Published on October 1st, 2019. All rights reserved.

Chapter 2 – Paradigms of Power

“The war for wealth, a bitter struggle for a share of affluence, and the related struggle over political and cultural dominance in the world, are the real conflicts of our day… A metamorphosis of virtually unprecedented proportions is taking place outside our direct field of vision… an eruption of vitality that is unique in world history.”

(G. Steingart. (2008). The War for Wealth, p. ix in Introduction)

To gain a deeper understanding of power, we cannot merely examine empires – we need a lens through which to view them. Historians and social scientists who write on various subjects must be selective, as the massive volume of facts and data can rapidly overwhelm even a well-seasoned team if the object of research lacks focus, foresight and organization. A hypothesis must be simple, and it must be observable if it is to be considered genuine social science. History is perhaps the preeminent social science due to its depth, range and ability to yield patterns and forms that can be applied to the present and which can anticipate and garner insight into the future. It can be seen as a series of ongoing events and causal relationships in the bid for power. The exclusive object of empires is power – but how do we define and measure it, how can it be observed and described with greater precision? To do this, we begin with the most clarifying and useful models and concepts of power.

Carroll Quigley also outlined the importance of a disciplined and systematic approach to study history, as outlined in one of his lesser known books, The Evolution of Civilizations: An Introduction to Historical Analysis. He calls for historians to have a disciplined approach on par with the natural sciences, where one gathers all the evidence and then proceeds to present it in order to show proof of one’s conclusion, and to demonstrate the relationships, ideas and actions that have contributed to the existing order of society, or in our case, the dominant power structures which are global in scope, authority, and unity. Just as critical are the individuals who created and who run these institutions – the key actors and figures whose ideas and aspirations drove the strategies and actions of these organizations.

To begin this process, this section is a primer on the most relevant ideas from various writers and scholars from any discipline who study or discuss social power on a deep or global level. To have the best approach, we introduce and explain so as to later apply lenses that will give insight and a point of reference for further study. Many of them overlap, as they tend to build upon, or relate to one another. All models of power flow into one another, and one of the key concepts is integrated power, or what we will describe as a synthesis of power – when all sources or types of power have been attained by one group or individual and are functioning in a holistic, systematic manner, which has the effect of potentiating power and allowing it to take on new forms where the highest levels of imperial control are possible. There are many general definitions of power, though the essence is having control over people or resources for one’s own advantage, and directing them to meet one’s objectives. Empires are essentially predatory and parasitic, using coercion through a variety of methods to enrich and secure greater position and prestige for ruling elites, and keeping the subjugated class subdued or unaware of the extent of imperial exploitation through a mix of diplomacy and engineered consent.

Iron Law of Power

Empires are creatures of size, power and expansion – they seek growth and increase of status, wealth and resources, though they can assume many forms or variations. This ideas seems simple and self-explanatory, though its essential nature requires explanation. The core idea behind this law, is that the pursuit of power is a constant human process. One can liken the iron law to the law of gravity. The idea of an iron law of power was mentioned in Laswell and Kaplan’s Power and Society, a political science treatise published in the 1950’s by two Ivy League professors. “The concept of power” they wrote, “is perhaps the most fundamental in the whole of political science: the political process is the shaping, distribution and exercise of power.” [1] Though they agree that there are other values besides power that operate in the political process, it is always the main or primary value. Power relations are ongoing and ever-present, and one of the driving motivations for human actions – especially for those who are entrenched in positions of power and who wish to assert, increase or protect their access to resources and authority.

Machiavelli wrote to different target audiences in his penetrating essay The Prince, referring to those “who do not wish to be oppressed”, as well as astute princes who would read his work and give him employment in their royal courts. It seems clear that many who ascend to or who seek for power often have no qualms about oppressing others or exercising power over them in the attainment of their desires. Empires not only tend to assert or move towards obtaining greater power, but a corollary is that they fear losing control over whom and what they have obtained, and do not tolerate competition. Thus monopoly is the grand strategy and objective that animates empires. Once power is established, the struggle to keep it and the will to maintain it can become an existential task as competition inevitably arises. One becomes more certain of this essential law as one studies empires over the course of human existence and the grand arc of history.

