Power is ability to command people to do things, whether they want to do them or not. All political regimes require, at times, the use force to command people. Understanding politics as usual requires understanding how political power exists in the absence of rules.
In a free or democratic society, the use of force is mostly constrained by rule of law. Pure power politics, ont the other hand, does not require laws to govern, only that the government maintains a monopoly on violence. That is to say, if you are unfortunate enough to live in a place with no laws the right to government is decided by a king of the hill game, played with weapons.
In lawless societies then, brute force, martial law, corruption, thuggery, and death squads will dominate politics and civics. In countries with strong democratic institutions, authorities are trusted, laws generally respected, and the violence is minimized.
It is unlikely, but always possible that respect for the law will evaporate, in which case, the ability to govern reverts to pure power politics - a traditional goverment might in such a case declare a state of emergency, and send in the army.
Generally speaking, power politics prevails in any case where there are no rules. If the legal system or bylaws in particular group or organization is not strong enough to ensure that no one is above the law, power politics will prevail. This is the case for almost all poltical parties. Another way of seeing this is that power politics prevails when people have more allegiance to a ruler than to a constitution.
In power politics, one becomes the boss by either:
- being the successor to the previous boss.
- deposing an existing boss.
- controlling the largest army (body of supporters).
One controls the largest army by:
- amassing loyalty (by allegiance or alliance)
- distributing patronage (sharing the wealth and power)
- being feared
Power politics requires that rulers manage their supporters: it is a delicate balancing act - rulers must manage their underlings in a such a way as to keep them obeying orders without giving them too much power.
- In a positive way, power is used to reward obedient supporters with perks and luxuries, official posts and titles which pay a lot and require little real work or responsibility. Regular distributions of these will keep subordinates loyal and dependent.
- In a negative way, power politics will use force against disobedient supporters or political enemies. Power can be used to injure a person, their friends or family, to seize their property, or ruin their reputation. Usually these acts of oppression are carried out, not by the ruler personally, by agents of the state - the police, the army the secret service, tax officials, bureaucrats, etc. Regular use of oppressive techniques will keep subordinates fearful, but overuse of these tactics may trigger a rebellion.
- restricting access to information.
- controlling the mass media by using spin doctors to create a personality cult.
- using oppression to disempower activists.
- seeking to elevate their status with pomp and ceremony.
- confuse or seduce the public with rhetoric and hot button issues.
- enacting laws and regulations which feed the base of their support and redistribute wealth.