Power is the most sought after thing in the world today by a substantial number of entities. It is critical to begin by understanding the meaning of power in order to gain deeper insight into the essence of power in the contemporary society. Power is used in diverse entities in the society.
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More often than not, people define power basing on the political sense of the term. However, it is critical to note that power can be defined from the four realms of the society (Ricoeur 2010, 18-19).
According to Ricoeur (2010, 20), power can be used in the social sense, economic sense, and socio-cultural sense. Power entails the possession of attributes of control and determination of events under each sphere in which one assesses power from.
The derivatives of power in the contemporary society have, therefore, become more diverse due to the diverse aspects of development that are evident in the contemporary society.
However, the ancient antecedents of power as highlighted in the philosophical work of ancient philosophers like Plato are based on law. The definitions of power in the philosophical texts that are advanced in these philosophical works are based on power as an aspect of governance in the society.
What defines power is the set of rules that enable governments to rule and control the citizenry. The destiny or the well-being of the citizenry is dictated by how governments use the authority that is bestowed upon them by the law.
It can, therefore, be argued that political power is the center and the pillar on which other attributes of power are built. Power is likened to other attributes of control in the society.
This happens as a result of the fact that power is attached to law, which in turn implies the ability to dictate the pace and the nature of developments in a country or a community. In this sense, power can be likened to the ability to dominate and determine (Ricoeur 2010, 20).
An overview of the relationship between power, violence and human needs
Human needs are diverse and elusive. Human needs keep growing each day. It is argued that the satisfaction of one need results in another need. Needs are, therefore, presumed to be countless and never ending. What is the relation between human needs and power?
While power and human needs do not have a mutual relationship, research reveals that there is an established link between power and human needs.
Power denotes the ability to control destiny; therefore, the mere possession of power enhances the ability to access the political and economic sphere and access to opportunities and resources. The position of power is often an avenue for accessing resources that help in satisfying needs.
Power is the originating point for the prevalence of classes in society. People who have power, political or economic, often rank in the higher class, which is also known as the bourgeoisie. Political power in most cases results in the attainment of other forms of power like economic power.
Therefore, how does violence relate to the concept of power and human needs? The exploration of the causes of violence in the society can help establish the relationship between human needs, power and violence.
Most of the violence in the society comes from the interaction between groups and communities in the society (Dowding 2011, 75).
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According to Lord (2000, para. 1-2), the struggle for resources is one of the chief problems and source of conflicts in the world. Conflicts over resources or economic power have resulted in the long bloody conflicts in the world.
An example the bloodiest conflict in Liberia and Sierra Leone, which is in is most cases referred to as “Blood Diamonds”.
Resources are connected to power, and the search for power in most cases causes conflicts between people in the society, especially in cases where people are struggling for similar but limited economic resources.
In most cases, people who have power utilize the power to unleash violence in the society as a tactic of gaining more attributes of power. Violence is unleashed in several ways.
Most of the violence that is known is the physical violence that results in the loss of human life, injuries and destruction of property.
However, there are other kinds of violence like economic marginalization, which is not physical per se, but it results in human suffrage just like physical violence does.
It can, therefore, be said that there exists a pronounced relationship between power, violence and human needs in the contemporary society.
According to Brendan (2006, 2118), structured violence is witnessed in several countries where certain people are excluded from taking part in certain political courses.
This is done through ascertainment of mental cases of the individuals as a way of furthering the agenda of destabilizing the power of certain interest groups.
There are different forms of tactics that are used in moderating the decision making environment by way of constricting the scale of participation of individuals.
This comes from the fear that open participation can result in increased pressure for changes and the reduction of the power of those in authority.
Curtailing the landscape for decision making amounts to unleashing violence on the people who are supposed to ensure that the systems of checks and balances are observed (Brendan 2006, 2121).
Political power, violence and human needs
As observed earlier, political power is the most known form of power in the world. Political power has a close relation to control in the society. This is the reason why cut-throat competition is witnessed whenever people are contesting for political power in any given setting in the society.
Political power in most cases denotes the ability to climb the political ladders and exercise authority over the subjects. The question that ought to be explored at this juncture concerns the source of political power or the foundation of power in the political realm of the society.
Arguing from the perspective of the ancient society, it can be noted that political power is a critical thing in as far as the establishment of systems of control in the society or the world is concerned.
Power cannot be separated from politics since the political regime that prevails in any given society, community or country is often the source of authority, order and control or restraint over the citizenry of that country or society.
