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The Anatomy of Power, John Kenneth Galbraith, 1983, Boston: Houghton Mifflin


Here we set out a framework in which power will be analysed in this book. The meaning of the word 'power' is widely and straightforwardly understood; in Weber's words, power is “the possibility of imposing one's will upon the behaviour of other persons.”1) We shall divide power into three different types on this basis of how this imposition of will is achieved:

  1. Condign power wins submission by making the alternative to submission sufficiently painful,
  2. Compensatory power wins submission by offering a reward of some kind, and
  3. Conditioned power is exercised by changing belief: persuasion, education or social commitment to what seems natural, proper, or right.

The first two are noticeably more obvious in the typical case than the third. People know when they are being threatened or paid, whereas conditioned submission to the will of another can be far less obvious.

Behind these forms of power lie three different sources of power:

  1. Personality or 'leadership' refers to any attribute of a person that gives access to a form of power — it can be through physical strength, charisma, persuasion. In modern society it is most closely associated with conditioned power — the ability to persuade or create belief.
  2. Property or wealth “accords an aspect of authority, a certainty of purpose, and this can invite conditioned submission”, but more obviously it gives access to compensatory power.
  3. Organisation is the most important source of power in modern societies. “It is taken for granted that when an exercise of power is sought or needed, organisation is required.” Organisation commonly has access to all three forms of power.

Types and sources of power are often combined in complex ways — disentangling these combinations is an important feature and function of this book. The purposes for which power is sought can be similarly summarised:

  1. To advance one's own interests (as an individual or group),
  2. To extend one's own personal, religious or social values, or
  3. For the inherent pleasure of the exercise of power (its rituals and context).

Although it is commonly understood and expected that one reason for seeking power will often be disguised by another, it is almost never conceded that power is sought for its own sake, although it seems to have a very wide appeal: “The healthy individual who gains power loves it.”2) Lastly, although the exercise of power is often controversial it is nevertheless ubiquitous and necessary. “Power can be socially malign; it is also socially essential. Judgement thereon must be rendered, but no general judgement applying to all power can possibly serve.”

Types and Sources of Power

Condign and Compensatory Power

Condign and compensatory power are both typically overt: both the person submitting and the person enforcing is consciously aware of the different options available and the submission. The only difference is between negative and affirmative consequences. In both cases the extremity of sanction is tailored to the extent, importance or difficulty of compliance. One reason (amongst many) for high executive compensation is the greater degree of submission to the authority of the firm than the shop floor worker, who, unlike the executive, is free to think, speak and behave as he pleases provided he perform the physical tasks required of him.

With economic development comes a natural shift from condign to compensatory power. In poor societies the difference between the two is not great. The difference between a free worker being made unemployed and going hungry and a slave being beaten is not great: the “preference for starvation as compared with a flogging could be a matter of taste.” As affluence grows, so the extent of condign power diminishes — a worker made unemployed can survive until he finds another job.

The loss of this condign power is mourned by conservatives as a loss of motivation to submit to power.

Work has always been thought peculiarly ethical for less well-paid workers in tedious employment; in the upper reaches of the social order, an imaginatively conceived use of leisure affirms a civilised tendency in those who indulge it. —page 19

The conservative's preference for forms of condign power that have already become unfashionable may also be put down to his “natural business”: “to conserve or retrieve from the past” — including capital punishment, corporal punishment in schools, the dominance of men over women, more rights of the police to use violence, search and seizure.

However, very often situations in which condign or compensatory incentives are at play are also complicated by social norms — “a submission that derives from belief”. As society has moved from condign uses of power towards compensatory power, now conditioned power is becoming ever more important.

Conditioned Power

Textbook content shall promote citizenship and the understanding of the free-enterprise system, emphasise patriotism and respect for recognised authority… Textbook content shall not encourage life-styles deviating from generally accepted standards of society. —Proclamation of the Texas State Board of Education, 1982

Conditioned power varies across a wide spectrum from explicit (such as education and persuasion) through to more implicit means (the culture discreetly imposes the view of the right or proper action over time). The more implicit mechanisms tend to generate a more reliable bond, and are less noticeable and therefore less often seen as illegitimate. For this reason, mechanisms of deploying conditioned power frequently try to paint themselves as being less explicit rather than more:

[P]artly because advertising is a wholly ostentatious attempt to capture belief, it is not a fully reputable way of winning it… while a corporation seeking the subordination of consumers to the purchase of its products launches an advertising campaign, if it wishes to subordinate citizens to its political purposes — and escape from onerous regulation of allegedly unrighteous taxation — it launches an educational campaign… education, as compared with advertising, is socially far more reputable.

