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The Power and the Law of the Strongest

A distinction must be made between might and Power; the first rests solely on the possibility of coercing another; the second is also based on the coerced person's belief that the coercion is legitimate.

Power vs might

"Tell me why I had to be a powerslave..." [Photo: A. Alvarez/LPDS]

This article, The Power and the Law of the Strongest, starts from the distinction that, in order to understand what political power is, made a great jurist from the beginning of the last century, Léon Duguit (1859- 1928), between the "rulers" and the "governed." In every human group, he estimated, from the smallest to the largest, there are those who command and those who obey, those who give orders and those who obey them, those who make decisions and those who apply them; the former are the "governors" and the latter the "governed." Thus, the members of the governing committee of a party, a union or an association, the members of the board of directors of a commercial company, the Pope, the cardinals and the bishops of the Catholic Church are "rulers" within their respective groups, as the President of the Republic, the prime minister, the ministers and the deputies are in a nation. In each social group, political power would be constituted by the rulers thus defined. It would designate both the authority of these rulers, their powers (material point of view), the procedures by which they exercise them (formal point of view) and the rulers themselves (organic point of view).

The defect in Duguit's conception is that he does not sufficiently specify the notion of 'ruler'. If the "rulers" are all those who effectively give orders and those who are materially obeyed, everyone is both ruler and ruled, except for the President of the Republic at the top of the hierarchy; because everyone takes orders and gives them. If we talk about power every time a human relationship is based on inequality, every time an individual can force another to submit, power is found everywhere and all institutions have a political character. A fundamental distinction must be made between might and power; the first rests solely on the possibility of coercing another; the second is also based on the coerced person's belief that the coercion is legitimate.

Might vs Power: Might Is the Law of the Strongest; Power Appears when Those Who Obey Believe that It Is Normal, Fair and Legitimate

Might is the law of the strongest, which can materially constrain the weakest to bend. Power is omnipresent, since it results from the inequality of forces. When speaking of force and material coercion, it is not only about political force, but also economic force, or collective framework.

As long as people obey only because are coerced to do so, by physical pressure, economic domination or collective framework, there is really no power, only might. Power appears when those who obey also believe that it is normal for them to obey, that this is good, fair, legitimate. The legitimacy of that power can be of three types, according to the German sociologist Max Weber (1860-1920):

  • Of a Rational Nature. It is the power that rests on the legality of an order. All command or power is derived from the law. Western democracies could be framed here, although each with its nuances and peculiarities.
  • Of a Traditional Nature. It is the power that rests on the belief in the divine origin of its institution. Legitimacy is constituted by that tradition. For example, the absolute monarchies of the Ancien Régime have take advantage of it.
  • Of a Charismatic Nature. It is the one that rests on the adhesion that heroism or exemplarity arouse in the people. A good part of the revolutions, if not all of them, have been led by charismatic leaders who have won the support and affection of the people. An example of this are all those revolutionary movements originating from within the people to try to overthrow the tyrannical regime that oppresses and represses them. Once the objective has been achieved and power has been conquered, the next step should be the establishment of a new system totally contrary to the one that was overthrown, where freedom and the rule of law make their way firmly and transparently. We say should, because in practice and unfortunately most revolutions, once its leaders have conquered power by taking advantage of the strength of the people, have left behind a tyrannical regime... to end up imposing another, after conveniently betraying the people through deception, propaganda and fear, using in their own benefit that moment of sentimental ecstasy of a citizenry excited and overflowing with joy for having overthrown the tyranny but, at the same time, oblivious to hidden and spurious intentions; thus, the people themselves end up becoming accomplices, without being aware of it, of the new regime that is upon them, which may even be worse and last longer than the one they have just left behind. Here it could fit those revolutions that have overthrown autocracies to end up imposing iron totalitarian systems, where the State, in very few hands, has ended up taking over not only the freedom of the individual, but its aim has always been even to take over their freedom of thought. The communist regimes of the last 20th century, some of them still surviving today, unfortunately for its citizens, are a good example of this.

Power vs might
"¿Por qué vuestro orden necesita de la fuerza? ¿Por qué golpeáis y destrozáis cuerpos y mentes?" [Image: Kellepics/Pixabay]
This doctrine of Max Weber is insufficient, because it moves in the merely sociological field. It is not enough, because power must be based on a title with sufficient value to create in the subjects the duty of obedience.

The Power Must Be Justified and Legitimate to Have Authority; In Addition, Who Commands Must Have Intelligence, Purity, Competence, Will, Character and Command Conditions

In the distinction between power and authority, authority points to the title of legitimacy of power itself. Authority makes a power justified. Now, for a power to be an authority, to have the right to control and, therefore, to correlatively demand obedience, it is necessary that the power is justified and legitimate. In this regard, following the doctrine of Saint Thomas of Aquino, it can be affirmed that for authority to be constituted as such and, in this way, to legitimize and justify power, three requirements are needed: legitimacy, dignity and effectiveness.

Legitimacy. As for its origin, according to the theory put forward by Max Weber, legitimacy is normally legal or traditional, and only exceptionally, in times of emergency, in the event of a breakdown of civil order due to internal or external causes, could legitimacy be charismatic.

