The difference between power and authority

The difference between power and authority

These two terms are used within societal context that has well established structures of organization for example within a nation there are different arms of government that are structured in a hierarchical manner where the top most people have authority. The idea of having society structured in this manner is to enable order and maintenance of the society. This is witnessed in just any kind of society including societies that embrace communism. In as much as there is no class in the society but the idea of having absolute power and authority is embraced in order for the society to function properly. Power can simply be defined as the ability to control people or events while in the context of governance, power can be understood as having political control over a country. On the other hand authority in the context of governance can be understood as the power that comes with a political position. This paper intends create a clear difference between these two terms power and authority basing the arguments politically using the United Kingdom governance style.

To begin with, power has various components associated with it and this has been because of the many philosophical understanding of the term power. Coming to firm definition of the term has proved be very difficult due to the many forms that power can be understood from (Greiner and Schein ,p. 45). But generally the term has implication of an individual exercising control or influencing others in their behaviors. Basically a person who is in a position to use power can alter the way others behave towards something. The people under this powerful person usually are left with no choice but to do as they are influenced.

The various forms of power come as a result of one’s strength, wealth, intelligence, and position. There is one common element in all forms of power and this is the element of coercion. Though no physical force may be employed but the at least there is some element of coercion where the powerful individual can actually use whatever they have to force the subjects to behave in a particular manner that they intend.

Politically executive power of a nation is exercised with either the head of state and government or the head of state. In the UK for example, it is the monarch government headed by the queen who exercises executive power. The queen is has the supreme power as the head of state over the entire kingdom and she enjoys various power both domestic and foreign because of her position. For instance, domestically she can appoint or dismiss a premier, command the joint forces of the UK, commission officers in the army among others. While her foreign powers include: declaring war with other nation or declaring peace, ratifying treaties, and crediting diplomats among others. The prime minister is the head of government.

Another dimension of power brings the understanding that power is not only exercised in decision making process by the involved participants but it also involves blocking other participant from taking part in the process of decision making. This is a dimension commonly witnessed among politicians who have hidden agendas and only wish that whatever they do would benefit their interest. Using the position in which a politician or a group of politicians are, they have the power to meddle things so that they turn out in favor for them. A good example here could a case where a political party uses its majority representation in a legislative assembly to pass bills that favor the members of that particular political society. Considering their numbers, it is obvious that they have the power of say in that assembly.

Power can be divided and this is what is commonly known as devolution of power. The main idea of devolving power is to rule out possible chances of individuals or groups of individuals abusing power. This power abuse has been witnessed in many nations where the leader of state and government has the more power that they could decide to abuse all the privileges and powers accorded to them. Such cases of abuse of power that have been witnessed in history have lead to serious misappropriation of state funds and corrupt activities from the first family and their cronies. Devolution has therefore proved to be the best way to reduce cases of abuse of power. In devolving power, there could be various arms of government separated and operating independently without one arm influencing the other. For example in the UK, the judiciary is an independent body from the executive and legislature. Devolution can also occur in the case of federal government where the federal government supports the state governments and this ensures that there is equitable distribution of resources.

Authority on the other hand can be used to refer to power sometimes but there is usually a clear difference between these two terms. Authority also takes several dimensions because of the different theories and context in which it can be understood. Max puts out three types of authority in which people can give consent to or accept to subject to (Arendt ,p. 78). These include traditional authority, rational authority, and charismatic authority. For people to accept to be ruled by a charismatic authority, the individual or the group of individuals must have specific special qualities (Arendt ,p. 34). A charismatic leader must possess what everyone else seems not to have. This implies that the individual has to be extremely insightful and cause the followers to be inspired by his or her personal qualities. There are various examples of people who have inspired people in the world because of their extraordinary qualities and have therefore been chosen and accepted by people to be their authoritative figure. In the UK for example, leaders like Winston Churchill are considered to be charismatic.

In traditional form of authority, there is application of the rules and customs of a particular society. The figure of authority has to be chosen in accidence of the traditions and customary laws of inheritance. This form of authority is not common today but however there are still some nations who pick on the leaders using old traditional way. In the UK for example, the Monarch government is actually conducted using traditional laws. The person who occupies the seat of the leader of state has to come from the royal family. Queen Elizabeth II is obeyed based on the belief that it is the citizens duty to do so and that her “right of command and a duty of obedience is claimed on the grounds that the monarch rules by divine sanction or appointment” (Scott ,p. 158). It is quite obvious that the monarch government in the UK is not entirely involved in the running of the state and they do literary nothing but they possess so much power and authority according to the constitution. This is usually the case in other monarch governments in the world

Still in the UK, the power exercised by the monarch government, comes as a result of traditional authority but the prime minister is the head of government. This means that he too has the power to exercise authority. But in his case, his authority comes as a result of rationality. This form of authority is what is common in world politics today. Many political leaders in the world today have the chance to exercise power using the rational authority. In rational authority, there is a system of bureaucracy put in place that ensures that everyone who gets power legally has merited it. This is where the issue of electing leader comes from. Every political leader must have worked hard to acquire the powerful positions.


Power is absolute while authority is limited. This is what has come out from the discussion in this paper. People have to be empowered in one way or another whether in the work place or at home. The important thing is to know exactly when it is right to use power and when it is not right to use power. Power of a particular authority has to be legitimate for people to come into terms with it and accept to be ruled by the authority. In very many political societies, for power to be used, the authority put in place has to support it. The authority also has to be accepted by people and for people to accept it then they have to be certain that their rights will be protected. After which they will give up all their liberty in order to adhere to the accepted authority.

Works Cited

Arendt, Hannah. The Concept of Authority. New York: Vikings, 1968.

Greiner, Larry E. and Virginia E. Schein. Power and Organization Development:

Mobilizing Power to Implement Change. Alexandria: Prentice Hall, 1988.

Scott, J. Power: A Critical Concept. London: Routledge, 1994.

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