What is the true source of power for a country, according to Bertrand Russell?
Russell's Power: a New Social Analysis is an attempt to explain the various ways in which power is utilized within a society to achieve goals. An obviously important question is: whose goals is a "society" trying to achieve? Societies are constructed of individuals and institutions that represent competing and sometimes conflicting ideologies. At the heart of the societal engine, though, lies its economic structure and the ways in which people satisfy their wants and needs.
Russell provides an in-depth review of the kinds of power in a society, but the specific question is: what is the true source of a country's power? In very simplified terms, Russell argues that virtually all power in sustainable nation-states comes from the consent of the people being governed. Economic power, for example, only exists when the majority of the governed agree that this item has value in relation to that item, which creates a system of exchange.
He asserts that authoritarian governments, or as he calls it, the exercise of "naked power," are usually unsustainable over long periods of time in the modern era. Naked power, too, relies upon the consent of the governed. For example, the Nazi Party in 1930's Germany could never have achieved its power goals with the support of only its rabid followers (many of whom were little more than street thugs). Their rise to power could only have been achieved once a plurality came to agreement, either ideologically or by force, that the Nazis should govern.
To be sure, Russell asserts, a great majority of individuals in a society are simply trying to live a life rather than subscribe to a political ideology, but the form of government determines the shape of a country's economy, which touches everyone.
The true source of a country's power, according to Russell's philosophy, is a tacit agreement among its citizens to support the form of power asserted. To be sure, this is a highly simplified explanation and Russell develops the theory in great depth, but the very basic point is that all of a country's power—economic, political, military, or social—relies on a complex, unstated agreement of the governed.
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