Dignity. Only those who have the capacity to exercise power can hold it legitimately. Power is empire, it is primarily a function of intelligence and secondarily a function of the will. Who commands needs to have intelligence, purity, competence, will, character, leadership conditions. Reading the previous sentence, and observing the current political class in Spain, both the one that governs and the one that claims to oppose those who govern... although the epithets that irremediably come to mind are many and varied, sometimes silence is the best and most forceful answer.

Efficacy. It follows from the very definition of power; Whoever holds power and lacks efficacy, or does not exercise it in all its conditions and possibilities, practically exercises a renunciation of power, which makes it lose the character of authentic authority. That is why every weak and unskillful power creates disorder and anarchy; its ineffectiveness demonstrates its real lack of authority. In this regard, let's take a look to what has been happening in Spain since May 2018, where a weak government, incompetent and plagued by incapable people, has plunged the country, if not into anarchy, then into a certain disorder that the order and common sense of the citizenry counteracts not without difficulties. If the most mediocre and petty give ample examples of what they are capable of doing and not doing with power in a situation of weakness, imagine what they would be capable of with absolute power...

Oligarchy of Parties in the Kingdom of Spain

Classes of power and forms of government. The Greek philosopher Aristotle, who lived in the fourth century B.C., divided the forms of government according to the number of people and the honesty of the purpose. And so, he spoke of pure forms of government and impure forms. The first ones would be next:

  • Monarchy, government by one for the benefit of the community.
  • Aristocracy, rule by a few, the best, for the benefit of the community.
  • Democracy, government of the people to obtain the common good.

Among the impure forms he states:

  • Tyranny, government of one with forgetfulness of the common good. Clear examples throughout history are unfortunately not lacking. Although in our days they try to disguise themselves with the skin of Democracy. But the wolf, you know, no matter how much it disguises itself with sheep's skin...
  • Oligarchy, government of a few for their own benefit, forgetting the common good. The Oligarchy of Parties could well fit in Spain, which, together with the privileged castes that prospered in the heat of Francoism, rule the country after the pact reached with the upstart Democrats in the so-called Transition.
  • Demagoguery, bad government of the people. Even the smallest communes have ended up falling into demagoguery.

Of course, these forms of government were designed for the historical era in which Aristotle lived, but historical development has shown the impossibility of applying these forms to social groups of greater dimension and complexity than the polis Greek.

Saint Thomas collects and expands the Aristotelian doctrine, affirms that those forms are no longer found and that there is a tendency to create new forms of government that bring together the best characteristics of the monarchy, aristocracy and democracy; that is, mixed forms of government.

Currently the problem in the forms of government has been, in general terms, reduced to Republic and Monarchy. Among all the differences that can be cited between these two forms of government, the most accurate are those that refer to the origin and duration of the mandate. In the Republic the origin is the popular election, which gives power and designates the person who is to exercise it, limiting their performance to a number of years established in the constitutional laws of the country. In the Monarchy, on the other hand, the origin is dynastic and hereditary, and the duration is for life. These are the clearest existing differences, which are becoming increasingly blurred, since today we can already speak of presidential, democratic republics and also of democratic, representative monarchies; borders are increasingly blurred and it is more difficult to establish the existing differences. Thus, in the Kingdom of Spain -although there are those who still ignore living in a kingdom; they just have to look at their passport or their driving license-, the form of government is the so-called Parliamentary Monarchy.

The legal order. Ortega y Gasset affirms that order is not a pressure that is exerted on society from the outside, but rather a balance that arises within it. A pure police state based on the simple coercive preservation of order is impossible and cannot last.

Purposes of the State: Creation and Maintenance of Law, and Management of the General Interest

The order of the State is, first of all, legal order, order based on law, and therefore one of the functions of government is the constant creation of order by law, the creation and maintenance of legal order. The purposes attributed to the State can be specified in two: one legal, creation and maintenance of Law; and another social, of management of all the general interests for whose service the State exists. This second is also legal insofar as it develops within the framework of law, but its purpose is not law, rather it uses law as a mean to the goal of managing the general social interests of the people that the State serves.

The legal purpose of the State is the creation and maintenance of law. For this, the State raises essential functions, such as the legislative one: definition of the law in the creation and promulgation of laws, which determines in each specific case what proceeds in Law, ensuring its exact maintenance.

In a third function, the executive power of the government in the strict sense intervenes in the execution and realization of the Law. Such, for example, is the case of internal security and police and public order services. The State manages matters of general interest, which constitutes an increasingly important specific function of the State; since if through the legislation the will of the State manifests itself in the laws, this will needs to be acted upon, executed. It is not enough to create the norm, but it is necessary to enforce it.

Separation of Powers at Origin

And it is not enough that there is a division of functions, as there is in Spain, but there must be separation of powers at origin, so that they confront each other, and control and correct their possible excesses. From this confrontation between powers, the one who benefits is Democracy.

If a country and a citizenry with such a political class and parasitic castes that exhaust it and hinder it in its passage to the next level, it has been able to achieve what it has achieved... let's imagine what could be achieved if it got rid of such leeches. .. which will do everything in their power to, for their own infamous benefit, continue hijacking the true progress and evolution of Spanish society in order to continue draining it. Everything must start with an in-depth reform of the educational system , articulated around the promotion of critical thinking. Enough already of educational structures that plunge the people into ignorance, preventing them from being masters of their own destiny.


[Source: Vv.Aa. (1978). The power. In Maravillas del Saber. Consultor Didáctico  (Tome VIII, pp. 29-31). Milan, Italy: Editrice Europea di Cultura]