Political power is established by virtue of the existence of laws that give political regimes power to implement activities that are meant to enhance the maintenance of order. This takes us back to Plato’s relational explanation of the connectedness between power, governance and law.
The law is as old as humanity and is the foundation on which order is sustained in a community or a nation. Power is strongly founded on law and vice versa (Arendt 2007, 713-714).
Power is established through a set of laws that define the nature of power positions that exist in a country or society. The same laws set limitations on the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of the people in power. Power is used to enhance the enforcement of the prevailing laws.
Therefore, the manner in which laws are enforced in the course of exercising power is quite critical.
What often causes conflicts in as far as the relation between power and law is the attempt by people in power to breach the limitations that are encompassed in the law in regard to what they can do and what they cannot do according to the same law.
The law is considered to be the main boundary of power. Conflicts are bound to arise when the boundaries of power are breached, at times resulting in violence. Power has to be defined according to the authority that is given to an individual and the authority that is vested in institutions.
The attempt to accumulate power is one of the sole causes of breaking the law. This is common with people or political leaders who hunger for power and do not find satisfaction in the prevailing amount of power that is awarded to them in the law or the constitution (Arendt 2007, 715).
According to Cover (1986, 1601), power causes havoc and the law prevails to help in the resolving issues that come from misuse of power.
When power enhances violent acts against people in the society, the law helps in eliminating such incidences by imposing sanctions on people who engage in violent acts.
One intriguing thing about the law and its interpretation is that at times law seems to justify acts of violence that have either occurred or that are being planned. Such an example can be derived from the plan by a country to go into war with another country.
Depending on the level at which the country has been aggressed and the exploitation of other channels of settling the conflict, the laws of most countries authorize war and violence. This is in a bid for a country to protect its sovereignty.
The foundations of the society are quite elusive in the sense that violence is even founded in the laws. This implies that it is a legal act in its own sense.
Power and violence have a founded relationship that cannot be easily set apart since violence often acts as one of the options of retaining power (Cover 1986, 1602).
Another perspective to the issue of power is that a number of people argue that violence results in power. This comes out of the discovery that most violent incidences that are witnessed in the world are structured.
People sponsor violence in order to weaken certain structures of the society to enable them to ascend to power. The question that comes out here is whether violence can really result into power.
Several incidences of violence, for instance the utilization of militia attacks, result in infringement on human rights in which the satisfaction of human needs is embedded.
However, only a few incidences of structured violence results in the attainment of power by the planners and the executers of the violence.
The sustenance of such kind of power is a daunting task. In most cases, the use of unlawful acts is used by people who have gained power through structural violence to maintain the power.
This implies the denial of the rights and freedoms of people as a way of taming the people so that they cannot resent to the nature or the execution of functions by the authority (Peeters 2008, 169).
A substantial number of researchers on power and violence argue that there is no absoluteness in prioritizing violence over power, and vice versa. In a number of instances, violence is used as a means of maintaining power. To what level is the use of violence to maintain power justified.
Is violence a legal tool for maintaining power?
Such questions continue to bog the minds of people even as the use of violence in several instances is used to sustain the political power of states and political regimes within nations, like the contemporary political situation in Syria where the government is unleashing violence on the citizenry as way of clinging onto power.
Violence is often used by totalitarian and authoritarian governments to sustain power (Arendt and Benedict 2009, 34). However, this goes beyond the totalitarian and autocratic regime.
When autocracy is being talked about, the kind of violence that is meant is the direct or in most cases physical violence.
This implies that other governments that are deemed not to be autocratic make use of indirect violence. They mostly use an indirect form of violence to control events and maintain power (Peeters, 2008, 169-170).
How can military intervention such as the United States intervention in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq be classified? A substantial number of questions are asked about the moral rightness in military intervention.
This is triggered by the fact that military intervention, in as much as it might be looked at from the perspective of the need to pacify a region, results in the abuse of human rights and denies human beings the right to access vital needs.
This remains to be a critical issue in the contemporary world, where the leading states in the world resort to such steps and argue that they are the main ways through which peace can be sustained.
In real sense, what comes out from such developments is the desire for the developed states to enhance authority and control of the world at all costs, without putting into consideration the rights and needs of the people who inhabit the regions where they launch military attacks.
This denotes violence on the people who inhabit the target regions (Chatterjee 2004, 258).
