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Political power (imperium in Latin) is a type of power held by a group in a society which allows administration of some or all of public resources, including labour, and wealth. There are many ways to obtain possession of such power. At the nation-state level political legitimacy for political power is held by the representatives of national sovereignty. Political powers are not limited to heads of states, however the extent to which a person (such as Joseph Kony, Subcomandante Marcos, or Russell Means) or group such as an insurgency, terrorist group, or multinational corporation possesses 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 it refers to international power.

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

For analytical reasons, I.C. MacMillan[1] separates the concepts power

Power is the capacity to restructure actual situations.

I.C. Macmillan
and influence

Influence is the capacity to control and modify the perceptions of others.

I.C. Macmillan


Separation of powers

Charles de Secondat, baron 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. Separation of power must be in such grade, that any of the branches can operate without excessive limitations from the others; but interdependecy between them must also be in such grade, that one single branch cannot rule out the other's decisions. This is the separation of powers principle.

Division of power

A similar concept, termed "division of power", also consists of differentiated legislative, executive, and judicial powers. However, while separation of powers prohibits one branch from interfering with another, division of power permits such interference. For example, in Indonesia, the President (who wields executive power) can introduce a new bill, but the People's Consultative Assembly (holding legislative power) chooses to either legalize or reject the bill.

Power projection

Power projection (or force projection) is a term used in military and political science to refer to the capacity of a state to implement policy by means of force, or the threat thereof, in an area distant from its own territory. The United States Department of Defense, in its publication J1-02: Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, further defines power projection as

The ability of a nation to apply all or some of its elements of national power - political, economic, informational, or military - to rapidly and effectively deploy and sustain forces in and from multiple dispersed locations to respond to crises, to contribute to deterrence, and to enhance regional stability. [1]

This ability is a crucial element of a state's power in international relations. Any state able to direct its military forces outside the limited bounds of its territory might be said to have some level of power projection capability, but the term itself is used most frequently in reference to militaries with a worldwide reach (or at least significantly broader than a state's immediate area). Even states with sizable hard power assets (such as a large standing army) may only be able to exert limited regional influence so long as they lack the means of effectively projecting their power on a global scale. Generally, only a select few states are able to overcome the logistical difficulties inherent in the deployment and direction of a modern, mechanized military force.

While traditional measures of power projection typically focus on hard power assets (tanks, soldiers, aircraft, naval vessels, etc.), the developing theory of soft power notes that power projection does not necessarily have to involve the active use of military forces in combat. Assets for power projection can often serve dual uses, as the deployment of various countries' militaries during the humanitarian response to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake illustrates. The ability of a state to project its forces into an area may serve as an effective diplomatic lever, influencing the decision-making process and acting as a potential deterrent on other states' behavior.

Political science perspectives

Within normative political analysis, there are also various levels of power as described by academics that add depth into the understanding of the notion of power and its political implications. Robert Dahl, a prominent American political scientist, first ascribed to political power the trait of decision-making as the source and main indicator of power. Later, two other political scientists, Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz, decided that simply ascribing decision-making as the basis of power was too simplistic and they added what they termed a 2nd dimension of power, agenda-setting by elites who worked in the backrooms and away from public scrutiny in order to exert their power upon society. Lastly, British academic Steven Lukes added a 3rd dimension of power, preference-shaping, which he claimed was another important aspect of normative power in politics which entails theoretical views similar to notions of cultural hegemony. These 3 dimensions of power are today often considered defining aspects of political power by political researchers.

A radical alternative view of the source of political power follows the formula: information plus authority permits the exercise of power. Political power is intimately related to information. Sir Francis Bacon's statement: "Nam et ipsa scientia potentia est" for knowledge itself is power, assumed authority as given. Many will know that unless someone with authority heeds, there is no political power. The kingmaker is not the king.

It is said democracy is the best method of informing those entrusted with authority.Template:Fact They are best able to use authority without ignorance to maximize political power. Those who exercise authority in ignorance are not powerful, because they do not realize their intentions and have little control over the effects of using their authority.

Post-modernism has debated over how to define political power. Perhaps, the best known definition comes from the late Michel Foucault, whose work in Discipline and Punish (and other writings) conveys a view of power that is organic within society. This view holds that political power is more subtle and is part of a series of societal controls and 'normalizing' influences through historical institutions and definitions of normal vs. abnormal. Foucault once characterized power as "an action over actions" (une action sur des actions), arguing that power was essentially a relation between several dots, in continuous transformation as in Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy. His view of power lent credence to the view that power in human society was part of a training process in which everyone, from a prime minister to a homeless person, played their role within the power structure of society. Jürgen Habermas opposed himself to Foucault's conception of discourse as a battlefield for power relations, arguing that it should be possible to achieve consensus on the fundamentals rules of discourse, in order to establish a transparent and democratic dialogue. Thenceforth, he argued against Foucault and Louis Althusser that power was not immanent to discourse, and that philosophy could be completely distinguished from ideology. Gad Barzilai has explored and theorized power and law in non-ruling communities and in legal pluralism. He has argued that political power can be comprehended as a transformative and transforming phenomenon at the convergence of relations and interactions between the state, non-ruling communities and forces of globalization. Barzilai has explored that neo-liberal globalization has failed to subdue the nation-state and some of the significant political power is still embedded in state political elite.


  1. I.C. MacMillan (1978) Strategy Formulation: political concepts, St Paul, MN, West Publishing;


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