Is Power Central To Our Understanding Of Politics?

“The right of nature, which writers commonly call jus naturale, is the liberty ea

At first, one may be surprised at Socrates’ notion that the peaceful and enchanting nature of poetry can have detrimental effects on society. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates attacks poetry by asking the essential question of whether or not the pleasure that poetry creates is good for us. Socrates speaks of an old quarrel between philosophy and poetry, which both greatly influence ethics, politics, and society. Socrates criticizes well-known and praised poets, including Homer, and the role of poetry itself in society by claiming that poetry is unjust and unethical. For example, Socrates states, “The ones Hesiod and Homer told us, and the other poets too. They surely composed false tales for human beings and used to tell them and still do tell them” (Rep. 2.377d). Socrates believes poetry is not an appropriate because it is written without reason but by inspiration alone, teaches incorrect values, is merely an imitation, and encourages excessive emotions from those listening.

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Find out more

Socrates begins his argument by discussing proper education of citizens in the just city. Socrates compares the poet to a man in speech making “a bad representation of what gods and heroes are like, just as a painter who paints something that doesn’t resemble the things whose likeness he wished to paint” (Rep. 2.377e). Poets only write from their own inspiration, not from reason or through any deep intellectual understanding. Their work only shows understanding in the material realm and not of the intellectual realm. Socrates claims that these poems not only contain many fabrications of the truth but fabrications that are held up as model behavior. A young child that is in the process of receiving his education should not be exposed to these stories because “a young thing can’t judge what is hidden sense and what is not; but what he takes into his opinions at that age has a tendency to become hard to eradicate and unchangeable” (Rep. 2.378d-e).

Socrates continues to say that the stories that children hear first should be virtuous and portray the gods truthfully by describing them as good. In Homer’s Odyssesy, the gods, such as Zeus and Athena, are depicted as tricky and full of deceit; Socrates claims all of Homer’s references about the nature of the gods as false because the gods are not capable of evil doings and do not want to alter themselves because “each of them is as fair and as good as possible, he remains forever simply in his own shape” (Rep. 2.381c). For instance, Athena is depicted as the ultimate trickster throughout the Odyssey because she appears to mortals in different shapes and forms, specifically when interacting with Odysseus and Telemachus. According to Socrates, Athena is not capable of this trickery that Homer bestows to her but is only capable of justice and good deeds. However, the entire basis of the Odyssey is that Homer was divinely inspired shown through the narrator saying, “Speak, Muse” (Od. 1.1). This statement implies that the Muse speaks through Homer to construct the stories that make up the Odyssey. Nevertheless, Socrates believes that such poetry should be censored from citizens to protect the just morals in the city. Since citizens find it difficult to distinguish between what is wrong and right, role-models of the just city should be completely moral. Socrates fears that the stories of gods punishing, tricking, and lying to mortals will have a disadvantageous affect on children who may begin to believe that these actions are correct or even good. The aim of censoring tales is to instill the belief in children that just actions are admirable while socially unjust actions are dishonorable.

Socrates furthers to expand his argument greatly in Book III. Socrates claims that poetry invokes excessive emotion that is not in accordance with reason and analyzes the ethical and mental effects of poetry. Socrates begins by saying that tales should be shaped in a way that does not depict Hades as a place full of terror “but rather to praise it, because what they say is neither true nor beneficial for men who are to be fighters” (Rep. 3.386b-c). Socrates is making a reference to the famous meeting in the Odyssey of Odysseus and Achilles in Hades. Achilles says that he would “rather be a hired hand back up on earth, slaving away for some poor dirt farmer, than lord it over all these withered dead” (Od. 11.510-513). Fearing Hades more than slavery is seriously detrimental to the success of a guardian because the guardian will have trouble maintaining strength and loyalty to his people in battle. The idea of Hades should be expunged in Socrates view because it is false and is not beneficial for guardians, who have to show immense courage in battle. Also, Socrates warns against powerful emotions with the guardians by saying that they “shouldn’t be lovers of laughter” (Rep. 3.388e). Socrates wants the guardians to strive for complete moderation with their emotions in all aspects of their lives. Poetry that is censored by philosophy can maintain this balance in the guardians and citizens of the just city. Socrates knows that poetry is needed to invoke emotion, but philosophy is needed to keep those emotions in moderation. With the two in harmony, the citizens can live a content life of moderation.

