Tools for Strength: Power and Peaceful Governance

by Joseph de Rivera


Peace through strength implies that the strong will attack the weak and certainly history provides many examples of this and the need for strength seems clear. However, it does not follow that strength alone will lead to peace. On the contrary, history reveals interminable struggles for strength. Governments attempt to manage these struggles and conflict in general, and negotiation, nonviolent action, and personal transformation usually take place in communities or societies that have some system of governance. The alternative, as history has shown, is civil disruption, gang domination or civil warfare. However, governance itself may involve the assertion of raw power, oppression and injustice. Governance that encourages peace by the creative management of conflict requires a particular understanding of power and the tools for its proper use. We now have the rudiments of a nonkilling political sciencei (see and can distinguish at least three sorts of power. Since these require different sets of tools we begin with these ways of understanding power

Models of Power

All relationships involve power. In an ideal community, operating with everybody’s consensus, we might say that everyone enjoys power with others. However, political science is particularly concerned with public situations of conflict in which one party or state has the ability to impose its will upon a resisting will. In this context, Ralph Summy describes a number of different models of power that influence political leadership: (1) a domination or power over model, (2) an authority or power to model, (3) a power from within model.ii

The domination, power over, model conceives of win/lose outcomes. As Machiavelli (1469-1527) advised, the Prince should refrain from violence while acting with “the cunning of the fox”, but be prepared to strike mercilessly with the “bestial fury of the lion”iii. As Weber noted, a state is a human community that successfully claims a monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory” and the politicians is governed by the maxim: ‘You shall resist evil with force, for if you do not, you are responsible for the spread of evil’.iv Realpolitik is concerned with getting what one wants, assumes that others care only about what they want, focuses on raw power and, believing that might is right, is scornful of those proclaiming ideals. Power lets one win, winners want power, and history as seen by Pareto, consists of an ongoing “circulation of elites.” v Rather than tools to acquire power over, those of us who want a just peace need tools that will allow us to deal with persons, states, and systems who are using a power over model.

The authority or power to model is more open to achieving self-interests by cooperation and achieving goals by exercising an authority that avoids the domination achieved by physical violence. As Locke (1632-1704) suggested, people could allocate authority to a ruler with the important proviso that the ruler was contracted to guarantee the people their civil liberties and natural rights of “life, liberty, and property” and that people had the right to revolt if this was not observed. In current democracies it is the authority of legal institutions and the rule of law that, together with peaceful traditions and the charisma of political leadership, is used to resolve conflicts. However, the threat of punishment and possibility of state violence may be used enforce law and check popular protest. Summy observes that a common feature of the model is the granting of authority by the citizenry to a few of their members to rule on their behalf so that power tends to flows downward. However, since the authority is voluntarily ceded power it can be used to serve people’s needs such that advocates of the ‘power to’ model don’t see themselves trapped in a need to dominate and use force. In most situations people choose to refrain from violence. When those who lack power are confronted with repression they have the possibility of deciding whether to grant their consent or withhold it from the government. If they opt for resistance, they are not driven to use violence, but can exercise whatever political action seems most efficacious. Most people living in democracies, such as the United States, operate within this model of power and struggle with one of its major problem—the fact that rulers are inclined to abuse their privileged position and serve themselves at the expense of the ruled. Hence, we need tools to use this model to achieve justice and prevent it from lapsing into the ‘power over’ model.

The power from within model is based on the fundamental interdependence of humans and their ability to cooperate out of mutual It is exemplified in the nonviolent philosophies of Gandhi, King and Tutu. Advocates build on the fact of interdependent identity. They insist on the convergence of means and ends, the value of diversity, and the pursuit of knowledge and community. The model requires fostering the cultivation of self-sacrifice, compassion, love, welfare of the other, inclusiveness, and collaboration. Proponents want these qualities to be nurtured at all levels of human intercourse: in the struggle with self, interpersonal relations, the relations between nations, and in the reaching for a spirit beyond. The model clearly requires people to accept responsibility for governance in the context of a community of mutual caring. It faces three challenges: The cultivation of personal caring for others; the fact that many do not wish to devote much time to the needed negotiations and governance; and the necessity of organizing cooperation among different communities.

Obviously, these three models are abstractions. They only partially fit the realities of contemporary politics. Yet they can help us understand what is occurring and focus attention on crucial political problems and the different sets of tools that are needed. Hence, we present three different sets of tools: The first provides tools for achieving the power within model that represents an ideal for many persons, approximates governance in a number of small indigenous and intentional communities, and provides the basis for the sense of community that is required for the power to model to function. The second details the tools needed for the successful use of the power-to model that is the basis for the majority of contemporary nation states. The third considers the tools needed to transition from the power-over model that prevails in the civil wars in divided societies and the current international struggle among the world’s great powers to the power-to model required to achieve human rights. To see these three different sets of tools, please see the following links:

Power-within and Community


Human Rights and the Transition from Power-over to Power-to

i Glenn D. Paige (2001) To nonviolent political science: From seasons of violence. Honolulu; Center for Global Nonviolnce.

ii Ralph Summy, The paradigm challenge of political science: Delegitimizing the recourse to violence. In de Rivera, J. (Ed.) (2009). Handbook on building cultures of peace (pp. 71-87). NY: Springer
 Machiavelli, N. (2007) the prince on the art of power. Trans. W. K. Mariott. London : Duncan Baird publishers. , p. 129-130).

iv Weber, M (1994, p. 358) Weber, Political writings. In P. Lassman & R. Spier (eds.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

v Pareto as cited in A. Lyttelton, 1973, pp. 72-75) Italian fascisms from Pareto to Gentile. London: Cape.

vi Desmond Tutu (1999) speaks of the life force generated in relationships. He refers to the word ubantu which in the Nguni group of languages signifies “the very essence of being human.” A person with ubantu imparts compassion and generosity, gentleness and hospitality, and the ability to share, because it “means my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours” I am because you are. A person becomes a person through other persons.No future without forgiveness (pp. 34 & 35). London:/Sydney: Rider.