There are problems, too, with education. It also can, on occasion, be too overt. A politician can speak of informing his people; he cannot, without seeming to demean their intelligence, say they need education. A President can say in private that this or that is a matter on which people need instruction. When he goes on television, it is to tell them of what they as citizens should be aware. Press, television and radio… are thought to have a large educational function. This they do not usually avow; their more tactful purpose is simply to inform their readers, viewers, or listeners. —page 30-31

Advertising is clearly an exercise of power, and no less so because of the commitment and submission that it wins is routinely capricious and shallow. Nonetheless it represents one of the greatest human efforts to exercise power in modern society.

Once belief is won, whether by explicit or implicit conditioning, the resulting subordination to the will of others is thought to be the product of the individual's own moral or social sense — his or her feeling as to what is right or good. —page 35

In a real situation, all forms of power are normally involved to some degree.


Each of the three sources of power has a strong (though never exclusive) association with one of the types of power:

  1. Personality is traditionally associated with condign power: anciently individuals gained power by being capable of inflicting physical harm on those who refused to submit to their will,
  2. Property, obviously enough, is associated with compensatory power, and
  3. Organisation is principally associated with conditioned power.

However, in modern times personality is most associated with conditioned power — the ability to win submission by persuasion.

There are other personal qualities giving access to conditioned power that have no close relationship either to intelligence or expression. A supreme certainty in the individual's own belief and assertion is of prime importance for winning belief and submission in others, and this personal trait is not necessarily related to intelligence. It can, indeed, be the reverse. It is a basic characteristic of economic, foreign, and military policy, and much business policy, that the connection between any particular action and its result is uncertain at best and quite frequently unknown. No one can say for sure what the ultimate consequence of a particular increase in interest rates, a proposed elaborately planned military or war initiative, will be. Or what the return will be from some business endeavour. Power in these cases — submission to will — regularly passes to those who are able to assert the unknown with the greatest conviction. Power accrues not to the individual who knows; it goes to the one who, often out of obtuseness, believes that he knows and who can persuade others to that belief. —page 41

The importance of personality as a source of power is commonly overestimated. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. Vanity, especially on the part of one who is involved in the execution of organisational power, often leads him to overestimate his own power, and to try to convince others of the reality of that overestimation,
  2. The sycophantic effect leads others to be motivated to overestimate the role of personality in the execution of power by those who seek reward from those with the power to grant it, and
  3. The histrionic effect — when an individual regularly addresses large audiences of people already conditioned to accept his views, and tailors his own speech to fit with that conditioning — gives the impression that an individual has great personal influence when he is in fact doing nothing more than articulating existing conditioning.

The leader who is strongly influenced by the histrionic effect may or may not be entirely powerless. In many cases of individuals with significant personal power, they began by reflecting the conditioned beliefs of their following, but gained real power by convincing their followers of their own means for achieving pre-conditioned goals. “How truly powerful a leader is can be judged by how well he can persuade his followers to accept his solutions to their problems, his path to their goals.”3)


Historically, property granted access to all three forms of power. The rich could keep slaves or rely on the state for violent action when necessary, compensation could purchase support and the rich have long expected to be granted a special privilege to be taken seriously (which they have traditionally been granted). Things have changed and are changing. Access to condign power is now considered much less acceptable. Even compensatory power — although still the force that drives millions to work every day — is giving way to organisational power as a mechanism of those with property. Once political allegiance could be straightforwardly bought; now the propertied are more likely to invest in public relations to condition their audience. Socialists have long held that the compensatory power derived from property is the major if not singular source of power; but Lenin himself recognised by his death that in the Soviet Union the organisational power of bureaucracy had replaced the previous compensatory power of wealth. The power of property is waning relative to organisational power in the modern world, but remains important.


In modern industrial society, organisation is the most important source of power — some authors claim that it is ultimately the only source of power. This claim has some merit: particularly as the ownership, control and transfer of property is ultimately under the control of organisations such as government. It is also primarily associated with conditioned power — indeed, the extension of conditioned power is often the reason for the inauguration of organisation. At first sight, forms of human organisations differ overwhelmingly in nature — it is often surprising, then, that they submit to such common analysis.

