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Concept of power, hegemony, ideology and legitimacy

Since ancient time, social theorists tried to define the queries that people who lack economic power consent to hierarchies of social and political power. They have used philosophy, hegemony and discourse as main notion to explain the intersections between the social production of knowledge and the continuation of power relations. The Marxist thought of ideology explains how the dominant ideas within a given society reveal the interests of a ruling economic class. Marx and others relate ideology to a vision of society dominated by economic class as a field of social power. However, theorists of gender and “race” have questioned the place of class as the locus of power.


Power is a multifaceted notion. Power is a vital element of human survival and it has signs and manifestations in every aspect of social life, from interpersonal relations through economic transactions, to spiritual and political disagreements (Frank Bealey, 1999). Power is associated with politics, authority, and wealth. The idea of power is that of being able to influence the actions or decisions of another, whether there will be through the use of soft-power tactics or blatant force. Historically, power has been considered by such criteria as population size and region, natural resources, economic strength, military force and social constancy. It is documented that the notion of power is the most powerful in the arena of Political Science. Many theorists like Socrates. Plato, Aristotle have affirmed the importance of power in their own way. In India, Acharya Kautilya (Chanakya) gave importance of power in his famous book Kautilya Arthsastra because it was the basis of whole human life (Frank Bealey, 1999).

Many theorists explain the concept of power.

Cline (2012) defined as “the ability, whether personal or social, to get things done either to enforce one’s own will or to enforce the collective will of some group over others. Power is therefore an ability or potential of an individual or groups of individuals to influence and compel action. Power can be force or influence of action whether accepted/recognised or no.

Probably the best known description of power is Webber theoretical model who characterize power as the chance of man or number of men to realize their own will in a communal action even against the resistance of others who are participating in action (Frank Bealey, 1999).

Table: Max Weber's typology of power:

Type of power




People are forced to do as they are told under threat of punishment( for example, in a prison or a school class room) People obey because of the personal qualities of the person doing the telling. Well known charismatic figures include Jesus Christ, Hitler, Chairman Mao and so forth. However, charismatic figures arise in any social grouping and such people assume positions of authority over others on the basis of personal qualities of leadership perceived in that individual by other group members. Those who exercise authority to do so because they continue a tradition and support the preservation and continuation of existing values and social ties (for example, The Royal Family). Those in authority give orders(and expect they will be obeyed) because their job gives them the right to give orders. Anyone who fills the same position has right to give orders, which means this type of authority is not based upon the personal qualities of the individual. Orders are only to be obeyed if they are relevant to the situation in which they are given (for example, a teacher could reasonably expect the order to “complete your homework by Thursday” to be obeyed by a student in their class. The teacher could not reasonably expect that same order issued to the student’s parent would be obeyed. Similarly the order to “Go down the street and get me a newspaper” would not be seen as a legitimate order for the teacher to give his/her student, hence student the student would not feel compelled to obey).
This form of power is the typical form that exists in our society and is sometimes referred to as “bureaucratic” power since it is based upon status of an individual’s position in social hierarchy, rather than individual himself.

Russell said that power was the production of intended effect. Lukes argued that power is being exercised by hegemonies whose interest was to maintain status quo by fashioning people’s perception, belief, and values so that their stated preferences were contrary to their interest (Frank Bealey, 1999).

According to Laswell and Kaplan, "The concept of power is perhaps the most fundamental in the whole of Political Science, the political process is the shaping, distribution and exercise of power (in a wider sense, of all the deference values or of influence in general)". H. J. Margenthau stated that “power politics was rooted in lust for power which is common to all men and for this reason was inseparable from social life itself." In the view of Erich Kaufman, politics is inseparable from power. Slates and Government exist to exert power. In each country and in the world at large there is either a balance of power, as unstable balance of power, or no balance of power at all. But there is always power political power exists in the world and will be used by those who have it." Herbert and Edward Shills defined power as the ability to influence the behaviour of others in accordance with one's own ends. Catlin adopts Mas Weber's description of politics as "the struggle of power or the influencing of those in power."

