Who is powerful?

'If the conservative bloc on the Supreme Court has a clear majority of, say, six to three, then as a group the conservatives are clearly powerful. On all ideological issues they can get what they want. However, each conservative Justice, as an individual, has exactly the same power as every other, and as each of the liberal Justices - that is, one vote each.'

Keith Dowding 'Power' (UMP 1996 p52).

If one of the conservative judges has a flash of enlightenment and becomes a liberal, does he suddenly find he has lost all his 'power'? Or is he just as powerful as before?

Start from the definition of social power as - the ability of an actor (deliberately) to change the incentive structure of another actor or actors to bring about or help bring about outcomes. The judge's power in this sense has not changed, what has changed is his own incentive structure. He can still effect outcomes through others in exactly the same way as before, only the outcomes he wants to achieve are different.

Dowding gives another definition of power as - 'the probability of getting what you want if you act in all possible worlds which are the same as the actual one with the exception of the preferences of all other actors.'

Is this equivalent to the first definition?

Dowding says - the conservative judge is not more powerful than the liberal judge, he's 'luckier'.

Luck means - being in a game where other actors' preferences work in your favour.

I suppose - all the judges are more powerful than other mortals, by virtue of being on the supreme court. But some judges are luckier than others.

Though 'the distribution of luck in society is not mere happenstance.' ?

I'll have to reread the last bit of the book to see what Dowding says about this.


Steven Lukes' Marxist 'messy power' critique of Dowding on luck, and rational choice theory of power more generally:


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See also :