Having dealt with the content of poems, Socrates now discusses the style of poetry that poets take. Socrates characterizes poetic narration into narratives that are either simple, produced by imitation, or both together (Rep. 3.392d). When the poet speaks with his own voice without meter, as in dithyrambs, it is simple narrative; when the poet likens himself to another man, as in tragedies or comedies, it is imitative narration (Rep. 3.394c). Socrates believes that each person in the just city can only do their best work in one activity alone. Therefore, no one can do a good job imitating many things. For example, Socrates claims that one cannot be both a tragic poet and a comedic poet (Rep. 3.395b). Nevertheless, Socrates ends by insisting that the guardians must not engage in imitations. If they do, the imitations they engage in must be righteous and not detrimental to their development. Since “imitations, if they are practiced continually from youth onwards, become established as habits and nature, in body and sounds and in thought” the guardian children should only be allowed to imitate those actions of “men who are courageous, moderate, holy, free, and everything of the sort” (Rep. 3.395c).

Socrates continues in Book X to completely rid poets from the just city. Socrates claims that the poets do not truly know what they are writing about because they have no firsthand experience or knowledge about their writing. What poets write about are far from the truth and “maim the thought of those who hear them” (Rep. 10.595b). Socrates attacks poets by saying that the poet “knows nothing worth mentioning about what he imitates” (Rep.10.602b). Socrates holds philosophical nature to be far superior to imitative art. Then, Socrates criticizes poets, especially Homer, for their lack of knowledge upon the topics they write about and therefore lack of any knowledge that can be gained from reading their works. Socrates also does not approve of how poets imitate the soul. Poets describe excessive emotions and ones that are not rational or in moderation. The lamentation of heroes in poetry brings enjoyment to those who watch, but Socrates says” when personal sorrow comes to one of us, you are aware that, on the contrary, we pride ourselves if we are able to keep quiet and bear up, taking this to be the part of a man and what we then praised to be that of a woman” (Rep. 10.605e). Even if the character is a fictional one, taking enjoyment in anyone’s suffering can corrupt one’s soul. Socrates emphasizes the danger of irrational emotions to one’s soul when he states that:

Find out how can help you!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

And as for sex, and spiritedness, too, and for all the desires, pains, and pleasures in the soul that we say follow all our action, poetic imitation produces similar results in us. For it fosters and waters them when they ought to be dried up, and sets them up as rulers in us when they ought to be ruled so that we may become better and happier instead of worse and more wretched.

These desires grow in one’s soul to the point where one begins to imitate the actions of those on stage, causing one to become more miserable and unhappy. One also cannot understand the pain that the characters are going through simply by watching them on stage. They must experience it firsthand to truly know the emotions felt by those portrayed by the poets.

Despite the dangers poetry imposes, Socrates regrets ridding the city of all poetry. He says that “only so much of poetry as is hymns to gods or celebration of good men should be admitted into a city” (Rep. 10.607a). However, Socrates cannot use these forms of poetry to convince Glaucon of the importance of philosophy so he uses a reformed version of poetry with the myth of Er. The myth of Er describes the alternative that Socrates wants for Hades. The myth opens by describing a strong man named Er who died in war but came back to life twelve days after his death to tell others about the eternal world (Rep. 10.614b). In the myth, heaven is described as a place where virtue is rewarded and unjust deeds were paid for “ten times over for each” (Rep. 10.615a). People are rewarded or punished for their life deeds every thousand years, and then are given the opportunity to choose their form in their next life (Rep. 10.615a-620a). Socrates here integrates Homeric heroes into this story without emotion to prove that wisdom and knowledge is the best way to enrich one’s soul. The correct choice for one’s form in his next life is only discovered by those who were just while alive. Socrates portrays Odysseus, Ajax, and Agamemnon all as philosophers who choose their next life form wisely based on events of their past lives. The philosophers know how to choose their new life, because they understand what was just and unjust in their past lives. Socrates ends by giving Glaucon hope in the afterlife and telling him to “always keep to the upper road and practice justice with prudence in every way so that we shall be friends to ourselves and the gods, both while we remain here and when we reap the rewards for it” (Rep. 10.621d). This type of poetry is much different than Homeric poetry because it provides a deeper understanding of one’s soul. It provides hope and knowledge without excessive emotion or immoral actions.