In the modern time, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Treitschke and Neitzche have emphasised the significance of power. Other famous theorists, Catlin, Charles Marriam, Harold Laswell, H.J. Morgenthau etc. have established power as one of the fundamental concept. According to Catlin, concept of power is basic in Political Science. MacIver is of the view that everything that is happening around us is in some way or the other concerned with power. It is power which vests the state with order and peace.

Power is related with prosperity and its use to gain social importance through bribe, cajole, support or block various forces in person’s own interest. The theory of power is also closely associated to that of realism. Since power provides a sense of security in holding with the logic that nobody can hurt/influence people when they have the ability to hurt/influence them. Therefore, each party should try to maximize and combine its power. Power is one of the most essential and yet difficult concepts in international relations. “Few problems in political science are more confusing than the problem of social power. Despite extensive use, power remains a slippery and challenging notion.

There are some dispute upon basic definitions, individual theorists proposing their own more or less characteristic terminology, and unexpectedly little consideration of the implications of alternative usages. That some people have more power than others is one of the most blatant facts of human existence.

In Western traditional thought, Power is major concepts about political phenomena. In general, power is a” Disappointing concept”. According to H. Carr and Hans Morgenthau, power has been an important (some would say too important) variable in international political theorizing. Although some may regard power analysis as traditional and redundant, current modification in social science philosophy about power propose the possibility of invigorating this approach to understanding international relations.

Sources of Power:

Power comes from numerous sources, each of which has different effects on the targets of that power. Some originate from individual characteristics; others draw on aspects of an organization's structure. There are six types of power that include legitimate, referent, expert, reward, coercive, and informational.

Legitimate Power: It is also known as "positional power". This is the power individuals have from their role and status within an organization. Legitimate power usually involves formal authority delegated to the holder of the position.

Referent Power: Referent power originates from the ability of individuals to attract others and build their faithfulness. It is based on the personality and interpersonal skills of the power holder. A person may be admired because of a specific personal mannerism, such as charisma or likability, and these positive feelings become the basis for interpersonal influence.

Expert Power: Expert power draws from a person's ability and knowledge and is especially strong when an organization has a high need for them. Narrower than most sources of power, the power of an expert typically applies only in the specific area of the person's expertise and credibility.

Reward Power: Reward power comes from the ability to bestow valued material rewards or create other positive incentives. It refers to the extent to which the individual can provide external motivation to others through benefits or gifts.

Coercive Power: Coercive power is the menace and application of sanctions and other negative outcomes. These can include direct punishment or the withholding of desired resources or rewards. Coercive power relies on fear to induce compliance.

Informational Power: Informational power derives from access to facts and knowledge that others find helpful or valuable. That access can signify relationships with other power holders and convey status that creates a positive impression. Informational power has numerous benefits in building credibility and rational persuasion. It may also serve as the basis for beneficial exchanges with others who seek that information.

Power has various forms, and characteristics. It can be exercised with different degrees of intensity, with force and aggression or, on the contrary, with kindness and politeness. Nye distinguished the power (1990).

One form of power is hard power. In general, Nye defined power as the “ability to affect others to get the outcomes one wants” and command or hard power as coercive power wielded through inducements or threats (2009). Hard power is based on military interference, coercive diplomacy and economic sanctions (Wilson, 2008) and relies on tangible power resources such as armed forces or economic means (Gallarotti, 2011). The efficacy of any power resource depends on context. Professor Joseph Nye, Machiavelli said that for a Prince it was safer to be feared than to be loved. Nye squabbled that it is better to be both.

Soft power is the ability to create a centre of attention of people to one side without compulsion. Theorist defined that soft power is the capacity to persuade others to do what one wants (Wilson, 2008). According to Nye, persuasive power is based on attraction and emulation and “associated with intangible power resources such as culture, ideology, and institutions” (2009). Cooper emphasised the importance of legitimacy for the concept of soft power (2004). State activities need to be perceived as legitimate in order to enhance soft power.

