Describe the Structure and Charachter of Modern Power Essay

Describe the structure and character of modern power. Please delineate any possible strategies of resistance. (3500 words) “People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is, what they do, does. ” ? Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Power is a phenomenon that exists in every sphere of life and once in a lifetime every person has to go through the ordeal of facing the consequences of this struggle of power between different individuals living in a society.

Different philosophers have given a stance on power, how the relationship is developed, what the powerful and powerless face and what are the consequences of the powerful exerting power on the powerless. The great French philosopher, Michael Foucault took power problem as a grave issue regarding the relations between society, individuals, groups and institutions. His viewpoint on power was that power is not only plain oppression of powerless by the powerful, but it is more of a strategy rather than possession used by institutions on groups or individuals.

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Foucault took power as being coextensive with resistance, as a productive factor, meaning that any power facing resistance brings productivity in a sense that helps the individual in the self making process and also resistance is a possibility condition for any relation. The Italian philosopher, Gramsei, talks about hegemony and counter hegemony. Hegemony is basically when one person exercises power on another person or tries to dominate the other person due to his or her great influence. However Gramsei said that hegemony has created a problematic dialectical relationship between coercion and consent, or domination and dependence.

The relation is such that consent desires coercion and punishment. Therefore we can conclude that power cannot be thematized without thematizing coercion. Another great intellectual, Edward Said lay light on Gramsei’s, Benda’s, Foucault’s work on what qualities need to be present to make a person an intellectual and then he himself gave his idea as to who was the rightful intellectual in a society. Edward said that a true intellectual is that person who stands against the oppressor and speaks truth to power.

He is not worried as to what would displease or please the people in power. Speaking the truth to power means additionally that the intellectual’s constituency is neither a government nor a corporate or a career interest: only the truth, unadorned. All three philosophers Foucault, Gramsei and Said had a lot in common in regard to their presumption about power. There is a fundamental connection between the theories of all three. They all talk about the antagonist relationship between power and resistance and how this relationship forms an individual.

Resistance is a commonality between all three philosophers; they all believe that coercion, hegemony and undue use of power need to be resisted for a person to break the preconceived conventional roles of the oppressor and the oppressed. Everybody in the society has this conservative view that power flows from top to bottom and is exercised by the powerful on the powerless. Foucault challenged this fundamental notion of power and said that power is an imposition. It is not only flowing from top to bottom but also from bottom to top. One would think how?

It does so through consent, through desire and through internalization of hierarchy. The oppressed participates in this exercise of power by giving his consent to the oppressor. Foucault says that power should not be taken as repression which forces individuals to obey, “If power was anything but repressive, if it never did anything but say no, do you really believe that we should manage to obey it? ” Therefore Foucault says that even in its most radical form oppression does not lead to repression or censorship but it is also productive, giving birth to new behaviors.

Foucault’s understanding of power is that of a system, a network of relations encompassing the whole society, rather than a simple relation between the oppressor and the oppressed and another essential feature of his thinking, individuals are active subjects not objects of power, the locus where power and the resistance to it are exerted. Hence this shows that power constitutes the whole of human society, and it is that domain in which all human relationships are formed and operate.

This power is operating upon the human body and within the human body and when this power gets to the point where the individual plays a dual role that of the oppressor and the oppressed it becomes self oppression- modernity. Modern power is bio power, the way our minds, bodies, ideas, feelings, desires operate; everything speaks the language of power. Foucault wants people to get rid of this oppression and influence that power has on them, in short stand against indoctrination and pave the way towards insurgency of local knowledge and make ones’ own beliefs and attitudes.

And one can bring about a productive change only when this ridiculous power structure is resisted. Foucault while talking about discipline as a way of self regulation encouraged by institutions, acts as a tool for the individual to change himself and the reality of life. He says: “We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms, it ‘excludes’, it ‘represses’, it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’ it ‘conceals’.

In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. Foucault’s main aim was to turn down the conception of negativity of power and attribute the production of new ideas in institutions to the exercise of power in its modern form. He discusses the four strategies of discipline which permeate into an individual’s thinking patterns and behaviors. Firstly, disciplining through spatial disposition of individuals e. g. soldiers and officers living in different rooms, due to hierarchical relations.

Secondly, discipline acts through controlling activities, in which the disciplinary power uses the individual’s body to extract out time and work e. g. as in military instruction with a weapon. Thirdly discipline is about organizing stages of education especially in the academic domain, it differentiates between individuals who are more or less skilled. Fourthly, disciplining through a general coordination of all parts of a system and for the coordination of this discipline tactics is used through which the product of the various forces is increased by their calculated combination.

The intention behind this act of disciplining in institutes is to produce regularity however the opposite happens, building the individual’s self through discipline leads to different identities. This is to some level a strategy of insurgency of local knowledge and at another level Foucault also sees it as just a prime effect of power helping a certain body, certain desire, certain discourse or certain gesture get identified as an individual. An individuated identity is in real a culmination of highly complicated and antagonistic relation between power and resistance.