Socrates was completely correct in challenging the nature of poetry because its ideals were not in agreement with the positive upbringing of mankind. The world remains fascinated with pleasures that poetry provides even if it does not better them intellectually. The emotions and drama of poetry is to what humanity appeals. Even though Socrates tries to give poetry a philosophical twist with the myth of Er, this kind of poetry is not as appealing because the emotions and suffering experienced by others is absent. Plainly, humans like to view the despair of others because it makes their troubles seem less daunting. One can obviously see that the ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry is still alive to this day. For example, the music of this generation definitely has a superficial meaning, but no deeper philosophical message. Without philosophical messages in modern poetry, the world continues to decline in its search for knowledge and the eternal judgment of the soul. Socrates’ work still applies today and his wisdom will last through the ages. With the help of Socrates, the world can work towards being one that is full of both knowledge and eternal happiness.


ch man hath to use his own power as he will himself for the preservation of his own nature; that is to say, of his own life; and consequently, of doing anything which, in his own judgement and reason, he shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto.” – Thomas Hobbes

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Find out more

“… that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man” – Thomas Hobbes

The etymology of politics is from a word of Greek origin, polis, which means the state or a group. It’s idea was based on the perfect city state, and it was the work of Plato and Aristotle. Plato’s book ‘The Republic’ precisely defines the meaning and objectives of this city state. Hence, the word politics, came in being, with the idea of making a perfect society. But it may be near to impossible to achieve an utopian society, than what it is now. During their observations Plato and Aristotle found some faultlines or weaknesses in the human society and therefore they started to have their own political philosophies.

The book “The Politics”, by Aristotle describes that “Man is by nature a political

animal”(The Politics, 1) or simply put, it is a inherent characteristic of man. Because of this, man should try to get a position within the city state. As per Aristotle, Political science is not a theoretical concept, but an inborn trait of human beings.

The most fundamental meaning of politics is that, human beings are selfish creatures and all his acts, are towards the promulgation of his own interests and preserve himself. He likes to have his own beliefs and strategy which may differ from others in the society or group. Therefore there is a high chance of conflict, not only due to clash of various ideologies, but as our world had finite resources, people will try to get the maximum share for themselves, and if this were to happen, it would be a very difficult to live in. Politics will be very much required to prevent the society from collapse.

Some people must be able to control the others in the society in order to enforce the code of conduct. We have also seen in our day to day lives that some people are able to exert more coercion, than others in the group, and it is because they have the confidence of others in the group.

Earlier we saw that by primitive nature man looks after his benefit first, than those of other members in the society, so even the people in power will try to achieve some of their personal goals. Politics is essentially a struggle for power between the people who have some authority, and getting this power is only possible from help by the others. It will be by way of trying to mitigate the conflicts, by genuine or improper ways. They will try to reach out to the aggrieved parties with some promise of solutions and benefits, in such a way, to get their necessary support, and ultimately control over them. Therefore, politics is the way of achieving new power and retaining it, by honest or dishonest means, and this way, can be in between individuals, groups, state and its subjects, or even with in a family.

We always think that government is the ultimate form of power. It is the politicians who manage the government and it is their plan of action which ultimately governs the society. Does it mean, that groups, societies or countries, where there is no government, there is no politics. Power is omnipresent in our actions and relations, with others. The very functioning of a society depends upon the power mechanisms with in it. The most common form of power known to us, is through the punishments by a group or a state to its subjects. But this may not be the case in all relationships, power is not expressed always through subjugation.

Wherever there are various levels of governance, politics has to be there. For eg, in a family, the power is divided between the father, the mother, and various other family members, or in a bank between the manager and the clerks. This power is used the ultimate authority to get what he wants to and effectively manage grievances and disagreements. Therefore, power and authority are the most basic features of politics. With the struggle for power, there can be no politics. But at the same time, politics is the innate characteristic of humans, as per Aristotle.

The writings of Foucault show us power may reside in certain traditions, and which makes these power relationship acceptable. For example – the caste system which stills exists in India without the use of force. Power is also incorporated in beliefs and values, and through which humans experience their lives, and this authorizes various power relationships and it’s inter dependancies.

Lukes asks to view power in three dimensions. The one dimensional power as per Lukes is that power is a related to our behavior and it is up to the man as to how much he can change the actions of other men, in a decision oriented process. The man with the most authority will be the winner in this process.

The second dimension that Lukes discusses is about the ability to shape the agenda is a vital form of power to further one’s interests.

The three-dimensional theory of power by Lukes states that a person may behave or think in a particular way, which is not in his self interest. This dimension is a process in which the person with most power is able to change the weak in a way, in which he acts as per the whims of the powerful, on his own motivation, and without any imposition or forcible constraint — for example, by creating a deep rooted ideology.

But for Weber, power is the ability through which, an individual in a society, can achieve his or her own wish even against the opposition of others.

Looking at the above notions of politics and power and the quotes by Hobbes at the start of this essay, it is very clear that man lives only for himself, and he has every right, to look after his self preservation, and without a common power to govern the society, man is always ay war against other men. This shows how politics and power are deeply intertwined and complex, and as per Locke it is human nature to be selfish. Out of this selfishness, comes out the desire to have more and more for oneself, and which can be achieved only by art of politics, to use soft and hard power, for capturing the minds and imagination of others. Therefore, power is central to our understanding of politics.

