Monthly Archives: May 2011

Defining ‘Power’

Power is the main concern in political thought, theory and events – contemporary and historical. The balance of power between states is supposed to be essential, however we can clearly see an imbalance or even extreme polarity in the custodian(s) of power on the world political stage.

*power |ˈpou(-ə)r| (n.)

  1. the ability to do something.
  2. the ability to influence people or events.
  3. the right or authority to do something.
  4. Political authority or control.
  5. A country seen as having international influence and military strength.

Post-war realist H.J Morgenthau aptly describes power as;

“Man’s control over the minds and actions of other men.” (1948)

He goes on to say;

“Power is a relational concept, one does not exercise power in a vacuum but in relation to another entity.”

Other relevant power quotes;

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

“Power is my mistress.  I have worked too hard at her conquest to allow anyone to take her away from me.”  Napoleon Bonaparte

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”  Alice Walker, author.

Power corrupts. Absolute power is kind of neat.John Lehman, Secretary of the US Navy, 1981-1987


“The problem of power is how to achieve its responsible use rather than its irresponsible and indulgent use – of how to get men of power to live for the public rather than off the public.

Robert F. Kennedy (1964)


Power never takes a back step – only in the face of more power.

Malcolm X (1965)

Power consists in one’s capacity to link his will with the purpose of others, to lead by reason and a gift of cooperation.

Woodrow Wilson (1913)


You see what power is – holding someone else’s fear in your hand and showing it to them!Amy Tan, writer.


*definition taken from the Oxford conscise dictionary