Institutional decision-making – the benchmark of true power

In The Power Elite, American sociologist C.W. Mills, distinguishes a key element of power as the ability to make decisions in formal institutions, and the power elite as “those who decide whatever is decided of major consequences.” [2] He examines the awareness of impersonal decision-making and the values that elites share with one another as they occupy command posts in an age of centralized power. Mills asserted that:

As the institutional means of power and the means of communications that tie them together have become steadily more efficient, those now in command of them have come into command of instruments of rule quite unsurpassed in the history of mankind. And we are not yet at the climax of their development. [3]

Mills is not alone in this assertion. Many movements and groups are attempting to draw attention to those who are in authority, to hold them accountable, and to find solutions for the massive inequalities of wealth that we are witnessing. Honest political scientists and social commentators have also taken notice. Many frustrations and social tensions are the direct result of a lack of participation and the ongoing interplay of material resources in the din of social discourse, largely controlled by the press and established institutions that only pay lip service to genuine dialogue and uncovering the facts. The control of mass communications has major implications as an imperial state instrument. It is the search for truth that goes in tandem with populist movements to force elites to acknowledge that they are indeed manipulating the narrative, and that they are in possession of an inordinate amount of power, which makes citizens of democratic nations suspicious and desirous to have a voice in their own destiny.

“Economic power is becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few, even as democratic movements worldwide allow for political power to be dispersed among the many. With their access to influence, the wealthy can shape and constrain the political power of the rest of the world. As the economic dominance of an elite minority coincides with the forces of globalization, is oligarchy becoming the dominant political regime?”

(D.E. Tabachnick, and T. Koivukoski, On Oligarchy: Ancient Lessons for Global Politics. 2011, Introduction from cover page)

The fate of nations now appears to be in the hands of a small, select group of elites, the 0.001 percent, often referred to as the power elite, the superclass, or what can aptly be described as the imperial ruling class. Understanding their influence and exercise over public institutions in all spheres of society is a critical undertaking for citizens who wish to maintain freedom and democracy in the global era.

Expansive Power

An idea that was discussed extensively by Spengler in The Decline of the West, the idea that power can never be static or stationary, but must keep moving – a restless quality that is inherent in imperial expansion. Complacency and contentment has no place in the realm of imperial power, as the drive to dominate underlies all energy and action. Also inherent in the concept of expansive power is the careful, methodical, patient approach to cultivating opportunity and then waiting for the right moment to act decisively for the sake of territorial, political, or economic gain, or simply to settle the score and subjugate or get rid of enemies. In Machiavelli’s The Prince, we remember the parable of the lion and the fox. There are times for aggression, and there are times for caution and tentative preparation, even feigning weakness, to keep an enemy’s attention focused elsewhere. This is necessary for the interests of a state or ruler, though the temptation to take advantage of another’s weakness is a large part of the imperial expansive impulse. The astute leader or group of leaders has to anticipate enemy strategy, and also attack the enemy’s strategy while keeping their own concealed, as outlined in Sun Tzu’s Art of War – “The highest form of warfare is to attack [the enemy’s] strategy itself”. Expansion is an end, though it requires various means to achieve those objectives. The gamble of entering into conflict over a strategic objective, seeking to capitalize on the weakness of another actor, or seeking to transform the societal fabric of a population or nation all fall under the rubric of expansive power.

Concentration of power

Concentration or centralization of power is something that free and Western societies are supposed to carefully guard against, with the concept of checks and balances being a central idea of how governments ideally function. A key component of checks and balances is transparency as a preventive measure to moderate and diffuse power, which the founding fathers of the United States meditated upon and advanced their viewpoint brilliantly in writings such as the Federalist Papers. The principle of checks and balances recognizes that power tends to pool naturally, and that once a certain level of power is attained, there is a greater attraction or tendency to accrue more power until the full attainment of all power has been reached, resulting in a condition of tyranny. One could call this reality maximization of power, where groups or individuals will strive to attain the most power possible in their given circumstances, and their actions can be seen in their proper light as attempting to gain advantage and exercise control within their particular sphere or domain of influence or authority. It is the systematic conquest that empires advance towards that a system of checks and balances is designed to prevent.