There are three basic features of organisation which determine whether its power is great or slight:

  1. Bimodal symmetry. There is a ubiquitous symmetry between the extent and forms of internal and external power. An organisation which has a tight internal consensus — a high degree of internal conditioned power — will be effective in projecting conditioned power externally. An organisation which has significant condign powers over its members will be capable of projecting condign power externally. This rule is surprisingly general, and the book details many examples including armies, governments and unions.
  2. Access to other sources and mechanisms of power. An organisation's strength will predictably be increased if it has access to the full range of instruments — not merely conditioned, but condign and compensatory power. It will similarly benefit from having associated personalities and significant property to support it. The reasons are obvious.
  3. Scope of operations. There is a broad association between the scope of an organisation's operations and its power — organisation will tend to be more effective if it is limited to a narrow scope of activity, with the notable exception of the state. Single-issue political groups, for example, punch above their weight in relation to political parties, because they can achieve a strong internal consensus over the narrow scope of their operations and due to bimodal symmetry are able to project this externally. Political parties cover such a broad scope of operations as to be permanently unable to come to a complete consensus, and are correspondingly unable to project significant conditioned power externally.

Lastly, it is important to again stress the difference between real and illusory power and the ease with which various forces are able to persuade of the existence of power where in fact there is very little.

The Dialectic of Power

The usual response to an attempt to exercise an unwanted power might be expected to be an attempt to resist that power. In fact, the more normal response is to build a countervailing position of power. It is also generally true that there is usually a tight symmetry between power and countervailing power — not necessarily of equal power, nevertheless of similar source and type. Organisations are created to counter organisational power, conditioning is used to counter conditioning, a condign response is used to fight an execution of condign power. Amongst the most striking exceptions to this rule are the use of non-violent resistance by Gandhi and his followers (including Martin Luther King, Jr) — particularly striking because they violate the natural law that 'force begets force', that one 'fights fire with fire.' It is notable that neither would be capable of projecting a credible condign response to the condign power they were subject to.

The Regulation of Power

The state plays a special role in the regulation, control and protection of the exercise of power — this is its principle role.

Since the state has a monopoly on the use of condign power,4) those wishing to exercise condign power are forced to appeal to the state to do so on their behalf. The state, in turn, is closely limited in its own use of condign power, to the extent that the precision and effectiveness of the regulation of the use of condign power is perhaps the clearest measure of the level of civilisation of a community.

Compensatory power is also regulated by the state, but it is also widely protected by it. Only relatively few uses of compensatory power are outlawed, such as the less subtle forms of bribery. In most other areas the right to use compensatory power is protected by law and custom.

Conditioned power is remarkable in the extent to which it is actively protected by the state across so much of the world.

[T]he constitutional guarantee of the right of free speech owes much to the accident of time. It was enacted before the use of conditioned power became commonplace and central to the exercise of power — at a time when such use was a privilege of a small minority in the polity. Were the First Amendment being considered today, there would be fervent debate, and it would be passed only after notable exceptions — subversive political propaganda, pornography, encouragement of homosexuality or abortion — were carefully excluded from its protection. Or such would be the effort. —page 85-86

Generally, there is no attempt by the state to limit the use of personality, although there have been historical exceptions (such as the British gaoling of Gandhi).

The regulation of property is perhaps the key ideological division in the world: socialists believe that it is such a great source of power that most of it must be kept in public hands, whereas in nonsocialist doctrine property is such a great source of power that it cannot wisely be concentrated in the hands of government.5)

Organisation is subject to protection (the right of free assembly) by the state, just as the results of this organisation are often viewed with grave alarm (such as in the case of the Ku Klux Klan or Communist Party). Subversive organisations are considered a much graver threat than subversive individuals. On balance, the state protects organisation to a far greater extent than it regulates them.

The Larger Dynamics of Power

One means of presenting history is as the waxing and waning of sources and types of power and the contours of the interplay between different powers.

The Precapitalist World

This history begins around 1500, just after the first exploratory voyages to the Americas. The two main sources of power in Europe were the Church and network of feudal lords.

The Church's primary mechanism of power was conditioning, both explicit (through regular religious services and sermons) and implicit (the acceptance of the Church's role and doctrines were accepted implicitly by the entire community, an unconscious status quo). But the Church had other sources of power too: the Church owned extensive lands which generated the income that sustained a considerable organisation (combining property, compensatory and organisational power). Pope Urban II was aware of the spoils of land which would be won when urging the First Crusade in 1095. This was not the Church's only claim to condign power — more usual applications ranged from the burning of heretics to the Inquisition. And personality was also important — both of Christ and of God — personalities which managed to overcome the usual weakness of personality-derived power, its mortality.

A feudal lord's power was more predominantly property in source and condign in mechanism, although he also provided compensation to those who worked his land and benefited from a significant implicit conditioning affirming his right to rule. Personality was certainly of great importance in the more successful secular figures, those who were able to increase the stock of property that they commanded.

The Emergence of Capitalism

During the 250 years to 1750, the merchant class was the principal waxing power, alongside the progressively strengthening nation-state derived from some of the more powerful feudal lords.