Legitimacy is therefore central to soft power. If a people or a nation believes objectives to be legitimate, then leaders are more likely to persuade them to follow their lead without using threats and bribes. In other words, militaries are well suited to defeating states, but they are often poor instruments to fight ideas. According to Nye, “victory” depends on attracting foreign populations to our side and helping them to build capable, democratic states. Soft power is vital to gaining peace. It can be analysed that it is easier to attract people to democracy rather than to coerce them to be democratic.

The effectiveness of hard and soft power approaches depends on the accessibility of power resources (Heywood, 2011).

Another important feature of the hard-soft-power scale is time. It appears that generating hard power requires much less time as its resources are tangible. On the contrary, soft power takes comparatively long to build as its intangible resources develop over a long period of time. Similarly, the temporal dimension of the gain of hard power and soft power strategies differs. While military or economic coercion tends to result in an immediate but short-duration outcome, attraction and persuasion have the tendency to cause long-term change.

Another type of power is smart power. It is “the ability to merge hard and soft power into a winning strategy”. It involves the “strategic use of diplomacy persuasion, capacity building, and the projection of power and influence in ways that are cost-effective and have political and social legitimacy”. Smart power means developing an incorporated strategy, resource base, and tool kit to achieve some key objectives, drawing on both hard and soft power. It is an approach that not only emphasizes the necessity for a strong military, force but also invests heavily in alliances, affiliation, and institutions at all levels to spread influence and establish legality.

To summarize, power is the capability to influence or control the behaviour of people. The term "authority" is often used for power perceived as legitimate by the social structure. Power can be seen as sinful or unjust, but the exercise of power is accepted as endemic to humans as social beings.


The notion of hegemony is especially difficult to enumerate both in concrete political terms and in a less tangible philosophical manner. It is the political, economic, or military predominance or control of one state over others. In Ancient Greece (8th century BCE - 6th century CE), hegemony signified the politico-military supremacy of a city-state over other city-states. The dominant state is known as the hegemon.

In the 19th century, hegemony represented the "Social or cultural predominance or ascendancy; predominance by one group within a society or milieu". Afterwards, it could be used to mean "a group or regime which exerts undue influence within a society." Also, it could be used for the geopolitical and the cultural preponderance of one country over others, from which was derived hegemonism. It means that the Great Powers meant to establish European hegemony over Asia and Africa. In theoretical viewpoint, hegemony is the expression of society's ruling classes over the majority of the nation or state over whom they propose to rule. Gramsci (1971) describes hegemony as, “a conception of the world that is implicitly manifest in art, in law, in economic activity and in all manifestations of individual and collective life.”

Five dimensions of the concept of hegemony:

There are five basic dimensions of hegemony that range from obvious to more subtle. These are explained as under:

  1. Military: The hegemon has the strongest military in the world, considerably stronger than any of its rivals. Its military alliance system is significantly stronger than any rival military blocs.
  2. Economic: The hegemon has the biggest and most technologically advanced economy in the world. It is a major trading partner of most of the nations of the world, including most of the major powers.
  3. Political: The hegemon has array of political allies, and friendly relations with most nations and major powers.
  4. Institutional: The hegemon, working with its associates, makes most of the rules that govern global political and economic relations. The hegemon, along with its allies, usually controls most of the international institutions. Thus, most of the policies of the international institutions favour the hegemon and its partners.
  5. Ideological: The hegemon mainly determines the terms of discourse in international relations. Marx wrote, "The ruling ideas of any age are the ideas of the ruling class." Currently, the predominant ideas about globalization are the ideas of hegemon.

The Marxist theory of cultural hegemony, related particularly with Antonio Gramsci. It is the idea that the ruling class can influence the value system and customs of a society, so that their view becomes the world view (Weltanschauung). According to Terry Eagleton, "Gramsci normally uses the word hegemony to mean the ways in which a governing power wins consent to its rule from those it subjugates". Contrasting to authoritarian rule, cultural hegemony "is hegemonic only if those affected by it also consent to and struggle over its common sense". Gramsci defines cultural hegemony, which was of particular significance when he was writing in the 1930's, in a world that was dominated by ideological concerns. This kind of hegemony and cultural control is a persistent political reality that has been a feature of culture and society since the first recorded migrations of man.

