2.7 Five Dimensions of Power

There are five dimensions of power which operate in different ways: four kinds of governance and the use of ungoverned power.

Power relationships are classified in this book, to form an analysis framework.  There are four ‘dimensions’ of structured governance, where power is exercised in a consistent way:

The ‘Economic Dimension’ encompasses the power that consumers, private companies, and governments exercise over each other through the medium of money.  Having money is a form of power.

The ‘Moral Dimension’ describes ways in which people influence each other’s behaviour and beliefs by encouragement and persuasion.  It includes religious and non-religious rules and expectations.

The ‘Legal Dimension’ consists of the formally explicit rules, with the means of enforcement, which are applied by a group to its members.

The ‘Political Dimension’ describes how politicians are given authority to make decisions on behalf of the population, and the pressures on them.

There are some power relationships for which there are no pre-defined rules or expectations, where a trial of strength is used to establish a balance of power on a case-by-case basis.  This necessitates a fifth dimension of analysis:

People resort to using ‘Ungoverned Power’ when they feel the need for self-protection, or if they feel powerful enough to disregard the rules imposed by agreed governance.

It is argued here that these five dimensions of power differ fundamentally in how power is exercised and in the source of their authority.  There are many interconnections between them, though, as in the following examples:

●  Economic power affects all the other dimensions because they all need money. An economy is also affected by them all: people’s economic choices depend on their moral values; many economic regulations are legally enforced; politicians control many important levers of economic power; and an economy can be affected by war.

●  People’s moral values, their sense of right and wrong, affects everything they do. That includes their support for politicians – who have their own moral values that affect the political decisions they make.

●  Human rights are an agreed set of moral values, some of which are legally protected. They include socio-economic entitlements, whose funding is politically controlled.

●  Everyone in a society is subject to the law. Some aspects of the law can be seen as enforcing society’s moral values.  And politicians in a legislature make laws to exert control over the population.

●  Politicians control some levers of power in every dimension of governance, and they decide when to use military force outside the framework of international law.

Another way of looking at these interconnections is to recognise that many issues can be looked at in different ways.  Complex issues can be examined from several perspectives by using this approach.

Each of the next five chapters explores one of the dimensions: economic power, moral influence, legal powers, political authority, and ungoverned power.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/27a.htm.