In the principle trading centres (Amsterdam, Bruges, Venice) the interests of merchant capitalism and that of the state were essentially one and the same; in other areas there was an ongoing conflict between feudal and mercantilist interests. Merchants also derived their power principally from property, although in their case this property was embodied in inventory, transport infrastructure (particularly shipping) and specie rather than the land of the feudal system. Their principal source of power was compensatory, which they used to command the labour of craftsmen and artisans and those they needed to manage the navigation of their shipping. Personality was far less important than in the feudal case. Organisation became increasingly important as the period progressed, as chartered companies came to be necessary to manage long-distance transit, and gradually to increase in size and power. Chartered companies, as they became more substantial, gained access to increasing quantities of condign power, to protect their own shipping and dominate areas of land important to the pursuit of their commerce. Companies such as the East India and Hudson Bay companies thereby came to closely resemble national governments — and indeed the areas they commanded and the organisation that commanded them gradually morphed into nation-states. Such organisations commanded formidable property but rarely any significant personality.

It was their singular advantage that, almost everywhere, they moved into what rather precisely could be called a power vacuum. The term, though rarely if ever defined in modern usage, aptly describes a community or territory where all the sources of power — effective personality, property, organisation — are feeble or absent, as also, in consequence, are all the instruments of its enforcement. This accurately describes the East Indies and the subarctic reaches of North America as they were invaded by the trading companies. In northern America there was, in these terms, nearly nothing; in the East Indies there were occasional personalities, some property, and some slight organisation. But these, and especially the organisation, were weak compared with those possessed by the Europeans, and so were the resulting instruments of enforcement. —page 105-6

With the Industrial Revolution a further shift came with the waxing of the industrialists. Here, yet again, the source of power was property but, yet again, of a different sort than that possessed by the existing classes. The industrialists' property existed in the form of the factories and machinery with which they worked. History enjoys focus on the personalities involved, and though under entrepreneurial capitalism these were significant, it is easy to exaggerate their influence. The organisational form, too, of the industrial firm represented a significant advance and new source of power. In form, the use of condign power continued to decline although it was still available from the state where necessary — but it was far less important than compensatory power. Conditioning played a similar role as it had for the mercantilists. Although neither managed to convince the general population of much, both managed to convince the relevant legislature that their interest was broadly the same as the national interest. The mercantilists managed to convince governments of the value of protection, trading monopolies and to support the chartered companies — in turn, the industrialists would convince their governments of the unique benefits of free trade.

The Power of High Capitalism

With the rise of industrialism came ever greater organisational power secured by compensation, but the rise of conditioned power was also very important. To a large extent, the state fell under the thrall of the conditioning of industrial capitalism.

This trend began with Adam Smith, whose work primarily attacked the waning mercantilists in favour of emerging industrialism. He did so on the basis that, provided collusion could be prevented, the support of industrialism through free-trade policy would bring the greatest benefit to the consumer. Whilst subjected to the market, the industrialist was bound to act for the public's benefit, no matter how selfish his private aims.6) No other idea could possibly serve so widely and usefully in the defence of capitalism than that the market forced the capitalist to do what was best for the consumer — and this usefulness has been reflected in the incredible longevity of Smith's ideas, or a selective and slightly distorted scattering of them, perhaps.

In the hundred years following the Wealth of Nations, personality both rose and fell as a source of power — initially personalities such as Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Harriman replaced anonymous merchants, but ultimately their power would gradually diffuse into the organisation that replaced them. Compensatory power stemming from their vast wealth remained the dominant mechanism, although occasional use of the condign power of the state or company police. However, the rest of high capitalism to conditioning continued unabated and undiminished. Britain, until modern times “remained pre-eminent” as a source of this conditioning. A summary of notable contributions:

David Ricardo and Thomas Malthus United in arguing that the conspicuous poverty of the working classes had nothing to do with industrial capitalism but was, instead, a product of the working classes' own unfortunate level of fertility.
Jeremy Bentham The most articulate of the utilitarians, who argued that 'the greatest good for the greatest number' was the proper goal of society — supporting free trade and the resulting disparity of wealth over any attempt to restrict output by pursuing social equality that might come at the expense of efficiency.
Herbert Spencer Introduced 'social Darwinism', justifying the division of wealth on the basis of the innate superiority of the rich — the failure of the poor was a benign euthanasia of the weakest.
William Jevons Hedonist, arguing that the ultimate goal of man was to maximise pleasure and minimise pain, supporting the industrialists who provided goods which could meet these aims.
Vilfredo Pareto Justified inequality as a universal feature of industrial society, justified by the “inequality of human ability, which is a natural and universal category.”

Throughout, celebration of the market continued.