Find out how can help you!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

In what does Foucault’s concept of power alter conventional understanding of politics ?

Decentralization of the position of power as suggested by Foucault is a very new way of looking at the concept of power. He has given us a new way to look at power, and taking us away from the observation of persons, who use power only as a tool of imposition, and also even away from the institutions from which these persons function, and guides us to the idea that ‘power is everywhere and part of knowledge and truth. Foucault says what we are, it is because of power.

Foucault’s view of power is totally different from the previous ways of viewing power, in a way that, power is diffuse, not concentrated, embodied rather than possessed, discursive, rather than coercive. (Gaventa)

He is against the notion that power is controlled and executed by a group of people, by way of acts of force, instead it is spread out. ‘Power is everywhere’ and ‘comes from everywhere’ so in this sense is neither an agency nor a structure (Foucault). It is like beyond power or system of truth that is diffused in the society, and it is in a state of constant change and bargaining. Foucault uses the term ‘power/knowledge’ to show us the power is made of accepted forms of knowledge, scientific observations and truth.

Truth is made in this world, and is a result of different types of coercion. It causes power to take various forms. Our society has its administration of truth, which is politicized, that is the forms of sermons, which it considers and makes it true, the structure which enables us to differentiate truth from falsity, the process by which each is approved, the methodology considered fine, in getting to this truth, that position of people who have the power of declaring the truth (Foucault).

Administration of truth and rules of politics are a product of scientific enquiry and agencies, and forced on the society regularly through educational institutes and radio/newspapers/televisions, and the dynamics of political ideas. The quest for truth, is not to find out the ultimate truth, that can be acquired by society, but it is about the guidelines, which differentiate between truth and falsity, and precise factors of power are attached to the truth, an endeavor about the position of truth and it’s politico economic functions. (Foucault, in Rabinow 1991).

Power enforces social discipline and standardization. Foucault moved his insight from the exercise of power by the state, as found in feudalism, to force their people, towards a new kind of disciplinary power as evidenced in the eighteenth century European society, such as jails, educational establishments and mental asylums. Their structures of monitoring did not have the need for coercion, as the subjects automatically performed in desired ways.

Foucault was intrigued by the systems of prison vigilance, school regimen, administration setup, and demographic control, and accepted criteria about body conduct, inclusive of sex. He studied medicine, psychology, and criminology and their roles as departments of knowledge that describe the accepted patterns of behavior and aberration. Our bodies are dominated and made to function in a particular style, as a world of societal control of the general population, through what he called ‘bio-power’. Disciplinary and bio-power create a ‘discursive practice’ or a body of knowledge and behavior that defines what is normal, acceptable, deviant, etc. – but it is a discursive practice that is nonetheless in constant flux (Foucault).

One of the central themes of Foucault’s power is that it goes beyond politics and it is something which is there in day to day practices of society. Due to this, state centered power jams, including rebellions, don’t bring in the necessary change in societies. He has also pointed out, how deeply norms are implanted in our minds, that we don’t even recognize them, and it makes adhere to discipline ourselves without any willful imposition from others.

It has a direct and creative role in our lives. It comes from various places, and operates from the top down and from the bottom up (Foucault). Power is at its zenith when it is inside specific institutions such as schools, prisons or hospitals, we should be careful about locating forms of power with particular institutions, because power is neither a superstructure nor a quality of an institution (Foucault).

Politics was usually seen in the conventional sense as an external force trying to subjugate it’s subjects, and the subjects, feel coerced as they are not in a position to negotiate or for want of greater good of the society. It follows from the earlier points that power is not just applicable to political institutions as has been thought traditionally. For Foucault politics is not just limited to state politics, it has a wide range of system for domination, and is applicable to a plethora of techniques, from the subjects control of himself to the “bio political” control of people (Foucault). Therefore, Foucault’s view of power changes the traditional way of looking at politics.


Most Used Categories

With Our Resume Writing Help, You Will Land Your Dream Job
Resume Writing Service, Resume101
Trust your assignments to an essay writing service with the fastest delivery time and fully original content.
Essay Writing Service, EssayPro
Nowadays, the PaperHelp website is a place where you can easily find fast and effective solutions to virtually all academic needs
Universal Writing Solution, PaperHelp
Professional Custom
Professional Custom Essay Writing Services
In need of qualified essay help online or professional assistance with your research paper?
Browsing the web for a reliable custom writing service to give you a hand with college assignment?
Out of time and require quick and moreover effective support with your term paper or dissertation?