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Critical analysis of “Power” by Arendt H

The article “Power” by Arendt H. is a 1970 publication that discusses the aspect of power and violence in the political world. In this article, Arendt discusses and defines power and violence at length thereby bringing out the difference between power and violence. The principle argument in this article is that power and violence cannot coexist and the existence if one means that the other one is absent. Also evident is the fact that whereas violence has the capacity to eliminate power, it is impossible for power to emanate from violence. As such, violence has to be studied from the aspect of where it emanates from as well as its nature. It also clear that governments can only exist with power and violence cannot sustain any government for violence can never be legitimate.
Critical analysis
            The author of this article starts by highlighting the misconception held by many politicians about violence in the political world as a display of power. A common misconception that has been raised in this article is that most politicians think that power in ruling people is equivalent to exercising legitimate violence, also well known as organized violence. The subject of power and violence has been examined in this article by analyzing the views of other political scientists and sociologists and Arendt contests the definitions provided by many authors. To many authors, power is displayed as “an instrument of rule” (p. 36) which exists because someone dominates the other one. In deed, the views of many on what power really is portrayed as drawing respect from others as a result of issuing commands (p. 37). It is for this reason that many think that a person who reigns by the rule of the gun has the greatest power. And to add onto this notion, the article highlights that some think of power as “a kind of mitigated violence” (p. 38) which does not differ greatly from the view that power is best manifested through violence.
Arendt does not stop at criticizing the various definitions of power and violence but the author goes ahead to unearth the likely origin of these misconceptions. The author therefore traces these misconceptions from the early European rule of absolute power best defined by monarchical and aristocratic governments not to mention a more current bureaucratic rule. Another source of this misleading interpretation of power and violence is traced back to the Hebrew-Christian tradition which popularized the Commandments thus forming an institution of issuing and obeying commands. In such an institution, there must be people who are willing to obey the commands issued by those who are out “to exercise power over others” (p. 39) as held by Stuart Mills. Even as the command-obey notion of power reigned, Arendt highlights of the existence of a form of power that was instituted by the Athens where people were bestowed with power thus ending the “lordship” kind of rule.
The author of this article seems to heap support on the type of rule where the people, the majority in this case, are bestowed with power to govern them. In deed, this is the instance where the difference between power and violence comes out clearly. For a government or an individual to claim that he is powerful, then he must show the support of people in large numbers and not necessarily a show of implements. Without a large number of people in support, the existence of power can all together be ruled out. On the other hand, it is quite distinct that violence can exist even with a minimal number of people since violence depends on available implements rather than people. This argument is very true and Arendt reinforces this argument by suggesting that “power is All against One” in its extreme whereas the extreme form of violence is “One against All” (p 42). This therefore qualifies that for One to subject All, he must have implements, which eventually turn out to be violence. At the same time, it is true that one would be powerless if one lacks the support of “All”.
Failure of political science in distinguishing terms such as power, strength, force and authority has also been criticized by Arendt (p. 44). The author highlights that treating these terms as synonyms in political science blurs the difference between power and violence. It is appreciable that the author defines the terms clearly and power emerges as being an entity owned by a group as opposed to strength that is individualistic. Force emerges as energy coming from social movements and authority is said to exist when respect for individuals or office is maintained (p. 45). These definitions are helpful in that it is possible to see violence as an instrument that is more individualistic and it is reinforced by strength. From these definitions, it is also easy to identify any violence that may come disguised in the name of authority. This is applicable in our current society since any institution that claims to be exercising authority can be tested by how much it respects those who are under the institution.
From this article, it is possible to visualize what would happen if there is no power. Arendt argues that “where power has disintegrated, revolutions are possible” (p. 49). This is because existence of power implies the availability of people who are ready to counter any violence and the government is deemed to survive. On the other hand, a government that is solely dependent on violence cannot exist. Arendt argues that “even the totalitarian ruler, whose chief instrument of rule is torture, need a power basis-the secret police and its net informers” (p.50). This is a strong implication that power is superior to violence and violence is only executed successfully when there is enough power. This concept brings us to a conclusion that for any government to exist and run successfully, such a government must be endowed with power, which is ultimately the support of the majority. On the contrary, violence cannot maintain a government since violence must always be guided to achieve anything. It is for this reason that Arendt makes a conclusion that as long as power is legitimate, there is no need to justify it but violence always needs to be justified and therefore it is ever illegitimate. In deed, the very difference between violence and power is clearly outlined in this article making the article relevant in our political age which is struggling to posit what power and the means to achieve it.

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