The study of political philosophy entails a proper understanding of key concepts such as authority, legitimacy and, of course, power. The latter notion has changed its meaning over the past centuries, along with its actual scope or sphere of influence over society. As much as the figure of the king prevailed over the destiny of his subjects, the modern state has become the very embodiment of power in its political, judicial and military dimensions. Apart from Lenin who promised in The State and Revolution (1917), the pure and simple abolition of the state to be replaced by soviet councils, no modern state has been in danger of total extinction despite alarming signs of obsolescence or near vanishing as is the case in Nigeria or Yemen, both countries being in the grip of terrorist organisations, bent on putting them out of existence. Nearer to us, a curious non violent phenomenon has been taking place among a generation of young Europeans mistrusting the State (and political institutions, in general) and rejecting the very definition of ‘power’ inherited from their law-abiding elders and further back from the thinkers of the Enlightenment, and most notably, Hegel as the promoter of an ideal (bureaucratic) State.
Power has simply shifted from the corridors of presidential palaces to the streets of capital cities like Athens or Madrid while social media play a major role in the shaping of a new global political consciousness. Power is traditionally founded on ‘might’ (the stick) and ‘legitimacy’ (the carrot), the first grounding the claims of ‘the power to be’ against potential rivals, the second, establishing a relation of trust and dialogue between the members of the community and their ruler. Authority cannot be properly exercised without the combination of these two essential ingredients. Unlike tyrannical regimes based exclusively on brute force, democracies rightly regard legitimacy as the prerequisite to government by consent.
The present crisis of confidence in political power lies precisely in the scepticism to be found among a growing number of citizens, disillusioned with the way their political representatives have misused their mandate and hijacked the very ‘power’ invested in them through the process of electoral suffrage. Power has slipped through the fingers of politicians and has naturally gone back to where it came from in the first place, namely, the people … (to be continued)