Concentration of power is perhaps the most dangerous scenario for human societies, since it is an imbalance that leaves lower groups on the social power structure vulnerable and subject to the whims of those at the top. Equilibrium is highly desirable in human societies, and many societies find elitist or corrupt policies designed to favor only the rich repugnant, though this can be difficult to avoid. Opposing power concentration is closely linked to both self-protection and preserving the higher ideals of justice and healthy equality. The concentration of power invariably leads to negative outcomes, and so citizens must guard against this occurrence and seek for a structured diffusion of power, where accountability and recourse to remove despotic leaders are in place.

Concentration of power is associated with abuse of power, misery and genocide – regardless of the guiding ideology or form of government that takes shape. Empires, given the size and scale which they develop, are naturally susceptible to concentration of power in the hands of a small group or elite social class who benefit from the imperial arrangement. Consolidation of power can begin in a benign or harmless domain of power, even with good intentions and public trust, and then the opportunity becomes more attainable to the ruling class, and the gradual loss of sovereignty is fully recognized. Perhaps no figure in history was able to obtain centralized power such as Julius Caesar, from military general to someone who was transformed into a prototype state form of deity, and who, in spite of being murdered, would usher in a line of emperors who would borrow his title and continue to remanufacture his mystique for the remainder of Roman imperial rule. The impact that would be felt when he crossed the Rubicon would be seismic, and take Rome and the rest of Europe in the direction of imperial power that would become an archetype that popes and kings would attempt to resurrect in their own interest for centuries to come. Rome, like her great predecessors in Persia and Babylon, would demonstrate the weight of imperial power and the appetite for glory that she would commit to for centuries. It sprang from devoted pursuit to being the best, and challenging anyone who resisted or dared think otherwise.

Power distance

The concept of power distance is the idea of exercising or asserting authority upon groups or individuals who are far removed from the knowledge or sphere of concern of those who wield power. It can also mean that direct control comes from sources that are difficult to pinpoint or recognize, particularly when a power structure is large, complex, and spread out over multiple jurisdictions and networks. It is impersonal and dangerous, as it can mean policies that are both coercive and that have no input from those who are on the receiving end. It is closely aligned with concentration of power, such as when officials send envoys, or when decisions are made half-way around the world about the fate of other groups or peoples who may be treated with derision or contempt by those who decide. The ability to communicate, reverse bad decisions or make adjustments can be next to impossible if individuals or groups try to get through bureaucratic red tape or unclear lines of authority to determine who is ultimately responsible and who can assist should a directive have ill effects or be undesirable. Understanding power distance and the source or origin of an idea or policy ties into concentration of power and the true motivation behind a policy, action or series of them. Power distance is hazardous to democracy, since policies can be exercised that can be harmful and that can be in conflict with the direct interests of those upon whom they are being enacted.

Nowhere is this concept more dangerous and susceptible to abuse than with global governance, given the scale and impersonal, dehumanizing nature of mass political mechanisms. Foreign officials and those who have little knowledge or interest in a particular region or the conditions of the people who live there is a scenario that poses a serious risk to basic human rights. The most powerful global agencies are accountable to no one, and complaining or trying to communicate with such organs or even obtain timely information is virtually impossible, which may only be possible through unconventional channels or inside sources. With power distance it is unclear who is making the decisions, and how they have been arrived at. The larger and the more complex a political or imperial system becomes, the greater the power distance, and the likelihood that individuals can be victims of error or abuse, as it makes accountability and transparency virtually non-existent. In essence, the greater the power distance, the less likely that people will know what is really going on, or have any recourse to address or prevent government abuse.

Hard vs. Soft vs Smart power – the sophisticated approach

Harvard scholar Joseph Nye coined and developed the concept to indicate how these types of power interact with each other, and how soft power is much more effective when it is less coercive and more ‘cost-effective’ from a managerial standpoint. An example would the “empire by invitation” comparisons that the USA and EU are both non-coercive empires, though their economic and/or military capacity means that hard power always lurks in the background if necessary to protect allies or vital interests. Military, is often thought of as pure hard power, political and economic are hybrid and fluid forms, with cultural or ideological sources as soft power, though this is limiting. Ideological or cultural factors can be aligned with hard power or used in a coercive manner, making the shift from soft to hard once individuals are forced to accept a socio-cultural narrative that they disagree with or that goes against their choice of conscience. Economic power is the most flexible, in that it can be an incentive to cooperate with the hope of obtaining material advantage, or it can be withdrawn. Resources can also be used to construct power instruments that work against a particular group or opposing power bloc. Smart power is to win over the opposition by cooperation, and a savvy combination of carrots and sticks – making them feel they are welcomed into the echelons of power, while limiting their position with the possibility of demoting them should it ever be necessary. It seeks to guide and employ all resources and strategies in an integrative manner.

