As the word “power” has many meanings we want to make plain from the start that by power we here understand the capacity of man to determine the life i.e. the doing and the not-doing of others by compulsion. In a very strict sense compulsion is impossible; even the mightiest and most cruel tyrant can compel no one to do his will if the other man does not want to obey but rather suffers the consequences of disobedience. In our time however scientific cruelty has brought us near the point where even this last resort of human freedom is eliminated. But in that case man as a human being is also eliminated and turned into an automaton.
Apart from these two extremes compulsion can be exerted by many means and the sum of these available means we call power. A father can compel his children because they are dependent on him or because he is physically stronger or because his parental authority is granted by law and state. A teacher has power over his pupils the “boss” has power over his employees an officer over his men a judge over the culprit. In a well-ordered state the judge can be sure that the state will use all its means of compulsion in order to guarantee the carrying out of his sentence. The state has power over every single citizen and over every group of citizens. It can compel them to do what they do not like doing. The great powers amongst the nations are those that can if they wish subjugate the small ones to their will either directly or indirectly. To have power does not necessarily mean to use it though its mere existence has an effect similar to its actual use wherever it is uncertain how this power will be used.
Power over others is desired by most men for two reasons. First power over another man is so to say a reduplication of one's own existence. Instead of one I have two human organisms at my disposal. I can make the other work and live for me without worrying about his life beyond his utility for me. The second reason is of a more inward nature. Power means also enhancement of value prestige whether in my own estimation or in that of others. We therefore understand why men desire power and why few who have it abstain from using it whether in the first more objective or in the second more subjective sense.
Power is the more desirable as the goods of this world are already portioned out because by power this distribution can be changed in favour of the one who has power. That is why a large part of human life is a struggle for power or the use of power in the struggle for goods. This power and its use can take various shapes. Everything by which the capacity to compel is increased can become a means of power: bodily strength and ability shrewdness in putting one's own superiority into action in the right place possession of things that others must have or desire to have; and these things can be of the most different kinds: economic goods the keys of Heaven or doors to the high places in society or state. It is impossible to separate physical power from spiritual even with regard to compulsion. The power of the state for instance by which it can compel the citizens is not merely nor even predominantly the police and military force which stand behind its commands; it is composed of innumerable factors the sum of which may be called the spiritual authority of the state.
Because power is the capacity to compel it stands in direct opposition to freedom. The power of one over the other is the dependence of the second on the first. Power and freedom are related as the convex to the concave. The surplus of freedom of the one which is power is the deficit of freedom of the other. Power creates dependence. But not all dependence is created by power because there exists also dependence out of free will. Furthermore a dependence created by power may become spontaneous. The good citizen of a good state wants the state to be powerful. He accepts its compulsive power with his free will. The freely chosen leader of a group has power which the group accepts and which therefore is not felt as compulsion. This freely willed power must not be confused with a merely psychic dependence or bondage which is a strange mixture of acceptance and refusal of power.
Because power taken by itself is opposed to freedom there is a tendency in every society to order and to canalise power in order to limit its danger for the less powerful. The most important means to order power is law which in itself is nothing but “ordered power” or “order of power”. It is a necessity of civilised life that the ultimate use of power the power over the lives of others be centralised. This centralisation of ultimate power is the state. It originates from the necessity to localise ultimate power in a few hands and to canalise it by certain rules. What we call state is the centralised monopoly of exerting ultimate power. Power not merely social organisation is the characteristic essence of the state. The social organisation of society is in itself something very “harmless”. The state however begins at the moment when this harmlessness disappears i.e. when behind this social organisation an institution stands with ultimate power power over men's lives. This instrument the state is necessary as a safeguard of peace because it is only this monopoly of ultimate power that checks the tendency of men to use their powers to the utmost limit for their own benefit up to the point of killing. The will-to-power and recklessness in using it are so strong in man that again and again he does not hesitate to kill. Until this possibility is taken away by the monopoly of ultimate power by the state peaceful civilised life cannot develop. In this sense the state is the presupposition of cultural life.
This centralisation of ultimate power in the state however is only one step in taming the dangerous power-element. The second step is the ordering of centralised power by law. Ultimate power and the power of the state in general must be exerted only within definite limits and for definite purposes and in a definite manner. The power of the state should only be used in the service of the life of the people and in defence of their rights. The state must be the guarantee of peace order and justice. We have seen in the preceding lecture that the state is not the source of law but rather its guarantee. The state is the servant of man and not their master. Its raison d’être is to protect the lives and the rights of men. That is why the monopoly of ultimate power is given to it. State-law is primarily law for the state and not law of the state. State-law is the limitation and canalisation of the power of the state. We call it public law in distinction from private law which the power of the state has to protect. It is by public law that society orders and disciplines the dangerous though necessary power of the state which is monopolised ultimate power. The rights of individuals and their lawful relations are not created by the state but they are publicly acknowledged and protected by the coercive power of the state.
