Political power

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Political power (or just "power" for short) is the ability to control or influence people. This can be within any sphere of influence: a family, a community, an organization, a business, a nation, international, or global.

Within a more restricted sphere of influence, political power is often referred to as "social power", but they are basically the same phenomenon.


Power that is legitimately acquired and retained is authority. Power that is illegitimate may be acquired or retained through means that are nonetheless legal; power that is acquired via means that were illegitimate at the time may be retroactively legitimized by the acquirer, and may therefore be described as legitimate in official media after the acquisition.


There is a popular myth in libertarian/minarchist circles that individuals can only acquire power with the consent of those over whom they have power -- in other words, that all power is legitimate, i.e. that political power exists only because society recognizes its legitimacy, i.e. that power cannot be acquired illegitimately, and that (therefore) a society which did not legitimize undue power concentration would be safe from it.

This belief seems to be based, at least in part, on the idea that an individual would not confer any power on another unless physically coerced, ignoring the many ways that individuals may be tricked or persuaded into "voluntarily" surrendering significant amounts of autonomy to others using only milder forms of coercion.


The methodology of power acquisition seems to be an area that is has been inadequately studied or at least inadequately documented and publicized -- for understandable reasons, since anyone who gained power would not want to tell others how they did it for fear of creating competitors who might take it from them. We can nonetheless study the details of how power has been acquired throughout history and in modern society, hypothesize the mechanisms at work, and see if those mechanisms apply to further examples. We can also examine fiction that is widely believed to be "true to life" for possible mechanisms.

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