Arendt and Benedict (2009, 34) ascertain that revolutionary courses that have occurred in the history of the world have been accompanied by considerable scales of violence. Violence on the citizenry comes out as the main cause of uprisings against political regimes.
In most cases, revolutions are necessitated by the nature of misuse of power by political regimes and the equal undermining of the ability of the citizens to rise up and oppose the breaches of power by political regimes.
Powerlessness binds citizens and denies them the courage and power to revolt against the breach of power, which is the cause of the problems that face the citizens.
Revolutions can hardly take course without violence because in most cases, those in power will often want to quell the revolts in their bid to try to secure their regimes from collapsing.
In other cases, the needs of the people cause them to engage in violent acts as they try to forcefully acquire things that they yearn for in their lives. However, other innocent people are subjected to violence in the course of revolutions.
This raises questions on the worth of revolutions, if at all, because they cause more damage and increase the scale of human suffrage as the supplies are cut off in the active parts of revolutions.
The scale of violence during revolutions comes from dual forces; people who are rising up against the misuse of power, and the resistance to the course that is pursued by revolts in a bid to protect power.
Therefore, the worth of the revolution can only be determined in the aftermath of the revolution. If order is restored and the ability of human beings to meet their needs and power is exercised rightly, then the revolution can be considered a success.
Nonetheless, it is quite daunting to attain such a situation in the aftermath of a revolution (Arendt and Benedict 2009, 34).
The social realms of power, human needs and violence
Can power be understood from the social or psychological realm? This is one of the questions that are being explored by social researchers. As note earlier, power is found in all the realms of development in the society.
The Nazi atrocities depict different accolades of the search for power and the way pursuance of power can result in conflicts. The Nazi atrocities in the real sense were guided by a social and political ideology by Adolf Hitler.
The ideology denoted that the Aryans were the superior tribe in the world and that there was no other tribe that could match the superiority of the Aryans.
This was later translated into a political course; the elimination of tribes that seemed intelligent and competitors to the superiority of the Aryans.
It can be argued that the need for actualization through the postulation of social ideologies with diverse inclinations is the reason why violence is unleashed on people in the society by other people.
This is likened to Nazism, which according to a substantial number of researchers was a search for both political and social positions by the Aryans. In any case, where a consideration of supremacy is given priority violence is utilized as a way of safeguarding the supremacy (Arendt 1971, 417).
Arendt (1971, 421) ascertains that man has needs and the more he is pressed by the needs, the more he inclines his mind toward pursuing a certain course. This course may be a violent one. Thinking about needs affects the conscience of man in the sense that man is pressed to fulfill the needs.
When the means of fulfilling the needs do not sum up in the mind, he has to think of an alternative means of gaining the needs, even if it has trivial consequences to him and others. According to Kantian ethics, human thoughts are mostly inclined towards their needs.
Thinking about needs distracts the mind from conscience and paves way for irrational thinking, which is depicted in the acts that are engaged in by human beings. The violence that is witnessed on the streets comes from the mounting levels of thoughts about needs.
Such thinking does not result in the generation of constructive knowledge, but destructive knowledge as in the case of violent acquisition of property from other people.
It can, thus, be concluded that the frustration out of the lack of the capacity to fulfill needs is a source of small scale violence. Such violence can escalate when the conditions worsen and the ability to fulfill needs is reduced.
Arendt, Hannah and Hans J¨urgen Benedict. 2009. “Revolution, Violence, and Power: A Correspondence.” Constellations 16(2): 304-304.
Arendt, Hannah. 1971. “Thinking and Moral Considerations.” Social Research 38(3): 417-446.
Arendt, Hannah. 2007. “The Great Tradition: i. Law and Power.” Social Research 74(3): 713-726.
Chatterjee, Deen K. 2004. Ethics and Foreign Intervention. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cover, Robert M. 1986. “Violence and the Word.” The Yale Law Journal 95(8): 1601-1629.
Dowding, Keith M. 2011. Encyclopedia of Power. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE.
Kelly, Brendan D. 2006. “The Power Gap: Freedom, Power and Mental Illness.” Social Science & Medicine 63: 2118–2128.
Lord, David. 2000. Introduction: The Struggle for Power and Peace in Sierra Leone. Web.
Peeters, Remi. 2008. “Against Violence but not at Any Prize: Hannah Arendt’s Concept of Power.” Ethical Perspectives: Journal of European Ethics Network 15(2): 169-192.
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