A third step however is necessary in order to guarantee this purpose of the state. This third step is the plurality of the bearers of power in the state what we call the division of power. This was the meaning in creating parliament and this also was the meaning of a much older institution: courts independent of government. The absolute monarch united all state functions in his person. He was ruler law-giver and judge. Yet the principle of “division of powers” is much older than Montesquieu; Montesquieu was merely the first who clearly recognised its importance. Already in the people of Israel there existed a certain division of powers; law was not given by the king but by God through prophets and priests and the king had to obey and to protect this law. The Roman Republic represents a well-thought-out division of powers which was the result of century-long struggles. Montesquieu's principle le pouvoir arrête le pouvoir is the most essential element of a constitutional state as distinct from absolutism and tyranny.
Whilst it would not be true to the facts to claim that the conception of power set forth in the preceding pages is exclusively Christian it certainly is deeply rooted in the Christian faith. The sovereignty of God excludes an absolute of human power. It excludes both the absolute sovereignty of the state and the absolute sovereignty of the people. All human sovereignty is limited by divine sovereignty and by divine law. Furthermore the Christian conception of sin reveals the dangers inherent in power. The Christian knows better than anyone else the temptation to misuse which is inherent in great power. Power is misused wherever it is used against the law of God and contrary to its God-given purpose.
When St. Paul deduces the power of the state from divine order and enjoins Christians to obey it he is not thinking of the absolute sovereignty of state or monarch. The divine origin of the power of the state (exousia) is at the same time divine limitation. According to St. Paul this limitation is given with the purpose of the state which is peace and justice. In stressing the power of the sword as a means of divine vengeance St. Paul gives that interpretation of the state as monopolised ultimate power which we have just been sketching. By this reference to the power of the sword the state is not reduced to the police function as has often been said. This reference to the sword is rather an expression of Biblical realism with regard to the basic elements of the state. It shows that the monopoly of ultimate power is the very essence of the state as a basis for peaceful civilised life. This conception of state and power is correlative with the Biblical conception of sin. Wherever the power of sin and the temptation to sin inherent in power is seen it becomes impossible to regard the state as a mere social organisation as is done on the basis of an optimistic view of the nature of man.
The need for the concentration and canalisation of power in the state is so much the greater as there are great accumulations of power within society. Society does not consist of individuals merely but of groups some of which wield tremendous power. In our capitalist age there are concentrations of financial and industrial power compared with which the individual is powerless. The credit system combined with industrialisation has produced an accumulation of economic power unknown in previous times: “big business” mammoth corporations controlling billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of men capable of limiting their freedom in a large measure dominating the economic life and welfare of whole nations and influencing the state machinery in a dangerously high degree. By their more or less monopolistic character they exert an almost state-like coercive power.
This however is only one side of the picture. On the other side we see accumulations of power created by organisation of those who individually are powerless i.e. the ever-growing power of trade unions and trade-union associations which in some countries has become equal to that of their capitalistic counterparts. Experience has proved that the great numbers of men associated in an organisation are at least equal in power to great wealth and in the long run even superior. By the development of these two concentrations of power a new danger originates. These colossi both business corporations and trade-union federations have become so to say states within the state being capable of challenging the state and thereby endangering its primary purpose. The purpose of the state is to serve the interests of all. Those economic mammoth organisations however are so powerful that they are able to force the state to do their will against public welfare. This situation explains in part why so many are intent upon strengthening the economic power of the state and are calling for a general state-control and even nationalisation of economy.
The last decades however have confronted us with a phenomenon more dangerous than any other to freedom and general welfare: the totalitarian state. The more comprehensive the state the more dangerous its power. The democratic and liberal movement sprang from the desire to combat the danger that lay in state absolutism at a time when state absolutism was represented by the absolute monarch. Parliament and constitutional government were an effective attempt to bridle it. Since then monarchy has either disappeared cr been eliminated as the bearer of power. Since the French Revolution the democratic principle of the “sovereignty of the people” has conquered the Western world. The rise of the totalitarian state—beginning in 1917—created a new situation. It is only now that we are beginning to see that the sovereignty of the people manifesting itself in the election of the government by the people is not in itself a safe guarantee against a new kind of state absolutism. It is possible to conceive a totalitarian state on a democratic basis. To think of democracy and totalitarianism as opposites is just as wrong as to identify totalitarianism with dictatorship. State-totalitarianism is not a form of government. The form of a state decides how and by whom political power is to be wielded. Totalitarianism however means the extension of political power over the totality of life whatever may be the form of government. The nationalisation of economy is the decisive step to this totality of political control over the totality of life. If neither individuals nor groups have independent economic means they do not have real political freedom. If everyone is a functionary of the state and if nobody can make his living independently of the state machinery if there are no other than state schools if the press the cinema the radio are state controlled free society is lost opposition and public expression of independent opinion become impossible. Every deviation from the programme of the state becomes rebellion and sabotage. Even if this state has a democratic form i.e. government elected by the majority vote of the people it amounts to a complete suppression of liberty and it will not be long before even the so-called free elections become illusory the state machinery controlling all means of propaganda.
