There’s more to power than the barrel of a gun. From Charles Hugh Smith at oftwominds.com:
Force is not the same as power. If force fails to persuade, power evaporates.
The decline of middle class wealth and income is not just an economic trend–it translates directly to a decline in political power. Chairman Mao famously noted that “Political power grows out of the barrel of gun,”, but this is only true in specific circumstances, for reasons elucidated by author Edward Luttwak in his book The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire.
Luttwak delineated the difference between force and power. Force is what grows out of a barrel of a gun: the ability to coerce people to obey commands.
Force is expensive and labor-intensive. If you want to prohibit people from using alternative currencies or making black market trades, for example, you have to literally follow every individual, as black market transactions can occur virtually anywhere by pre-arrangement.
Forcing people not to horde scarce goods is another example.
Power manifests when people willingly obey or choose to comply. Although it’s tempting to boil power down to threats of punishment/death, history offers many examples of intensive repression and threats failing to translate force into power.
Filing tax returns is an example of low-cost compliance. The IRS audits and prosecutes relatively few taxpayers for non-compliance. The vast majority of people choose to comply without being forced to do so. This leverage is power.
Power ultimately flows from the populace’s belief that the state or other authority could deploy overwhelming force if necessary. The subject populace makes a mental calculation of risk and return, and concludes that the high risks and modest gains of non-compliance make compliance the wiser, lower risk choice.
We are seeing force and power playing out in the Brexit drama. The European Union needs to punish Britain for leaving the EU, as the ability to enforce a painful punishment on any nation leaving the union will communicate (like nothing else can) that there will be a high cost to exiting the EU.
If other nations believe they will share the same fate as Britain and thus decide to stay in the EU, the EU will be manifesting power. Power is persuading people to comply without having to invest any political capital or treasure in the application of force.
To continue reading: Mao and the Middle Class: What’s the Source of Political Power?