Powerful Stuff <debate>

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Tue, 12 Mar 1996 16:45:30 +0900

w3First a note of thanks to Robert Thornton. You've got me
hooked. The _Discourses_ are now on my stack. It's that
beautifully developed analogy of Machiavelli's Italy to present-
day Africa that put the hook in. One of my own paths to
anthropology led through a largish chunk of medieval history.
A reflection on power and the people who exercise it that
has somehow stuck in my mind is from
Ferdinand Lot, writing about the barbarian kingdoms that
replaced Roman rule in Italy. The subject is a king, a
Theodosius (?) and ruler of the Visigoths (?). He was, says Lot,
given to fits of obstinacy which he took for signs of firmness. A
useful awful warning.

Thornton writes,

"_Virtu_ in Machiavelli is what Weber more or less had in
mind with his term charisma, and is the personal capacity of
some individual to cause others to act. I would leave it as this,
although political philophers (Weber among them) seem to
think that the action that the _virtu_ causes in others, is
somehow against their own will."

It is that "against their own will" that I would like to hear
more comments on. The proposition that power always works
against the will of those on whom it is exercised is, it seems to
me, fundamentally flawed and an artifact of bourgeoise
individualism carried to an extreme that sees any
acquiescence in power as a threat to personal autonomy. By,
in effect, denying the possibility of both legitimate authority
freely accepted as such and and happy acceptance of quid pro
quo, this position leaves only violence as a ground for
inequality. That way lies the shadow of Hobbes and Hitler

Also, I am not yet convinced by the argument that
probabilities cannot be assigned to individuals. If the
individual is seen as a uniform sample of one, this argument is
unassailable. In practice, however, power is ascribed to some
individuals among many. Each individual is, moreover, the
nexus of numerous relationships, each of which may, in turn,
generate multiple interactions. Here I see room for
probabilities. I could be persuaded otherwise.

John McCreery
March 12, 1996