned with the question how the dominant classes in the society; in the conditions of open competition, are able to secure their predominance? The answer was given by Marx in his familiar formulation: The ideas of the ruling class are, in every epoch, the ruling ideas and that the reason for this was that the class which is the ruling material force in society, is at the same time, its ruling intellectual force.’ The class which has the means of material production at its disposal has control at the same time over the means of mental production.

Whereas political is the power of physical compulsion, economic power is the power of rewards or deprivation, ideological power is the power of ideas, opinion, beliefs, culture, traditions, through which mental consciousness of the masses is controlled to produce a kind of political atmosphere convenient to the power wielders.

Thus, is we define politics as the study of power, this is the unity of political, economic and ideological aspects and it is through the combined use of these powers that a minority of people is able to rule over the majority.

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