Prices were set by the market. Wages were set by the market. So were the prices of all the other requisites of production. Production decisions were in response to the market. On none of these matters did the industrialist have power; hence there could be no legitimate concern as to its exercise. Only those insufficiently instructed in the nature of the market could believe his power to exist. Here was the supreme conditioning achievement of what has come to be called classical economics. It guided the power of the industrialist, however against his intention, to good social ends; it also denied the existence of such power. And it taught this to all who sought to understand the workings of the system. This instruction, needless to say, still persists. Nothing is so important to the defence of the modern corporation as the argument that its power does not exist…and nothing is more serviceable than the resulting conditioning of the young to that belief. —page 119-20

The Response

In line with the previously stated law that an exercise of power elicits a response, the main response to industrial capitalism was Marxism. Its power originated in the personality of Marx and the organisation of the First International. Unusually in history, it did not resort at all to compensatory or condign power (although the latter would be called upon for the final overthrow of capitalism) — its mechanism was entirely explicit conditioning. This conditioned power came to bear symmetrically on the conditioning of the classical economists. Adopting the Smith-Ricardian idea that goods have value according to the labour encapsulated in them, he stressed the observation that not all of this value was passed through wages to the worker, as it should be. Wages were held down by the pressure of unemployment but the situation was temporary — increasingly spectacular crises (depressions), alongside spiralling monopoly control (as large business bought out small) would result in the final devastating collapse. The conditioned power flowing from Marx sustained the belief and the submission of millions for more than a century.

It had different influence in different areas. The true Marxist successes came in the largely or wholly preindustrial societies of Russia and China in the midst of war — under circumstances in which the state was breaking down leaving a virtual power vacuum. Though less successful in Western Europe and Japan, his influence was nevertheless deep and enduring in these areas. Less successful in Britain, where a “less strenuous parliamentary socialism captured the anticapitalist response.” In America he was even less so: his ideas appealed less in a country in which Marx himself was a distant figure, with geographic isolation insulating it from foreign organisation — and most of all property being more widely owned and wages higher, his message had less impact. The American worker had greater opportunity to escape to another employer, or to the frontier.

But there was a countervailing response in the United States, although it largely accepted the basic assumptions of the benign effect of free trade and thus focused on the evils of monopoly, resulting in the anti-trust laws. They is no evidence that they ever had the slightest effect, other than providing employment to lawyers and the mildest irritation to capitalists.

[T]he emotion and effort of those who reacted to industrial power were channelled harmlessly into demands and hopes that the antitrust laws might be enforced — a hope that, transcending all experience, is not yet quite dead. And even those most opposed to industrial power could continue to instruct the young in the desirability of market competition and in the prospect that one day it would be achieved. Had industrial capitalism designed the conditioned response to its own power, it could scarcely have done better. —page 127

The became largely the instrument of the industrialists although Marx's description of it as the executive committee of the governing classes is an exaggeration. Other interests were represented and protected — farmers, small businesses, religious groups and in some countries the landed classes. Not only that, but little by little the state developed power to act on its own behalf as an independent agent.

The Age of Organisation

The social conditioning associated with industrial capitalism, and the countervailing conditioning, were deep and durable. So deep and durable that they have largely outlived the subsequent transition of power from capitalists to organisations. Nevertheless, the transition is readily observable. Personality has declined greatly as a source of power, and property remains important primarily, when mobilised by organisation, as a means of purchasing conditioned power through commercial advertising and political lobbying. But property is less important than it was; power in large corporations has firmly passed from stockholders to professional management for two reasons:

  1. With the inheritance of stock its ownership has been diversified and has come to be held by individuals who are generally not appropriately skilled to perform an active role in the management of a large corporation, and
  2. The complexity and diversity of skill required to manage advanced technology and the planning of both marketing and large organisation is now too difficult for an individual to possess — decision-making has therefore of necessity passed to committee-based structures.7)

With the passage of power to large organisation, the importance of compensatory power has given way to conditioned power. This can be seen clearly in the corporate-consumer dynamic. Corporate power largely rests in the ability to charge monopoly prices — in escaping the 'discipline' of the market. In earlier times, this could be readily achieved straightforwardly through market concentration, when the goods sold by corporations were in much greater part urgently needed by the consumer. The response was usually consumer organisations powerful enough to negotiate better prices such as grocery cooperatives, or else an appeal to the state to regulate prices — a response focused on fighting compensatory power with compensatory power. More recently with the much greater variety of consumer products and the much less important role that each plays in the life of the average consumer, the consumer has much greater real opportunity not to submit to the compensatory power of the corporation. Instead, then, the corporation relies on conditioned power, convincing him that a particular product has such unique benefits that in effect the consumer has no choice but to buy. And the consumer response is also conditioned: current consumer action focuses on truth and fairness in advertising, rather than on pricing.

