Monday, December 01, 2008

A lesson in Power, or, the book Harper didn't read

Steven Lukes literally wrote the book on power. Twice if you count the second edition. Stephen Harper probably has not read this book, perhaps because it was written by someone calling themselves a sociologist. Sociologists often talk about people with names like Marx and Weber, and ideas like context, class, race, and gender. So you can see why the far-right economist Stephen Harper would avoid them like the plague.

However, if he had read this book he might have saved himself his current tempest.

Lukes sees power as a capacity. There is power in the capacity to swing a fist as much as there is power in capacity not to deliver a blow. Stephen Harper failed to grasp that the Opposition always had the power to form a coalition and dynamite his government. His government existed at the pleasure of the Opposition in both the last term and this one. I think he might have understood this at the beginning of his first term, but as time wore on, and the Opposition failed time and time again to defeat him, thought it ever less likely things would change in that regard (heh, so did many of us!). Being a conservative economist, he may be accustomed to drawing predictions about the future based observations of past trends, so this comes as no surprise to many of us. [I seriously wonder if he plugged his political calculations into mathematical equations. ]

It is really too bad for him he didn't read more sociology, because if he had, he would have understood that as context changes, so too does people's behaviour in ways that make accurate prediction difficult. Stephen Harper was all about changing social and political contexts in this country. Again it should come as little surprise that when he threatened to change too much, his opponents would alter behaviour. Harper's model is no longer valid.

Lukes also describes three dimensions of power. The first and second dimensions are quite straight forward and involve coercive incarnations of power. Think physical violence or the threat of it, and more indirect forms of social control such as laws and regulations. Harper understands these well, hence is iron grip on party message control and discipline. What Harper does not understand is the 3rd dimension. This is ideology. This is mind control. This is the form of power where one is unaware of being under its influence. We see it all around us, for example, when people cannot fathom a world without cars or oil and keep looking for solutions to environmental problems that maintain the use of cars or oil. Or economic growth.

In the 3rd dimension, Stephen Harper is constrained by his social and economic ideology. He attempts to engineer a Canada conforming to his worldview, a worldview he is incapable of questioning, compelling him to act and think within a limited set of options. The Conservatives are stuck in an ideological box they cannot recognise. In Harper's Machiavellian exercise of ideology, he is contrained because he is incapable of compromise. He cannot connect with the other parties because he can only divide and conquer. He and his party are not like the others. To them, the others are the enemy, not just HM Loyal Opposition. He is not like Duceppe, Layton and Dion. Nor most Canadians. Rather, he is a social leper and bully who cannot fathom another way of being. Constrained, Harper is, by his own mind and personality, as is his party. Consequently, his and his party's political fate is utterly by his own design. I do not think they will take it well. heh.

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