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PROJECT TOPIC: THE CONCEPT OF ‘POWER’ AND ‘AUTHORITY’ IN NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI: AN ANALYSIS

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CHAPTER ONE

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

1.1     Background of the Study

Without being dependent on each other or any other in perspective, power and authority are respectively capable of provoking a thesis of some sort. This must be the reason some folks have randomly found discomforting. The very idea of conducting a marriage ceremony between them – power and authority, that is.

Anyway, power can be defined as “ability to do something”, while authority can be defined as “the power or right to command”. It is important to be clear about the distinction between these two, since they are often confused in language, as well as in thought. We speak of a statute giving a minister “power” to do this or that, when we mean giving him authority. Similarly, we speak of going beyond one’s legal powers’ or acting “ultra vires”, where again the word ‘authority’ would express our meaning more clearly.

The looseness of usage appears right at the beginning of the theoretical discussion o sovereignty, in the work of Jean Bodin in the 16th century. Bodin writes: ‘Sovereignty is the absolute and perpetual power (puissance) of a state… that is to say, the supreme powers to command. It is here necessary to formulate the definitionof sovereignty, because there is no just or political philosopher who has defined it, although it is the principal feature and the most necessary to be understood in the treatment of the state’.

He goes on to speak further of ‘puissance souveraine’ and ‘pussanceabsolue’, and so gives the impression that sovereignty is a matter of power in the ordinary sense of the word. Now, anybody has the power or ability to issue a command, but not everyone is authorized or entitled to do so in particular circumstances, and not everyone is either able or entitled to have his commands carried out.

Does Bodin mean by ‘absolute power’ the ability to issue effective commands, i.e. the ability to have one’s command carried out? This would be power, properly speaking. Or does he mean the entitlement or right to issue commands and to have them obeyed? This could be authority. A reading of his whole account of sovereignty makes it clear that ‘he means the second, but his use of the expression ‘absolute power’ suggests the first.


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