The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Political power

Political power is a type of power held by a person or group in a society. There are many ways to hold such power. Officially, political power is held by the political leader of a state, such as a president, prime minister, or monarch. Political powers are not limited to heads of states, however, and the extent to which a person or group holds such power is related to the amount of societal influence they can wield, formally or informally. In many cases this influence is not contained within a single state and we talk of international power.

Political scientists have frequently defined power as "the ability to influence the behaviour of others" with or without resistance.

Traditionally, political power has been built up and maintained through the exercise of military power, the accumulation of wealth, and the acquisition of knowledge. According to Rae Langton (Fall 1993) "the ability to perform speech acts can be a measure of political power" (p.314) and "authority" (p.315) and "one mark of powerlessness is an inability to perform speech acts that one might otherwise like to perform." (p.314)

Throughout history there have been many examples of the destructive or senseless use of political power (see abuse of power ). This has happened most frequently when too much power has been concentrated in too few hands, without enough room for political debate, public criticism, and other types of correctives. Examples of such regimes are despotism, tyranny, and dictatorship. To counter these potential problems, people have devised and practised different solutions, most of them related to the sharing of power (as in democracy), the placing of limitations on the extent of power one individual or group can have, and the creation of protective rights for individuals through legislation or charters (such as human rights).

Charles de Montesquieu claimed that without following a principle of containing and balancing legislative, executive and judiciary powers, there is no freedom and no protection against abuse of power. This is the separation of powers principle.

See also



  • Langton, Rae (Fall 1993). "Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts", Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 22: no.4, p.293-330

Last updated: 06-01-2005 22:20:56
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