Power is deterministic but there is still resistance and where does this resistance come from? It comes from life itself. Both power and resistance are negotiating and fighting for their individual spaces but any relationship formed is temporary and unstable, and will be negated at some point too. Foucault talks about political power with relation to governments. He constantly emphasized on the fact that power should not be conceived negatively and even when he talks about political power relations are doomed to fail in reaching their goals, he reiterates hat power relations should not be considered negative and restraining. He says that state is not at all a permanent or solid structure; in fact it is highly fragile and has great potential to change. So basically the ideology of a state that people have is completely flawed and one can resist the state’s policies and bring a change, a revolution. Gramsei’s work on hegemony helps understand how today world works is politically, economically and socially. However one must bear in mind that cultural hegemony is not a byproduct of economic hegemony.

Hegemony is enforcing power on the powerless by the powerful and all relations in the ultimate analysis are power relations. Therefore correlatively all questions of freedom, liberty and rights are dependent upon, to what extent are we able to redefine these power relations. The modern industrialist and capitalist society is almost all over the globe, basically nothing is outside modernity in today’s world. Power relations don’t come from anywhere outside the world but from within the society.

Social relations need to be understood as a double dialectic, a combination of dialectic between objective (independent of people’s perception of them) and subjective (subjectively experienced on a group basis) social relations and the dialectic between real and ideological/ institutional relations. By dialectic we mean there is a negative interaction between the two. There are two forms of societies, a direct egalitarian society where people are the judge to their social acts and the other form of society being the remote capitalist society where the subordinate group’s social identity is constructing externally to them.

In a capitalist society there is great disturbance and discord when subjective and objective identity comes into play because these two forms give rise to class, gender and racial hegemonies and division of labor. The centrality of question of power is centrality of question of state. The characteristics of a normal modern state are that it is hegemonic, it has class rule, it has centralized bureaucratic means to regulate society and it is the legitimate instrument of force in the society.

These characteristics are true in different ways for the historical feudal state where the relationship between a peasant and a landlord was that of racial and class hegemony. Class rule was imposed on these peasants as an extra communal force and were considered as pawns or objects of rule and never part of the political relationship. Te peasantries did not have rights of being private individuals, economic agents or citizens with equal rights in comparison to the ruling classes.

This kind of hegemonic domination from the landlords placed external limitations to the development of these ruled classes. Thus this medieval state does not have a universal civil society where every class has their own set of rights. As for the capitalist society they had their own hegemonic structure and reproduction of subordinated subjects through the role of state and marketplace. The construction of the subordinate social self was done through homogenizing and alienating the referents of public and hegemonic literature ranging from television to the income tax system of the society.

Hence while comparing the medieval state and the modern state one can conclude that both had hegemonic structures but the context in which they occurred was different. It was more direct and straightforward in the former than the latter. Gramsei talked about modern societies and said once the mental workers and middle class of the ruled people in the medieval monarchic state realized that they were being denied their rightful proportion of freedom, they started liberating the peasantries in the name of profit and production.

Thus the agricultural societies greatly accepted the industrial movement and the peasants sided with the middle class leaving the landlords pondering. When this middle class got the support of the peasants they had more things coming their way, top of all, power and capital. Monarchy was put an end to but the power shifted from one class to another, from the landlords to the industrialists, and hegemony continued and on the basis of what? In the pursuit of greater good and freedom for the ruled class, which they would never get, as this vicious power struggle would never cease to exist in a modern society.

If we talk about the rules and regulations that a modern state enforces on its people we would think that it is a great thing to make laws but let’s make one thing crystal clear, there is no law which is neutral. In fact it is a necessary device for the ruling classes to exercise power on the ruled class. Law is actually the creation of these ruling classes. One could say the same about economy, the more the economy produces the greater the happiness, but not for all. The whole concept of growth leads to accumulation of wealth and capital in any form gives rise to hegemonic practices.

Gramsei then talks about how this power controls even the smallest of possessions of a person, his thoughts and ideas. Even the way you imagine things is controlled by power and the hegemony that comes in package with it. However as taught by an advanced capitalist state or more appropriately the so called liberal-democratic-collectivist state hypothesizes a contractual relationship with individuals as equal subjects of rights and freedom which are protected by the constitution.

Even though this liberal state claims to ensure the reproduction of the hegemonic order and the inalienability of individual rights but it is impossible for any state to function without the complementary relation between coercion and consent. Hence this democratic state takes consent formally through universal participatory institutions. The character of collectivist state is to bring civil society into complete conformity with the hegemonic order and on the other hand it is motivated by pressures from below to make reforms for the socially disadvantaged.

So no matter how liberal, how democratic or how collectivist a state is it will always remain a hurdle in the way of freedom. They do so by limiting the access of the subordinates to representative institutions, capital, private property and political democracy. According to Gramsei, the supremacy of class is on the basis of two things, domination over the enemies and intellectual and moral leadership over the allies, these two being exercised by the ruling class.

