I’m presently reading the 2nd book of A Song of Ice and Fire, called Clash of Kings, written by George R.R. Martin. In all honesty it’s nowhere near as compelling and well written as the first book, but it’s not without merit either.
An idea arose in the text regarding the idea of power, who truly wields it, and what it means. I’m intrigued by that idea as I think it’s quite relevant to the world today, and throughout history.
To paraphrase, a question is proposed: there are four people, one has a weapon, one has wealth, one has the authority of government, and one has the authority of religion. To which one would the weapon wielder listen and obey?
The answer of course depends entirely on the character of the person wielding the weapon, and how he or she may be influenced by economic incentives, the authority of government, and the authority of religion.
So then, the truly powerful person is the one who knows how the weapon wielder will act and can exert influence accordingly. This concept goes back to the old saying that “knowledge is power.” And at the same time knowledge alone doesn’t guarantee the ability to persuade the person with real power, the one wielding the weapon. But if one were to know how that weapon wielder would act, based on prior knowledge of their character, then they might prepare to outsmart and out think the one with the weapon, even while unarmed.
The truth it seems is that power lies with the one who can command the hopes and fears of those that can enforce their will.
I think it’s important to recognize however that it doesn’t necessarily take any violent force or capacity for violence to enforce ones will. Nor does the one who controls the hopes and fears of those people need any amount of violence.
Humans are subject to base desires and fears as much as many like to think they are not. Thus power might come in the form of physical attraction, the ability to please, the ability to teach, and the ability to take away any of these or other things in such a way as to make them inaccessible.
While these things might come in large scale from wealth, law, or belief in immaterial or otherworldy value, they can be held individually irrespective of those three sectors as well.
I believe the point to take away is that there is no single source of power, even over one person. We are subject to many temptations, desires, and fears, and as such any of those might be manipulated in such a way as to encourage us to action or inaction, but without knowledge of those aspects of ones character, power over them is inert at best.