When seeking the power of the state, again the mechanism of choice is conditioning, whether of elected officials directly or of a constituency to which they must be responsive. Although clearly of great power, this conditioned power must surely be weaker than the very direct purchase of influence over elected officials commonplace in former times.

The anachronism involved in the current conditioned power bears repetition. Although this conditioning is doubtless less powerful than the direct compensatory power of the earlier age of industrial capitalism, it is nonetheless strong and the extent to which widely accepted conditioning is no longer relevant to the real world is of considerable importance.

Hundreds of thousands of otherwise intelligent young people have their thoughts guided innocuously away from the exercise of industrial power. We have seen that power is served in many ways and that no service is more useful than the cultivation of the belief that it does not exist…

But social conditioning, however deep and pervasive, cannot collide too obviously with reality. The presence and power of the modern great corporations… are hidden only with increasing difficulty behind the market façade. In consequence, a reference to neoclassical economics, the conditioning medium of instruction, has come to have a vaguely pejorative sound; something no longer quite real is implied. Once economic instruction is perceived not as the reality but as the guidance away from the reality, its conditioning value is, not surprisingly, impaired…

[A]n important effect of the social conditioning of corporate propaganda, as significantly it is often called, is to cultivate disbelief. There must be some misuse of power when those who so obviously possess it are so at pains to deny having it. In the industrial countries it is now a minor mark of sophistication that one does not believe what one reads or hears in the public-interest advertising of the great corporation. —page 141-2

Organisation and the State

The modern state has access to all three sources and all three mechanisms of power. It is useful to distinguish between two parts of government:

  1. The exterior processes of government: the outer orientation, the voters, the legislature and the great mass of organisations that bear on the voters or legislature directly, and
  2. The autonomous processes of government: what is more or less the government bureaucracy plus the armed services.

Standing between the two is often an intermediary process — in the US the President and his staff. Although this intermediary often appears to have a large amount of power, the reality can often be that this is an exaggeration: what appears to be an exercise of power is often a mediation between autonomous and exterior claimants on power.

A similar design [to the myth that corporations are subject to the ultimate authority of the market] operates regarding the power of the government. Nothing better conceals the exercise of power in and through the state than the political litany, undertaken virtually as a form of religious office, that all men and women come equally in their sovereignty to the polling place and are subject to the result in accordance with the will of the majority. This the young are told; this the truly good citizen accepts. And this the daily practice openly, visibly, comprehensively denies. —page 147

The dominant instrument in controlling government is the conditioned power that organisation possesses over both the voter and the legislature. This power is certainly less visible than the compensatory power of previous times, and indeed less absolute — but still of great importance and intensity. Predictably, it invites a response from those resisting it — each special interest group has an opposing group stressing the counterpoint. And because conditioned power of this type is so readily available it is used without end, and the result is a cacophonous blur of conflicting messages:

…voters and legislators develop an immunity to what the mind cannot conceivably absorb. That so much exercise of conditioned power has little or no practical effect — wins slight or no submission — does not, however, lessen its use. —page 149

Very often, the ultimate result is a confusion between a resort to an instrument of power and the exercise of power itself. An attempt to condition is mistaken for a successful exercise of conditioning.

Also important are the principles enunciated earlier: an organisation seeking submission will be strong if its members submit completely and if its focus is narrow. The NRA, for instance, has a very simple objective and large conformity of its membership to that objective.

It may be noted in this connection that the power of conservative organisations in the exterior processes of government is likely always to be greater in proportion to the number of their participants than that of liberal organisations. Thus organisations opposing women's rights and abortion, though repeatedly shown to be less numerous in the electorate as a whole, have, at least in the past, proved themselves to be stronger in legislative effect. The reason is the greater conservative instinct for discipline. The conservative mood accepts the established beliefs, the social conditioning; the liberal instinct is to question, challenge, and debate. —page 150-1

The autonomous processes of government have access to all sources and mechanisms of power although conditioned power stemming from organisation is, again, of primary importance. Implicit conditioning (a general acceptance of the purposes of the particular agency) is supported by a continual flow of information. Those agencies with the capacity to manage information (including the resort to condign power for the release of inconvenient information) and who have a high degree of internal submission — particularly the Department of Defence, CIA, Department of State and NSC — naturally have particular power advantages relative to other agencies.