Athenians made hegemony an everyday feature of the ancient world, whereby people were defined through their status within the broader Greek political and cultural hierarchy. The Greeks emphasised their cultural ideal of hegemony with language and politics, especially the concept of citizenship, which is the major feature in the study of political and cultural hegemony. The United States uses its visa system, for example, to distinguish between alien visitors from within the wider plates of the hegemony that it has created.

In the ancient world, Plato and Aristotle categorized the several types of hegemony together to form 'civilisation'. Therefore, to be an Athenian Greek was to be a civilised member of the hegemony of the emerging nation state; to be a 'barbarian' was to be an uncivilised member of the outposts of society, the parts where hegemony had previously failed to infiltrate as a paradigm and as a cultural and economic force. This phenomenon has since been reflected in the twenty first century with President Bush's 'with us or against us' stance to global terrorism, where hegemony was once again used as the primary force in the continuation of the dominant military, political and economic power of the period.

It becomes obvious that hegemony must co-exist with the comprehensive notion of empire, which is itself constructed upon the concrete foundations of economic dynamism harvested through the procurement of resources. The notion of empire changed irreversibly during the beginning of modern history where industrialisation proved to be the catalyst for the significant, seismic shift in the view of hegemony as cultural, economic and political benchmark. The nineteenth century was certainly a crisis in terms of the redrawing of the conceptual limitations of hegemony. The Victorian period observed the traditional European empires of France, Belgium, Britain and Germany use their vast military and economic superiority to carve up the undeveloped world amongst each other with the procurement of raw materials and economic resources utilised as the main motivation for extra territorial action.


Ideology has been the subject that caught great attention during the last half of the twentieth century. Ideology has recurred as an important theme of inquiry among social, personality, and political psychologists. Ideology is one of few terms to have originated in political science, having apparently been developed by Count Antoine Destutt de Tracy, who survived the revolution to publish Elements d’Ideologie in 1817 (Hart 2002; Head 1985). The term has been contentious almost from its inception (Sartori 1969).

In fundamental term, an ideology is a belief or a set of beliefs, especially the political beliefs on which people, parties, or countries base their actions. It is a plan of action for applying these ideas.

In wider perspective, ideology can be explained as the way a system a single individual or even a whole society rationalizes itself. Ideologies may be idiosyncratic (Lane 1962), impractical, or even delusional, but they still share the features of coherence and temporal stability. In the view of Erikson & Tedin (2003), ideology is a “set of beliefs about the proper order of society and how it can be achieved”.

Napoleon used “ideologue” as a nickname to indicate irrational dedication to democratic principle. By the mid-nineteenth century, the main principle of the ideologues popular sovereignty was attacked from both the right (divine right) and the left (dictatorship of the proletariat). Marxist theory used the concept of ideology to define the process through which the dominant ideas within a given society reflect the interests of a ruling economic class. However, ideology has established a problematic notion, as many of its advocates have treated it as a relatively stable body of knowledge that the ruling class transmits wholesale to its subordinate classes. Marx confronted liberal democratic ideology, criticising it as a rationale for class oppression. The negative implication of ideology was reinforced by Karl Mannheim, who contended that ideology was inherently conservative because it derived its ideal model of society from the past and who contrasted it with utopian thinking, which he defined as future-oriented (Geoghegan 2004). David McLellan (1995) stated that ‘Ideology is the most elusive concept in the whole of the social sciences.’

Stuart Hall (1992) appraised several moments of theoretical “interruption” in cultural theories of ideology. These include the discourse theories of post-structuralism and postmodernism, on one hand; and the impact of feminist and critical “race” scholarship, on the other. The disruption of post-structuralism is important for foregrounding the salience of language as a medium of social power. In contrast, feminist theory contributes a notion of the personal dimensions of political power and highlights questions about gender. Similarly, critical “race” theory focuses on racialized patterns of power and destabilizes the class subject of ideology theory.

