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Power: An Examination Of Its Origins, Limitations And Links With The Law As Well As The Role Of Command Within Societies.

A contextual review of selected chapters of Bertrand de Jouvenel’s book “On Power”

Prepared By: Mathias Royce [ID3915] Doctoral Candidate in Political Economy Swiss Management Center University

Prepared For: Prof. Kurt R. Leube Swiss Management Center University April 12th, 2010

Introduction Sovereignty, widely regarded as one of the most central topics of political philosophy, stems from the Vulgar Latin term superanus and connotes an entity in exercise of the highest and permanent rule, expressed as authority over others through the use power. The preamble of sovereignty is hence, the right to political independence through self-governance, void of interference from foreign entities. Thus, if self-governance – regardless of it being exercised in e.g. autocratic, plutocratic or democratic societies then is the method of political statesmanship, power thence must correlate to be one of the associated instruments to achieve this goal of sovereignty. This authority, that is vested in entities such as kings, rulers, parliaments and others alike, is therefore central and at the heart of political theory and philosophy. A detailed contextual digression of this topic would be far beyond the scope of this essay: nonetheless, an attempt is made to link sovereign power to its origins and to drawup its limitations in perspective of law and the importance and implications of command that is put into effect by these authoritarian entities. The Origins Of Power: One of the chief questions that are heavily discussed in political science is the question of origins of power: where does power come from and through which means and for what reasons has it been bestowed upon us? One of the prevalent theories is the natural theory of propagation of power through procreation, e.g. paternalistic (and to a much smaller instinct uterine and matriarchic) societies, as such opposed throughout history by political theorists like Hobbes in Leviathan or Locke in his magnum opus. “Two Treatises of Government�, who believed largely in the individual freedom of man. This freedom - according to Locke, is non-negotiable and consequently does not subscribe to the idea of man being inherently a subject to the person who begets him. Neither, for instance, do supporters of the social

contract theory that has been advocated by Rousseau or Rawls endorse paternalistic thought and rule out its dominion, primarily on aspects that are confrontational with regards to a socially engineered civic society. But paternalistic dominion is not the only form of power outlined by de Jouvenel. He explains this by exemplifying tribalism – in the wider sense, the distinction needs to be made between tribal leaders through paternal dominion and tribal leaders whose power has been bequeathed upon them by some form of superior authority, such as a God-like totem of central and communal worship. De Jouvenel attributes rightly in my opinion, for the former, a resemblance of the Athenian Society under Aristotle, where the state as a sovereign authority of governance resembles the extension of the family a tribe / primitive society) and for the latter, he correlates the perception that power indeed is magical in the way it came upon sovereign entities, to the point that its appearance and the adherence of the subjects subscribing to this precise power cannot be rationally explained. The Hobbesian categorisation of power into – amongst other categories, but a) the natural dominion or power of man, encompassing physical strength, prudence and eloquence which secures personal well-being to attain a future desirability of some sort, and b) the instrumentalisation of power, which foresees above all to attain more power and influence, thus the quest of command over the power of others and c) the relative character of power in the sense that power is only relative to the powers exercised or held by others, finds unequivocal interest by de Jouvenel, who sees power in evolution from natural individual dominion to instrumentalised power of states and their governments. In the chapter “The Coming of the Warrior” de Jouvenel, in my opinion indirectly, highlights the dangers associated with the Hobbesian view of sovereignty that subjects itself to the unconditional and unrestricted power of the absolute – an authority that positions itself above the rule and whose rules and laws are binding and to be obeyed, not because they sprung from consent or rationally, but because these were devised by this absolute authority. He outlines the ‘warlike

