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 Socially Expressed Power Spectrum


The following is the handout provided primarily for students at the Joint Services Command & Staff College, for the presentation being made with Lord Deedes, 24 September 2001. It can be printed out on one A4 page if this header is deleted. I suggest you bring a copy to the lecture, as the matrix will be hard to read on the overhead projector. Please note that views expressed here are not necessarily those of the College. Further material on war and peace, including a detailed analysis of the Gulf War that was published in the Edinburgh Review, and material on Islam-Christian relations, may be found in the classified index of publications on my website.


Pressure Group Power in British Political Process


Handout for presentation to Joint Services Command & Staff College, (1997 to) 24 September 2001,

by Alastair McIntosh, Fellow of the Centre for Human Ecology, Edinburgh


1) I confine discussion here to socio-ecological pressure groups advocating what the World Council of Churches calls, “justice, peace and the integrity of creation.” These lobby for dignified sufficiency; not greed. Their use of psychospiritual power is usually pacifist, but not passive, often employing direct action (cf. Luke 6:29; John 2).


2) Pressure groups acknowledge the reality of power. This involves a three-way process of naming “the powers” to provide a grip on them, unmasking them  to make explicit their physical, psychological and spiritual dynamics, and then engaging them in order not to destroy but, in spiritual activism, to recall to a higher, God given vocation.


3) Means of engagement spans spectrum from real or ostensible coercion, through persuasion by fear or convincement, to redemptive transformation (table below). The more that engagement shifts to the spiritual end of the spectrum, the more nonviolence is prerequisite. Spiritual engagement challenges individuals and nations at core levels of legitimacy. It understands power ultimately to come from God (cf. Romans 13), but to be “fallen.”


4) Influence on government can be both direct or, more subtly, by attempting to change political parameters by addressing public opinion at the “heart” level of values transformation. “Protest” is thus witness in the Latin sense of pro-testari, “to testify for” something. It uses non-violent “truth-force” (satyagraha - Gandhi), martyrdom, humour and other “weapons of the weak” to change attitudes. It works with an implicit liberation theology, albeit usually secularised, that “the meek shall inherit the Earth” (e.g. Matthew 5.5; cf. Isaiah 65:21-23; Koran XX:53).


5) Because pressure groups concerned with social and ecological justice engage feeling as well as the head, their power is emotional, rational and sometimes spiritual. This constellation is often underestimated and misunderstood by purely logical analysis. As the history of martyrdom shows, police or military repression of just causes is usually counterproductive. Their power is the truth, justice and love behind the cause in question. For open democracies, tools of non-violent political pressure lead to social progress since their means carry the redemptive power of their ends. But for repressive regimes, transformative change may threaten. This is why control of spiritual and creative expression often accompanies fascism. However, rapid information dissemination in a sanction-sensitive globally linked economy makes the barbarism of tools like censorship and terror as gauche as they are morally bankrupt.


Spectrum of Socially Expressed Power


Level of Power


Psychological Type I

Psychological Type II



Coercion by hard sanction of terror - death, torture, loss, detention, injury, shock.

Persuasion through soft sanction of fear - prison, fines, social conformity, obedience.

Persuasion through convincement leading to empowerment, especially at community level.

Transformation from within being empow- erment, satyagraha,

autopoesis. Comes from the soul.

Interior Face

Power over others by use or threat of brute force, usually but not always violent against the person - authoritarian.

Power over others by strength of rules, law, ideology, governance, motivational manipulation - authoritarian to authoritative.

Power with others - solidarity, education as “leading out,” courtesy, trade, gov-  ernance, advocacy, conscientisation -


Power from within - grace of God or Goddess, vocation, self-realisation, a prophetic and liberation theology - spiritual legitimacy; presence.

Exterior Face

Armed forces, violent revolution, monkeywrenching, saboteur action, actual industrial action such as strikes and boycotts.

Police law & order, tax authorities, institutional discipline, manipulative marketing, sects, threat of industrial action, whistleblowing, social conditioning.

Democratic political processes & open government, schools & universities, industry lobby groups, trade unions, religious & non-governmental organisations.

Touching of hearts, creativity/art, holistic worldview, joy, non-violence, witness, martyrdom, fun - both individual and collective through community; community as interconnection.


Recommended reading:  Walter Wink, The Powers that Be, Doubleday, USA, 1999; Adam Curle (Biafran War mediator) Tools for Transformation, Hawthorn,  London, 1990; James Gilligan, Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic, Vintage, NY, 1999; Judith Plant (ed.), Healing the Wounds: the Promise of Ecofeminism, Greenprint, London,1989; Douglas Johnston & Cynthia Sampson (eds.) Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft, Oxford U.P., 1994; Eknath Easwaran, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam (biography of Badshah Khan), Nilgiri Press, CA, 2nd edn. 1999; Soil and Soul: People versus Corporate Power, Aurum Press, London, 2001. Contact: mail@AlastairMcIntosh.com, 6 Abden Court, Kinghorn, KY3 9TR, 01592 891829.




Updated April 02, 2021


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