In the start of the twentieth century, the term ideology was rarely employed beyond limited references concerning political philosophy. This obscurity was apparent in the pages of the Review.

Basically, a political ideology is a belief system that provides a perspective on various political issues, such as the proper role of elected officials and the types of public policies that should be prioritized.


In political science, legitimacy is the widespread acceptance of an authority, usually a governing law or a regime. Political legitimacy is considered a rudimentary condition for governing, without which a government will suffer legislative impasse and collapse. In political systems where this is not the case, unpopular regimes survive because they are considered legitimate by a small, influential choice. In Chinese political philosophy, during the historical period of the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BC), the political legitimacy of a leader and government was derived from the Mandate of Heaven, and unjust rulers who lost said mandate therefore lost the right to rule the people.

Types of legitimacy:

Legitimacy is "a value whereby something or someone is acknowledged and accepted as right and proper". In political science, legitimacy generally is understood as the popular acceptance and recognition by the public of the authority of a governing regime, whereby authority has political power through consent and mutual understandings, not pressure. German sociologist Max Weber explained the three types of political legitimacy

  1. Traditional
  2. Charismatic
  3. Rational-legal

Traditional legitimacy derives from societal custom and habit that highlight the history of the authority of tradition. Traditionalists understand this form of rule as historically accepted, hence its continuity, because it is the way society has always been. Therefore, the institutions of traditional government usually are historically continuous, as in monarchy and tribalism.

Charismatic legitimacy originates from the ideas and personal magnetism of the leader, a person whose authoritative persona charms and psychologically dominates the people of the society to agreement with the government's regime and rule. A charismatic government usually features feeble political and administrative institutions, because they derive authority from the persona of the leader, and usually disappear without the leader in power. However, if the charismatic leader has a successor, a government derived from charismatic legitimacy might continue.

Rational-legal legitimacy evolves from a system of institutional procedure, wherein government institutions establish and enforce law and order in the public interest. Therefore, it is through public trust that the government will abide the law that confers rational-legal legitimacy (O'Neil, Patrick H., 2010).

Significance of legitimacy:

Legitimacy is significant for all regimes. Legitimacy sustains political constancy as it establishes the reasonableness of a regime, or says, provide reason for the regime to exist. Weber point out that regime must arouse legitimacy belief of the people if they tend to maintain their rule. Election, a significant element of democracy, is very important in the process of legitimization. Authoritarian regimes also tend to continue election, even non-competitive election. It is because election contributes to provide justification for the existence of a regime, thus consolidates its legitimacy (Heywood, 2002).

Another device for regime to get legitimacy is constitution. Being a set of rules which lays down a framework in which government and political activity are conducted, its legitimization function can be analysed on two ways. First, constitution is almost a prerequisite for a state to be recognized by other states, where the external legitimacy comes from. On the other hand, constitution can be used to promote respect and compliance among the domestic population, thus building up internal legitimacy.

According to Samuel Huntington, a regime with strong legitimacy must have three kinds of legitimacy (1993).

  1. First is ideological legitimacy, that is, the value proposition of regime must be generally, voluntarily recognized by the people. Enforced ideological indoctrination is difficult to sustain such kind of legitimacy.
  2. Second is procedure legitimacy. The formation, change and operation of regime must be checked by citizen's vote. The ruling authority is limited and restricted by constitution or legal procedures.
  3. The third is performance legitimacy, which means that a regime supported by people should have satisfied performance.

For a regime that only based on single legitimacy, if her performance is unsatisfied, people may question the value and procedures which the regime based on, thus legitimacy crisis would occur. Therefore, he stated that economic crisis is a political barrier that makes difficult for authoritarian regimes to come across. It can be said that Political legitimacy is the people’s recognition and acceptance of the validity of the rules of their entire political system and the decisions of their rulers.