Compared with this modern totalitarian state the absolute monarchy of old times looks rather innocent because even under the most absolute monarch private property of individuals and groups and the absence of state-controlled education and public opinion left a considerable area open for free decision. In the totalitarian state however this area of free decision hardly exists and therefore a free development of cultural life is almost totally excluded. For cultural self-expression is dependent on material means and all these material means are in the hands of the state. To take one example: if the state decides who is to get the paper available for printing can we believe that an opposition press could exist? The totalitarian state even controls the time of every individual citizen. No one can say: I prefer to earn less in order to have time for this or that cultural moral or religious activity. State economy can exist only if it has complete control of the working time of everybody. Furthermore it is the state that dictates for what things money may be or may not be spent. It not only controls schools and universities but also the schools and exhibitions of art and the theatre all artists and actors being state employees. While in theory it is not forbidden to do apart from matters of national importance whatever one likes this theoretical freedom is illusory because it is the state alone which has the financial means necessary for any cultural activity. All this means that totalitarianism even in a democratic form is the grave of freedom.
Furthermore even a democratic totalitarian state must necessarily degenerate because its power is unlimited. It produces an all-powerful bureaucracy of functionaries and a semi-militaristic hierarchy. This hierarchy necessarily has a monarchical top. The principle of the division of power becomes illusory. Its place is taken by the rivalry of the different sections of the state machinery but all of them are dependent on the self-same pinnacle of the bureaucratic hierarchy. The democratic drama will still be played while actually there is a tyrannical dictatorship. All this is not merely a description of one of the totalitarian systems of the present time: these things are all the necessary and inevitable results of the complete nationalisation of economy. We have seen in recent years how—whether we like it or not—a war-time economy produces almost necessarily the worst features of totalitarianism: secret police administrative jurisdiction control of public opinion etc. and that even within states with deeply rooted democratic tradition and with democratic institutions intact complete state control of economy leads to the militarisation of the life of a nation.
For all these reasons the totalitarian state being the absolute maximum of accumulated power is the worst and most dangerous social evil which we can conceive. It is the Satanic incarnation of our time. Whatever analogies totalitarianism may have had in previous centuries real totalitarianism has become possible only in our age in which the techniques of production and transport the aeroplane the radio and the machine-gun have made state power omnipresent all-powerful and all-pervasive.
We have now to turn to a last and no less gloomy aspect of the power problem: the power-relation between the states. Mankind has somehow succeeded in eliminating the most destructive effects of power within a given territory by concentrating ultimate power in the state. Man has succeeded furthermore in bridling the state-power itself by law and constitutional division of power. In recent times however the formation of a few powerful states has created a new problem: the struggle for power between the major states endangering the life and freedom of humanity. Thus far all attempts to bring the power-relations of the states under the control of justice and humanitarian interests have been almost without effect.
It may be said that in times when the divine law and the moral order exerted considerable influence on the nations and their rulers this purely spiritual limitation of power exerted a certain smoothing and muffling influence. The states however ruthless in their international behaviour did not quite do everything lying within their power. By treaties they created a kind of international law which proved effective to a certain extent although its effects were limited by the fact that the treaties could not be enforced. For this reason modern man created institutions of international justice and peace like the Court of the Hague and the League of Nations which were intended to replace the use of power by law. These institutions however proved incapable of solving the most important and dangerous conflicts arising from the dynamic character of history because they were limited by the principle of the sovereignty of the individual states. The League of Nations was certainly an attempt to limit individual state sovereignty by a supra-national federal structure. But this attempt proved futile because the great powers did not really intend to abandon their sovereignty to the will of the federation and because some of the most powerful states were not members of the League. Horrified by the disastrous results of the second world war the nations made a second attempt in the same direction by forming the United Nations Organisation. Although only a few years have elapsed since its formation it must be admitted that this second attempt has also failed for the present. A condition of international anarchy therefore still prevails leaving the feeble nation at the mercy of the powerful and threatening humanity with a new conflagration which should it become a reality would most probably mean the end of human civilisation.