Hidden power

The idea of hidden power is a valuable insight, and one that is critical for understanding the imperial manipulation of knowledge, perspectives and paradigms that rob people of agency and prescribe thought processes and patterns without consent. Hidden power is subversive manipulation of individual and collective free will, the construction of an ideological social cage that is conscious and intentional. Steven Lukes wisely wrote in his writings such as Power: A Radical View, that power is at its most effective when it is hidden, and that no account of power can be complete without this perspective:

“Indeed, is it not the supreme exercise of power to get another or others to have the desires you want them to have – that is, to secure their compliance by controlling their thoughts and desires?” [4]

Hidden power implies laying the groundwork for universal fraud and deception, and a conscious, deliberate effort to direct people’s attention in a predetermined direction, and to prevent them from recognizing the origins and purposes of the agenda being set before them. It is a form of power that has the potential to move and direct the activity of populations on a vast scale, and may become the ultimate form or instrument of power depending on how successfully it is employed. It is perhaps the most potent type, since it can animate social action and direction, and engulf public institutions.

Domains or Types of Power

Scholars and writers such as Michael Mann or Alvin Toffler mention or develop a framework for classifying and examining power in a few key areas. Mann introduces his IMEP model (ideological, military, economic and political power) as the four key types of social power that are combined to exercise coercive authoritative power. His domains are a useful starting point to understand how stratified states and empires use power in an organized way to control citizens within a territory over a period of time. Toffler in Powershift emphasizes wealth, violence and knowledge, and the essential nature, value and portability or difficulty of controlling or containing knowledge, which includes science, technology and ideology or any technique that can add to or increase power of those who wield or seek it. Knowledge and ideological power are closely related, though knowledge is on a higher level, as it can encompass an understanding and harnessing of ideology, or cultural foundations that tend toward improvement and higher attainments of civilization. Mann and Martin Van Creveld also note that there is an inherent deception that accompanies ideology as an instrument of state power:

“In some formulations the terms “ideology” and “ideological power” contain two additional elements, that the knowledge purveyed is false and or that it is merely a mask for material domination.” [5]

“Ideologically speaking, most empires developed doctrines whose purpose was to confirm the subject population in its obedience to the powers that be.” [6]

Ideology is the wildcard in the deck, as it can be difficult to foresee, control or direct, since many groups or segments of society can attempt to influence popular thought. A correct understanding of ideology and how it is being employed is a useful instrument in the power-seekers toolbox. Many studies of power arrive at a myopic focus on one or some of these four sources, failing to understand the integrative nature of power, and the imperial drive towards synthesis and domination. The most coercive empires dominate in all four domains, establishing a narrative that subjects must obey and thus surrender their sovereignty to rulers or heads of state. The essence is that their independence and purpose for being is effectively transferred to the state, where they become instruments of the state rather than free agents. In China or North Korea, under communist regimes or authoritarian governments masquerading as stewards of the state, individual free will is forbidden, and targeted population groups have always felt the brunt of state power through ‘re-education’, surveillance, propaganda, humiliating harassment in various forms, labor and concentration camps, and finally death for those who resist or who do not conform to the purposes of the state.

4 conventional sources or domains of social power

Political Ideological / Cultural
Economic Military

Ancient and medieval empires rested upon military power, whereas over time, looking at the European maritime powers, the shift was to the acquisition of economic power, with support from the military domain as a complementary strategy, and now in the global age, the real battle marks a shift of ideological control in tandem with economic and political power. Ideology is a pathway to control knowledge, to govern, direct and dictate what is permissible to know and in what manner one is supposed to think. Military power must be used sparingly on the part of Great Powers, as ruthless violence is not well received in the internet age, and public reaction is often carefully weighed and discussed before military intervention takes place.