The public agency that extracts from its members a large measure of submission to its purposes includes in that submission the surrender of their freedom of expression. This is one vital aspect of a more general submission, which, in the extreme but by no means exceptional case, means the abandonment of independent thought to whatever reflects the goals of the organisation. It is then that one is known as a good soldier, a good public employee, a good “agency man”, a good foreign service officer, a person who “really believes” in what he is doing. —page 153

The power of autonomous processes is greatly enhanced by the size and complexity of the modern tasks of state — this has enabled a further conditioned power to be exercised whereby there is general acceptance that such tasks 'must be left to the experts', being too complex for the layman to understand. These perceptions change with time, however — particularly the degree to which foreign policy was so regarded as an expert field has reduced over time. Autonomous processes' power is augmented when they operate in tandem with organisations in the exterior processes (eg Department of Defence with weapons firms) but where they are in opposition to exterior processes the familiar dialectic develops.

The Military Power

The military's sources of power are primarily organisation and property — personality has played a significant role in the past, but has been of marginal importance since World War II. It has unrivalled access to all three mechanisms of power: a unique claim to the internal use of condign power, property resources which “far exceed any similar source of power” and extremely deep conditioning both internally (an environment in which individual thought is perceived to be not merely heretical but abnormal) and externally (based on the implicit conditioning of every truly good citizen to be a 'patriot'). Discipline is less strong in the external component of the military power — the nexus of weapons and ordinance firms — and yet it is extremely rare to hear a member of that nexus express dissent against military purposes.

A specific enemy is a vital need of the conditioned power of the military. It is also very important for the appropriation of property — military expenditure in the US has closely followed the nature of diplomatic relations with the USSR. Control of information is a similarly important means of maintaining conditioned power — military organisation is uniquely able to prevent information which might undermine its conditioned influence from reaching a wider audience. Even without such constraints, the mere technical complexity (real or imagined) is leveraged as a barrier sustaining conditioned power — it is strongly argued that those outside of the military establishment do not have the expertise to undermine military declarations of fact. The extent of this power may be of supreme importance in the case of the nuclear arms community:

Almost casually the nuclear arms community assumes and defends power to arbitrate and control not only questions of individual life and death but the question of the survival of the human race. Of all the expressions of power cited in these pages this one is transcendent, for inherent in its exercise is the power to end all other exercises of power. —page 167

Although there is a wide belief that the military power is carefully and effectively kept subservient to civilian governance, the reality is different.

In nearly all recent Pentagon confrontations, when faced with the strongly conditioned attitudes of the military establishment, civilians have surrendered thereto. They wish to be thought forthright, decisive, heroic, and otherwise in keeping with the conditioned military virtue. They must show that they can master the intricacies of military operations and of weaponry, that they are no less aware than soldiers of the need for military defence. In consequence, many civilians — on the NSC, frequently in the State Department, in the intelligence agencies, and notably in the Department of Defence itself — have ended up being more warlike, more committed to weapons systems and large budgets, than the members of the armed forces themselves. —page 168

But the military power is not without opposition — not without, most significantly, organisation committed to countering its conditioning — the symmetric response to calls for patriotic support or military purpose. This organisation became decisive during the Vietnam War, with particular effectiveness as the draft extended into university campuses, and therefore communities of people skilled and experienced in the prosecution of conditioned power.

The military power overreached its resources of conditioned power; the result was a substantial reverse. Now, a decade later, there continues to be the publicly expressed hope that Vietnam has been forgotten. That, in the present terminology, is to express the wish that the social conditioning that was then so adverse to the military power is no longer operative. —page 169

This opposition continues in the present (1983) with the growing organisation calling for a freeze on nuclear weapons tests, development and deployment. “It seems proper to ask… that all who read these pages involve themselves with this countervailing effort.”

The Power of Religion and the Press

All sources and mechanisms of the power of Christianity have declined sharply over the course of the last century or so. Church personalities are less influential, church property is tiny relative to secular resources and Christian organisation has splintered into endless fractured and independent units with no internal coherence. Without internal discipline, the ability of organisation to project power externally is small. Condign power is no longer available in life or widely believed in death and compensatory power is similarly reduced relative to secular alternatives and doubted in the afterlife. Only conditioned power remains to any significant degree, and this is extremely diminished over the church's previous reach. To a large extent, this reflects the modern competition between different forces for conditioned belief — from secular education, the press, the scientific establishment as well as the church. The church has lost its virtual monopoly of access to this form of power projection, which was maintained largely by church control of the education system. Interestingly, science now commands a level of internal discipline and belief similar to that once achieved by religion:

As a manifestation of conditioned power, the conditioning of science is, on the whole, far more rigorous and far more disciplined than that of modern religion. The religious mind is thought to be pliable and diverse; the scientific mind is a precise, strictly channelled instrument. Religious observances are loosely structured; scientific procedures have rigid parameters. —page 174

Despite noisy claims to the contrary, they are clearly in direct competition for conditioned submission and science is winning.

