HGov: Political Power

There are five sources of political power: persuasion, formal authority, expertise, coercion, and rewards. For persuasion, power flows from the power holder’s ability to persuade or influence others. In formal authority, power comes from the power holder’s position and duties within the organization. For expertise, power is derived from the power holder’s specific skills or expertise. Under coercion, power springs from the power holder’s ability to punish or penalize others. For rewards, power comes from the power holder’s ability to give something of value, such as money, responsibility, or praise. Political leaders often combine these sources of power to get citizens to act in a certain way.  For example, a political leader might speak to the nation, which combines formal authority and persuasion, about offering tax breaks (a reward) to people who buy fuel-efficient cars.

Politics is a form of competition. Politicians and citizens who engage in political activity are all players in the game of politics. The following are the goals and strategies of five political games.

Horse trading is described as winning by giving to get. Horse trading is the kind of hard bargaining that goes on in politics. The key players are often politicians who want something that they cannot get without help from their political opponents. The objective of the horse trading game is to achieve a “win-win situation,” in which both players walk away satisfied. The basic strategy involves giving up something one’s opponent wants in exchange for something of equal or greater value.

Walkout is winning by refusing to play. The walkout game is similar to horse trading in some ways. But instead of giving something to the opposition, players take something away usually themselves. They walk out of the game and refuse to return until the opposition agrees to give them something they want.

Power struggle is winning by being smarter and stronger than the opposition. Politics often involves power struggles between people with very different goals. When engaged in such a struggle, clever politicians try to win by outfoxing or overpowering their opponents.

Demolition derby is winning by wiping out the opposition. While the goal of the power struggle game is survival in a sea of enemies, the aim of demolition derby is the complete destruction of one’s opponents. The key players in demolition derby are those who command the means of force. They include military leaders, dictators, and monarchs. Players use a variety of strategies, ranging from fear and intimidation to murder and massacres, to wipe out the opposition.

Civil disobedience is winning by shaming the opposition. At the opposite end of the spectrum from demolition derby players are those who forsake violence for the moral high road. The key players in the political game of civil are people of conscience, moral crusaders whose goal is to end some social or political evil. Their strategy involves publicly shaming the opposition. They accomplish this by deliberately disobeying what they consider an unjust law. The word civil in this game’s name means having to do with citizens. As the name suggests, the players in this game are usually ordinary citizens protesting an injustice. In this game, the protest typically involves an in-your-face but peaceful confrontation with authorities. By remaining nonviolent, the protesters hope to contrast their high oral vision with the unjust laws and actions of the government.


1) Current Events entry for August 22-26
2) Current Events entry for August 29 – September 2
3) Chapters 1-5 Test on Thursday 9/8.



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