The core and heart of hegemony lies in the ruling class’ success, in turning its enemies into allies and this cannot be achieved without the combination of political power that is force and consent, authority and hegemony, violence and civility. In a modern state people are ruled through coercion, juridical government and hegemony in civil society. Politics, culture and economy are essential levels of the social system, and the ruling class must have a reason in all three spheres if it wants to exercise hegemony on the subordinates.

However the sub ordinates can resist this hegemony and put forward counter hegemonic discourses which nullify the economic gains, political gains and cultural gains of the hegemony being exercised on them. However due to the institutionalization of the hegemonic ideology, people have internalized the existence of hegemony in a society and thus accepted it as some sort of belief or truth that cannot be changed making them stagnant. But one would think how the ruling class can just win the consent of the subordinates so easily.

Here comes the role of the intellectuals of Bourgeoise who are the creators and articulators of this hegemony. They do so by bringing the state and the civil society together into close conformity by telling the classes about demands of the “law” and the hegemonic institutions and internalizing a “conception of the world” in them that is the soul possession of the ruling class. Real is the brutal truth of purchasing power, class, gender and race and if that is the real of a modern society and if ideological is the dream sold to them to make them internalize the very falsehood of these dreams, society at its basic level is unjust.

Deconstructing the real is too at the ideological level which is to challenge the ideas and customs which are manifestations of power to keep the hierarchy intact. Democracy is seen as a route but the entire edifice of democracy is untrue. It is dependent on participation in institutions like political parties but when the subordinate does not even have access to the institution, then basically you are consenting to coercion, which is hegemony. If then democracy is not challenged then one is creating the same class rule which stands on expropriation i. . extracting out everything from a human’s body for the gain of the ruling class. Peoples’ mental horizons have been circumscribed, they do not want to think of alternatives and counter hegemonic discourses to change the hegemonic structure of the state. If we shift our discussion from Foucault and Gramsei to Edward Said we will see that he has little to say about the structure and character of power but he believed that people in a society should always speak truth to power no matter how brutal or how devastating that power is.

Said while giving the definition of intellectuals says that they are not just mere professionals going around their usual businesses but they are individuals with a power of representing or communicating a message, view, an idea, an opinion or a philosophy to a public. Said says that this role cannot be played by a random person, it needs an intellectual who can ask embarrassing questions, confront orthodoxy, is not easily brainwashed by governments or institutions, and whose ray-son-d’etre is to represent all the people of the society whose issues are not dealt with by the higher authorities.

The intellectual in order to fight these officials uses the help of universal principles, that all human beings are worthy of equality, freedom and justice and violating the rights of human beings is a crime that needs to be addressed with great courage and bravado. An intellectual’s job is not to make his audience happy by stating untrue statements but to provide them with factual information even if it is disagreeable or embarrassing.

An intellectual helps his audiences make the right decisions by helping them stand against all sorts of barriers of coercion and hegemony. Said mentions two big names of public representatives namely, Jean Paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell. About these two big names, Said says that their specific individual voice and presence made an impression on him more than their arguments, because these intellectuals spoke what they believed was true not what was the conventional truth told to the masses by the bureaucracy and the higher institutions.

Therefore an intellectual who presents by talking, writing or through whichever medium needs to be bold, a risk taker and highly committed to his word to face the challenges of the hegemonic systems of injustice and inequality. Said also emphasizes on Foucault’s and Gramsei’s stance on intellectuals. Foucault believed that the ‘universal’ intellectual’s place has been taken over by the ‘specific’ intellectual, someone who is an expert of a specific discipline but is able to use his expertise in other domains also.

Said also believed in the versatility of the intellectual and his full grip over his vocation. Gramsei believes that there are two types of intellectuals in a society, traditional intellectuals and organic intellectuals. Traditional intellectuals such as teachers and priests who continue to preach about the same thing over generations and there are organic intellectuals such as a public relations expert or entrepreneurs who continue to struggle in order to change minds and expand markets.

The basic difference between the two is that traditional intellectuals become stagnant whereas the organic intellectuals are always on the move, on the make. Said completely agrees with Gramsei over the ideas of intellectuals but goes a step further when talking about counter hegemony, that in addition to exposing the class interests and clashes, one should also speak truth to power. In order to pave the way towards a true democracy one has to say no to the existing political and economic hegemonic state and help build a new one on the basis of truth, honesty and integrity.

According to Said, the intellectual representations are the activity itself. The intellectual has to be skeptical, engaged and rational in his judgments. The usage of language and knowing when to intervene in language are two essential traits of intellectual action. That is basically when coercion or hegemony is being exercised on them. In the ultimate analysis, the intellectual always says no to cliches, hegemony, coercion and all sorts of conventional notions of power. One could take examples from the great Islamic history as to how counter hegemonic discourse were


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