spirit’ of power, or rather of those possessing power, that is driven and enhanced by ethics and morals, or rather the absence thereof, resulting in greed and man’s desire of continuous enrichment in life’s conveniences and commodities sought by society to reduce inequalities and required for the establishment of central public authority. Command Command can be seen as the real meaning, the essence of power. De Jouvenel describes power and its inherent dangerousness as an autarchic creature, being self-sufficient and selfsustaining and hence removed from the distinct political order and composition of any nation. Power – seen as creature, then is endowed with enough sustenance for reasons purely to achieve its own survival through commanding for itself, and will as such do anything and all it can to keep itself alive, whether its actions have foundations in legality or are considered illegal, immoral and unethical. It depicts power’s natural urge and desire of self-preservation. Power – seen in the institutionalised sense, would consequently encompass an understanding that exercising command for its subjects is inherently linked with the admission to concede public demands to society. De Jouvenel sees the relational character of the exposure of power to authority as an important fact, considering his view of authority that fundamentally recognises authority as applied persuasion – thus, a ruling entity embodying authoritarian qualities would employ if not exploit exactly this precise authoritarian qualities to attain an objective through the authority of a dux, e.g. the state taking authority on redistributive politics. In consequence, according to de Jouvenel, governmental authority and command structure can therefore been seen as necessary in ordered societies or states. He defends his view by arguing that governments do not possess authority and command innately or by default – just because a government is a government, but the government would have authority and the right to command conferred upon itself as a result of unanimous and common consent by a governed society that is free of any form of coercion. Then and only

then, authoritarian command would be established, as in any other form of exercised coercion through the state, the same command in effect must result in the use of power, rather than authority. The Limitations of Power and the Influence of Law Another rather central topic of de Jouvenel’s theory of authority and command within the state are the artificial limitations that are put in place to prevent the state from exercising power? Locke in 1689 saw the answer to restricting state powers in constitutionalism. Rousseau developed Locke’s theory and declared in his work “Lè Contrat Social” that a republic - in his eyes, was the only legitimate form of government. In such, the people alone as a sovereign would mandate laws that are coherent with the communal consent of society (la volonté genérale) rather than being coherent with the requirements of an individual (volonté particulière) and hence, the government would be reduced to individual, institutionalised organs that execute only upon orders of its subjects. Advocating an enforced, mandatory separation of state powers by decree of law is, as such, not foreign to the theory of de Jouvenel, but he outlines without hesitation one of the apparent paradoxes of this separation. Its weakness lies within the system of internal checks. If the state is composed out of organs that represent the people, the people must assemble regularly to express their volonté genérale. In a separation of powers, only the executive would have the power to call for a valid legislative assembly but by itself the executive is bound and restricted to form: the form to call for an assembly is restricted by laws that have been mandated by the legislative. Thus, control of the individual government organs is limited, albeit being institutionally separated from the people in a logical way, but the government remains part of the people in a physical way. Von Hayek is known to speak rather fondly of de Jouvenel’s book “On Power”. He remarks, that power in recent history has fallen into the hands of “the great mass of people” and this triggered the “thought that no more restrictions of power were

necessary”.“Power”, so von Hayek, “has an inherent tendency to expand and where there are no effective limitations, it will grow without bounds, whether it is exercised in the name of the people or in the name of a few (Hayek, 1992)” He agrees with de Jouvenel, as outlined in chapter XV/5, on the absence of the power of a few in favour of the power of many, considering the latter as ultimately more dangerous and destructive for society. He states explicitly, that:” Power cannot ... be limited by the mere dismemberment of the imperium into constituent parts each with its own distinct organ. For limitation of this kind to succeed, ... a system of law which is independent enough to arbitrate their clashes and escape from being the instrument of the central command (must also exist) (Jouvenel, 1948)”. De Jouvenel outlines that this system of law hence would require to be essentially positivistic (man-made) rather than being of naturalistic origin since the law in order to be effective must be situated above power and must contain the possibility to be appealed against or in circumstances of an underlying social movement, it would need to show the capability to adapt itself to trends, e.g. through means of constitutional changes, if necessary. Conclusion De Jouvenel outlines in a striking accord the dangerousness of ostensibly uncontrolled power and its effect it has on societies in transformation. As such, he analyses the dangers of power exercised in the name of the people and draws conclusions about societies that have evolved from an environment where power was largely controlled and administered by minorities or individual sovereigns into plutocratic and democratic states where the people are sovereign and sovereign power has become decentralised and its expansion and growth naturally have become unrestrained and uninhibited. Of pivotal importance is de Jouvenel’s conclusion, that power has the innate desire to expand – regardless if power is put into effect by many or by a few; the limitations of controlling power will enable precisely this power to extend insidiously and destructively – when it is put into effect by many.

Bibliography Hayek, v. F. (1992). The Fortunes of Liberalism (Volume IV). Chicago: University of Chicago. Jouvenel, d. B. (1948). On Power. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc.


An Examination of its Origins, Limitations and Links with the Law as well as the Role of Command within Societies. A contextual review of se...