Collective Power

The concept of collective power is the idea of democratic social power, or a group gaining momentum and steering the direction of a nation or society. It encompasses all spectrums and ideological types, be it Constitutional sovereignty where the power is vested in the citizenry, or radical revolution, the idea that the masses or the mob have power and can, if they are sufficiently organized, direct the course of society and seize power when and if possible. Like all forms of power, it can be used for good or ill. Throughout history elites have manipulated the masses and have used strategies of divide and conquer to thwart or diminish collective power to ensure a secure position for themselves or to weaken or destabilize neighboring states. Collective power also gives legitimacy if the majority of the population are in agreement with the general policies and direction of the ruling regime.

Harnessing collective power is one the key soft/smart power strategies, and shaping public opinion has become a science and an art, with sophisticated techniques developed during the last century to control the press and media and to shape the general opinion of the public in a manner that monitors them and steers them towards a preferable agenda, or to distract and prevent them from understanding the true nature of the socio-political landscape through disinformation. Collective power can also degenerate into socialism, communism, and various forms of collectivism where the individual becomes an extension of the state and exists as nothing more than a laborer or tax-payer, and where individual intelligence and initiative is stifled at every turn. Alex de Tocqueville described the possibility of ‘administrative despotism’, where collective energy is bridled by the state, described as follows:

“The sovereign, after taking individuals one by one in his powerful hands and kneading them to his liking, reaches out to embrace society as a whole. Over it he spreads a fine mesh of uniform, minute, and complex rules, through which not even the most original minds and most vigorous souls can poke their heads above the crowd. He does not break men’s wills, but softens, bends, and guides them… He does not destroy things but prevents them from coming into being.” [7]

Virtuous Power – the Heart of Legitimacy

The real crux of power is attempting to obtain one’s objectives while staking the claim that one represents virtuous power or the moral authority in its benign exercise. While unguarded conversations and direct statements can be made admitting the true nature of their designs, even tyrants stubbornly cling to an official, unyielding rationale that the ends justify the means. Just as important as the exercise of power is the assurance that the motivations behind the exercise of power are aligned with the interests of those to whom due service is rendered. In other words, the group in power has to walk the talk. Hypocrisy and blatant lying is something that must be avoided if one is to be in the possession of virtuous power, where one’s words and ideas then become legitimate and authoritative, as one appeals to motivations that are universal and in alignment with the will of the gods, heavens or enlightened masses.

These ideas described above give us a good starting point for a holistic approach to understand how power operates within an expansive global society such as ours, and how empire is acquired and how imperial instruments or techniques are exercised. It is thanks to the authors mentioned above that we come up with our own paradigm, similar to a hierarchy of power, an expanded or more holistic model of power that allows us to analyze our current situation in a more organized and scientific manner.

We will call this model the universal power matrix, as it can be used on any empire, great power, hegemon, nation-state or political entity that is in the process of acquiring power. These concepts serve to illuminate concrete examples of the application of power, and will be referred to in later sections throughout this publication. All domains of power rest upon knowledge which is the ultimate domain or sphere of power, as the others are all dependent upon it. Indeed, the central objective behind the pursuit of knowledge seems to be to harness the four conventional domains and increase technological and scientific capacity for imperial ends.


Holistic Power – Towards a New Model

We proceed from strategies and theories to a holistic model, where the four traditional domains of power at the bottom are in subjection to the higher domains of spiritual authority and the control of knowledge. If the society is truly free, then collective power is above or to some degree can check the four conventional domains.

Universal Power Matrix

Spiritual Authority
Knowledge (intellectual, scientific, sociopolitical, existential)


Political Ideological / Cultural
Economic Military


If the society is in the process of rapidly losing its freedom or no longer has a healthy degree of collective power, then we would move the power of the masses to the bottom, which always represents a latent force, where it would belong in the most oppressive regimes or societies. In reality, collective power is ever-present, and it infuses all other parts of the system and forms of power, as it is the energy which animates everything in the direction that it is employed.

In a healthy democratic society, collective power is elevated, and the sovereign will of the citizens has influence over all other temporal domains of power.

In communist, collectivized, socialist or totalitarian police states, collective power is supressed to the degree that it is submerged below the other forms.

To some degree collective power is ever-present, and is only submerged to the degree that the populace accepts, and the greater the degree of coercion, the greater the rising tension for resistance.

