Authority and Power

  • Norman P. Barry


A major difficulty with the analysis of authority and power is that while they appear to describe different phenomena, and social theorists have been at pains to stress that they indeed do, they can often be used interchangeably in ways that mask the differences. Normally people want to describe authority relationships in terms of ‘legitimacy’ and ‘rightfulness’, and power relationships in terms of the causal factors that enable one person, or a group of persons, to determine the actions of others. But we also speak of, say, police or governmental authority when ‘power’ would do just as well. When social scientists research into ‘community power structures’, they are engaged in trying to determine power in the causal sense, but they are clearly not studying the kind of power exercised by the Mafia. It is, perhaps, this permissive aspect of ordinary language which has led to the frequent identification of power with authority so that they both appear as types of causal influence, albeit operating rather differently, and seem to be a threat to rationality and liberty.


Political Power Power Relationship Political Authority Political Theorist Individual Liberty 
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  1. 5.
    Brian Barry’s Power and Political Theory (1976) contains a number of important articles and an extensive bibliography.Google Scholar

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© Norman P. Barry 1989

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  • Norman P. Barry

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