There remains the question of a world state. Why should it not be possible to overcome world-wide international anarchy in a way similar to that in which it has been overcome within a given territory by the little Swiss or by the big American federation which combine regional autonomy with the overarching supremacy of the federation? Apart from the fact that such a proposal is purely academic for the present and for the near future the question remains whether such a universal world state having the monopoly of ultimate power would not be the greatest danger to freedom and higher culture. Only a federal structure combined with a strict division of powers would prevent it from degenerating into tyranny. A centralised non-federative or if I may use the phrase a monolithic world state would necessarily become a monster power of totalitarian character whereas a federal structure always involves a certain risk for the peace of the world.
A truly Christian solution of the power problem in either its economic political or international aspect does not seem to be a realistic prospect. The idea of a reign of peace and justice in which the lust for power would not only be tamed but be overcome from within cannot materialise in a world of sinful men. There are not a few who do believe in such an earthly paradise. Probably they do not realise that such a hope implies one of two things. Either they have to assume that within this temporal world sin that is lust for power can be overcome or they do not see that real peace is irreconcilable with sin. Both these views contradict the Christian conception of man and history. Because as Christians we see the close connection between power and sin we accept St. Paul's idea that only by monopolised ultimate power i.e. by the state can sinful anarchy be overcome. Whether it will be possible at some time to overcome the anarchy between the powerful states themselves by subordinating them to a super-power without endangering justice and freedom we cannot know though we may hope for it.
A short word may be added about the relation between power and culture. We cannot follow Jakob Burckhardt who in his Weltgeschichtliche Betrachtungen opposes power to culture and makes culture so to speak the innocent martyr of power. How often has it happened that the most generous patrons of science and art have been also most ruthless in their power politics misusing their power. It is not culture it is only respect for justice love and reverence for the divine law that are capable of overcoming the lust for and the misuse of power. It is only that mind which would rather suffer an injustice than perform it and which is willing to “overcome evil with good” that is capable of resisting the temptation even of very great power. The greater the power the greater the temptation of being godlike. Against this temptation no education or culture can prevail. The demon of power is overcome only by Jesus Christ. Therefore the most important thing that can be done at any time against the evil effects of the power motive is the spreading and deepening of true Christ-discipleship. The most dreadful thing however is the will-to-power in a Christian disguise of which Western history is full. It is here if anywhere that we can see the cunning of the devilish power taking the shape of an angel of light and thereby hiding the One who alone is capable of driving out the spirit of power.
We started our discussion with a definition of power limiting its meaning to “the capacity to compel”. We said that this use of the word was not the only possible one. We speak now of power in a sense which is far removed from this one. The multiplicity of meanings is not a matter of mere chance. Power in the most general sense is that which is capable of moving particularly of moving us human creatures. There is a kind of power which moves us not by compulsion but by conviction. An idea may prove powerful—idée force. Such power while it moves us does not impinge upon our free action. On the contrary such power makes us free. As Christians we speak of the power of God moving us by His spirit of truth and holy love. The apostles preached the gospel of Christ as the saving power of the world as that power which beyond all others makes man free giving him and revealing to him the truth of his own being creating him as a free personality.
Christianity has proved a power in history. The gospel moved men to do what had never been done before and to refrain from doing what had always been done before; it moved them to suffer and to love to rise above the level of the all-too-human and yet to remain human nay to become truly human by love and obedience to the divine will. Wherever the Christian faith in its New Testament purity has been present in individuals in groups in peoples new things have happened by the power of God. The greatest proof of this power of God is that it overcomes the lust for power and thereby becomes a genuinely new factor in political life. Whether this happens very often or not is not the immediate question. We know both from the teaching of the New Testament and from Christian experience that wherever Christian faith is alive this does happen sometimes in a lesser sometimes in a higher and sometimes in the highest and most conspicuous degree. And this is therefore the one bright feature in the picture: that Christian faith love of God and love of one's fellow man does act as a political factor inasmuch as it works against the misuse of political power and works for that use of political power which is for the common good. It is natural it is even inevitable for Christians to hope that the influence of this Christian motive may become so great that solutions of political power problems which otherwise are insoluble become possible.
In the field of political action—which is a field of dynamics—numbers count and therefore combination of human wills for concerted action counts. The Christian community or Church has in itself a principle of community inseparable from Christian faith. It has therefore a chance in the political field—in the field of “power” in the first sense of the word—to influence the course of history provided that it is pure strong and united. If it is not pure it will become powerful in the bad sense of the word and will lust for that power; if it is not strong it cannot compete in the field where power is decisive; if it is not united it has little chance to influence the political course of history. There is no reason to deny the possibility that the Christian faith in its original purity and unity and strength might again become such a reality that it could change the gloomy picture of the political scene. There is every reason for Christians to pray and to work that this may happen because unless it does happen it is most probable that the prospects of our civilisation will become gloomier still.