More than any other value, empires insist upon universal order, in the manner which they prescribe. It is not only knowledge but values and an argument over morals which often becomes part of the imperial campaign to control knowledge, up to and including the meaning, purposes and objectives of life, and to pacify the masses or distort reality for a more favorable response from those who are governed. The more powerful empires become, the greater degree of control which they exercise in all domains, and they ascend or increase their totality of control by demanding that citizens follow their paradigms of knowledge and obey an imperial spiritual authority in a display of submission. The formal instruments of power are deployed to transform the transcendent, or spiritual qualities of society and the very foundation of civilization.

Technological, scientific and intellectual achievements are also key indices that can shape and direct culture and ideology. They can never be fully separated from each other or compartmentalized. They act together to form a grand synthesis of power which enables ruling elites to control every aspect of human activity. Empires do not simply obtain or wield power – they direct, organize and transform power in order to create the system that is tailored to their designs as much as possible. Pragmatic or benevolent imperial leaders do accept some degree of autonomy or independence on the part of their subjects to ensure a better means of revenue extraction and to avoid revolt, as well as managing their image or reputation. This may only be temporary however, as more power is accrued, and the next generation or group of leaders recognize that total rule is within their grasp.

The greatest empires had a deep effect upon knowledge, on civilization, how societies operated and functioned, what they pursued, and the course of history for centuries to come. They had a profound effect upon the minds of the people throughout their dominions, making it possible for elites to continue their plans to build empires, whether subjects or client states noticed or not. Even if they did or do, there is not much they could do to prevent it. Civilization is closely bound with instruments of social power, and as instruments of power become available and are summoned in service to the ruling class or social elites, the stratification of these instruments invariably leads to imperial structures.

As civilization becomes more sophisticated, so the means of influence, techniques and strategies of exercising power can become more intricate, varied and complex. It is from the paradigm of empires that we can more clearly see ourselves in relation to the society we are building – citizens are always in the process of building society – or the society that we are participating in building on behalf of someone else. Key paradigms of knowledge can become instruments of power in the hands of imperial elites. Our interest in civilization is for the purpose of understanding how its components are employed as instruments of power in the hands of and in service to them.

Besides the universal power matrix, empires operate under a type of Coercive Power Continuum (CPC) – energizing and transforming the objectives and activities of life – the degree of force or control that the state employs in ruling and controlling its subjects. The degree of coercive power can be understood by analyzing the state entity of society in relation to the universal power matrix, and by monitoring and measuring the intensification of power-oriented decrees and actions to enforce them.

Power Literacy

We often speak of literacy in relation to reading or writing, or a number of contexts or competencies, such as financial or media literacy, where one is able to navigate and understand how things really function and reap certain benefits through proper recognition and operation. If societies are power illiterate, they are more easily manipulated, and cannot recognize socio-historical trends and forces bearing down on them and being employed to strip them of their collective or democratic power. Power literacy is an essential element of democratic societies if they are to remain as such, those that prize equality and constitutional rights such as freedom of speech, private property and the ability of the individual to thrive and prosper in a truly free society. It stems from recognizing the current social landscape with a proper understanding of human nature and the tendency to seek for power – individual and imperial – that once specific groups are in charge and are imposing a unified agenda, they can control the flow of information and the social self-narrative which is being promoted or enforced.


Empires and modern governments also rely to a large degree on bureaucracy and technocratic control or administrative management techniques and structures for carrying out their policies and objectives. This brief overview of the most valuable types and concepts of power will be helpful in assisting us in gaining a deeper, more nuanced view of imperial power structures and their objectives in the global age. Future sections will focus on the contemporary history of the imperial control of knowledge, and the institutional, ideological and cultural forms of power and institutions that we see being utilized today.



[1] Laswell H.D. and Kaplan A. (1950). Power and Society: A Framework for Political Inquiry, p. 75.

[2] Mills, C.W. (1956). The Power Elite, p. 18.

[3] Mills, C.W. (1956). The Power Elite, p. 23.

[4] Lukes, S. (2005). Power: A Radical View (2nd edition), p. 27.

[5] Mann, M. (1986). Sources of Social Power, vol. 1, p. 23.

[6] Van Creveld, M. (1999). The Rise and Decline of the State, p. 39

[7] Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 2004 edition, p. 819.