Islam has resisted these developments to a much greater extent. There is far less internal division of the Muslim world than there is in the Christian. Religious personalities remain truly prominent in society, the most notable being Ayatollah Khomeini. Condign punishment persists, up to and including lethal measures. Belief in the condign and compensatory power of the afterlife remains vivid. Moreover, the competition between religion and secular education and Western media is keenly sensed — many struggle vigorously to maintain the essential monopoly of conditioned belief of the church.

The power of the press is remarkably similar to that of the church — it is the power of conditioned belief stemming from organisation. The power of the media is undoubtedly great, but there is perhaps a greater danger in overestimating than in underestimating it. The press is far less involved in vibrant advocacy than it was in earlier times, as personality has given way to organisation, so the presentation of views has become more balanced. Election coverage now focuses on the minutiae of who is ahead, who is behind, rather than an outright effort to convince voters of the wisdom of supporting one particular candidate or party. The sheer volume of information the press produces further invites its audience to ignore or forget the vast majority, diminishing its influence. The power of the press is exaggerated by the familiar processes of vanity and the tendency to mistake the applause of the already-converted as evidence of persuasion.

Finally, influence — the achievement of belief — is reduced by the overt improbability of much that is urged. This is especially so of television. Commercials on the high therapeutic powers of commonplace medicinal preparations, the social gains from whiter clothing, the avowed moral tone of aspiring politicians, all invite a compelling disbelief. Since this is the tendency regarding some of what is seen and heard, there is a tendency to disbelieve all. —page 179

However, there has been wide acceptance of the idea that the media do have a lot of influence. Partly this is due to the role of political frustration — in sending a letter to the editor of a newspaper, one feels one has done something — this relies crucially on the belief that the newspaper is somehow influential. Finally, there is the 'residual effect' — as the availability of condign power and the effectiveness of compensatory power have declined, conditioned power remains as the modern source of influence and to this the media has an obvious relationship. Although its power ought not be underestimated, it should be seen in the context of an overall decline in the exercise of power — that in the modern world there is less submission of some to the purposes of others. It is against this background that the great modern sources of power: the state, the corporation and the military, should be analysed.

The Concentration and Diffusion of Power

Over time, the diffusion of power has certainly increased. Once significantly exercised by only church and feudal lord, and even with industrial capitalism restricted to government, church, merchants and industrialists, throughout most of history the average citizen exercised negligible power. The great significance of Marx was in propagating the idea that this was not a natural or inevitable state of affairs — encouraging ordinary people to understand, perceive and question this use of power.

The modern use of power comes overwhelmingly in the form of conditioned power exercised by organisation. Whilst personality and property are in fixed supply, organisation can be and is created at will. Its unique availability leads to a rather gratuitous resort to organisation and attempts to deploy conditioned power which tend often to create the illusion rather than the reality of power.

Affluence has had a central role in the diminution of compensatory power as a compelling force. Higher wages and unemployment benefits both offer the ordinary worker more and better options than that of submitting completely to his employer. Conservatives who bemoan the advent of unemployment compensation and wage increases as the cause of the loss of discipline amongst the workforce accurately perceive the loss of compensatory power that these inflict on the employer.

The main exceptions to the wide diffusion of power and the familiar dialectic of countervailing power are the modern corporation and the military establishment. Neither has a significant countervailing force — criticism of the military purpose or the corporatised free market are extremely marginal. And the internal discipline which these organisations achieve permits them an external projection of power which sets them apart from other forces in modern society. It is important to recognise that in any attempt to limit their power can be effective only to the extent that it can achieve internal discipline:

No one in a democracy should be in doubt as to the real effectiveness of organised opposition to concentrated power. But all must have an acute understanding of the weakness arising from the diffusion of power and the difference between illusion and practical effect. —page 188
Max Weber on Law in Economy and Society, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954, p323.
Dr Harvey Rich, Washington DC psychoanalyst, quoted in the New York Times, 9th November, 1982.
“…with some residual use on wives and children.” —p82.
“On some occasion bringing a convergence between the conservative defence of property as a personal right and the liberal (or left) assertion of its importance as a source of power. Called some years ago before a deeply conservative committee of the Texas legislature to explain and defend his ideas, the late Robert Montgomery of the University of Texas, a brilliant scholar of seriously suspect views, was asked sternly if he believed in private property. He replied, 'I do, sir, and I believe in it so strongly that I want everyone in Texas to have some.'” —p87.
Smith recognised that they would never voluntarily act in the public good: “I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.” —Wealth of Nations, Book I
All of this is discussed in much greater detail in The New Industrial State.
the_anatomy_of_power.txt · Last modified: 2019/11/08 10:39 (external edit)