3 Kinds of Power

From John Kenneth Galbraith's The Anatomy of Power, Houghton Mifflin, pp. 4-6.

It is a measure of how slightly the subject of power has been analyzed that the three reasonably obvious instruments of its exercise do not have generally accepted names. These must be provided: I shall speak of condign, compensatory, and conditioned power.

Condign power wins submission by the ability to impose an alternative to the preferences of the individual or group that is sufficiently unpleasant or painful so that these preferences are abandoned. There is an overtone of punishment in the term, and this conveys the appropriate impression. It was the undoubted preference of the galley slave to avoid his toil, but his prospective discomfort from the lash for any malingering at the oars was sufficiently unpleasant to ensure the requisite, if also painful, effort. At a less formidable level, the individual refrains from speaking his or her mind and accepts the view of another because the expected rebuke is otherwise too harsh.

Condign power wins submission by inflicting or threatening appropriately adverse consequences. Compensatory power, in contrast, wins submission by the offer of affirmative reward -- by giving of something of value to the individual so submitting. In an earlier stage of economic development, as still in elementary rural economies, the compensation took varied forms -- including payments in kind and the right to work a plot of land or to share in the product of the landlord's fields. And as personal or public rebuke is a form of condign power, so praise is a form of compensatory power. However, in the modern economy, the most important expression of compensatory power is, of course, pecuniary reward -- the payment of money for services rendered, which is to say for submission to the economic or personal purposes of others. On occasion, where reference to pecuniary payment conveys a more exact meaning, this term will be used.

It is a common feature of both condign and compensatory power that the individual submitting is away of his or her submission -- in the one case compelled and in the other for reward. Conditioned power, in contrast, is exercised by changing belief. Persuasion, education, or the social commitment to what seems natural, proper, or right causes the individual to submit to the will of another or of others. The submission reflects the preferred course; the fact of submission is not recognized. Conditioned power, more than condign or compensatory power, is central, as we shall see, to the functioning of the modern economy and polity, and in capitalist and socialist countries alike.




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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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