It has been argued that power and authority are both very similar in essence as they both involve control or manipulation. “Power is the ability to influence the behaviour of others” (Politics, Heywood A. , pg 5) whereas authority is the right to do so. The question is simply whether past events and previous use of power have caused any effects on today’s politics. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the ‘contract theorists’ introduced the social contract theory. They believed that a contract is made by each member of the public to follow the authority of a state.
This contract in return gives them the right to reject any government if they desire. In theory this social contract designates power to the government so that it can have authority over the nation. Thomas Hobbes a 17th-century English philosopher talked about the state of nature, which is basically the way society, would have developed and the ways we would behave without the rules and regulations of the government. Hobbes described society as ‘A continual war of all against all’, he believes that huge conflict would arise without a government, or some sort of authority.
Further he illustrates that “In such a condition there is no place for Industry, … ,and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. ” In such an instance there would be no such thing as justice (Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia). A mother could murder her child and not be prosecuted in any form. Hobbs believed there would have to be law, and an institution to enforce law in order for there to be justice. So if a crime was to be committed it would be fair because there are no laws.
Hobbes is illustrating that society needs the government to act as an authority over the nation otherwise there would be complete chaos. Revolutions can and have occurred within political systems, yet this is a very dramatic form of political change. Revolution is the overthrow and replacement of a system or government. The earliest revolutions began in the fourteenth century, however these were seen as ‘to revolve’, because they were more of a cyclical change (Political Theory An Introduction, Heywood, A) than a revolution.
For example the American Revolution saw America go through dramatic changes, which led to independence and a new constitution. Nevertheless the Islamic revolution of 1979 contradicts the view that ‘today’s authority is the site of yesterday’s struggle for power’. The Islamic fundamentalist revolution saw a change as backward into traditional ways for women. This demonstrates that not all changes and struggles actual change the future of power and in such a case in reversed it. The distribution of power has been interpreted in a number of ways.
Firstly there is the power elite. This is where one small group holds all of the power or authority over everybody else. Corporatism is the incorporating organised interests into the processes of government, there are two types; authoritarian, associated with Italian fascism and destruction of trade unions, and secondly liberal corporatism; privileged access to policy formulation. Pluralism is another type of distribution of power. It is a belief in, or a commitment to, diversity or multiplicity (Politics, Heywood A. ).
This view can be broad or narrow, broadly it promotes argument and understanding, and narrowly it believes that power is not concentrated in the hands of the elite, and believes in group politics. Overall these forms of power distribution show that there is not just one single form of power and authority, nor one single meaning. It is therefore very difficult to answer the above question if the definitions for power distributions are unclear. Power can be seen as the ability to affect the behaviour of an individual, this means that power involves being ‘pulled’ or ‘pushed’ against one’s will. (Political theory an introduction, Heywood, A.) Robert Dahl studied power, and was heavily critical of a ‘ruling elite’.
He argues that power develops through reputation. Dahl had three criterias that needed to be fulfilled before a ‘ruling elite’ could be determined. First of all they had to be a well-defined group, as well as having a key decision power and preferences over other groups, and finally they must regularly prevail over other groups. It can be noted that Dahl’s view of power is about getting things done, which is reflected in decision making. Dahl believed that the distribution of power is a science, which he believed could be studied.