Power is a pervasive phenomenon yet there is little consensus on what it is and how it should be understood. In this book the cultural theorist Byung-Chul Han develops a fresh and original perspective on the nature of power, shedding new light on this key feature of social and political life.
Power is commonly defined as a causal relation: an individual’s power is the cause that produces a change of behaviour in someone else against the latter’s will. Han rejects this view of power, arguing that it doesn’t do justice to the complexity of power. In Han’s view, power is better understood as a mediation between ego and alter which creates a complex array of reciprocal interdependencies. Power can also be exercised not only against the other but also within and through the other, and this involves a much higher degree of mediation. Supra-individual power, such as that exercised by states, involves different forms of mediation, but here too mediation and coercion are on a continuum such that the more intense the mediation, the less coercion there is. This perspective enables us to see that power and freedom are not opposed to one another: rather, power and freedom are manifestations of the same power, differing only in the degree of mediation.
This highly original account of power, elaborated through a perceptive reading of the work of Nietzsche, Schmitt, Foucault, Habermas and others, will be of great interest to students and scholars of philosophy and of social, political and cultural theory, as well as to anyone seeking to understand the many ways that power shapes our lives today.