The Three Faces Of Power
As cited by Lukes, Dahl claimed that power is the ability to make an individual do something he or she might not otherwise do (Lukes 1974: 11). In the first dimension, behaviour is the focus of decision-making power. Individuals can see where the power lies and who is in control of it. Classical pluralists, Polsby and Dahl, are advocates of this, with the latter stating that an individual who wins an argument has the power. The nature of power is clear, visible and easily measured. Due to its democratic nature, individuals accept it but do not always agree with it. For example, the passage of a law or an act in parliament.
Both Bachrach and Baratz are proponents of the second dimension. The second “face” provides an additional non-decision-making power that sets the agenda in debates. This is due to the fact that one can decide the topic of argument, therefore controlling the situation. Certain topics are not allowed to be brought forth for consideration in “legitimate” public meetings. Decisions can be made either in the formal political arena or behind closed doors (away from the public eye). The often secretive and controlling process surrounding it (the corridors of power) can facilitate corruption. In this case, it is both invisible and visible, depending on the accumulation of inside information. For example, when the government refuses to reveal private information. However, this is often accepted in democracies when related to affairs of diplomacy or national security. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
In the third dimension, ideological power permits the manipulation of individuals’ views and hence their ideas, beliefs and desires. This is done without them realising it and can cause them to yearn for things that would ordinarily go against their own interests. An example of this can be the use of advertising to fuel the general population’s desire to consume an increasing amount of material things, which benefits capitalists. Another example is government-controlled media, which is used for modern propaganda.
As a comparison, Bachrach and Baratz argue that the first “face” is “restrictive and, in virtue of that fact, gives a misleadingly sanguine pluralist picture of American politics” (Lukes 1974: 16). The two-dimensional and three-dimensional views of power criticise the first dimension’s sole focus on behaviour (Lukes 1974: 25). However, the one-dimensional view has its positives because “to cite Merelman again, the pluralists ‘studied actual behaviour, stressed operational definitions, and turned up evidence’” ( p.451) (Lukes 1974: 36). But on the other hand, “by studying the making of important decisions within the community, they were simply taking over and reproducing the bias of the system they were studying.” (Lukes 1974: 36).
When an individual thinks about the concept “dimension”, the mind usually flutters to vector mathematics or the alternate planes of existence in science fiction universes. Lukes could be using this word in particular to help one think outside of the box, utilising imagery to think about the different faces of power.
In “Point Comfort”, all three dimensions can be applied to Y. C. Wang, the Founder of Formosa Plastics. He is openly seen as a powerful figure, has strong links to the government in Taiwan and the US. He is portrayed as powerful, successful and environmentally-conscious in different types of international media (Brown 2020).
There are numerous examples of the use of the law which relate to the first dimension. Lawyers and the court of law managed to fine Formosa through the “largest citizen-led Clean Water Act settlement in history” in the form of “50 million dollars for local projects to mitigate the harm caused by the discharges” (Brown 2020).
The second dimension applies due to Formosa staff engaging in corrupt discussions and agreements behind closed doors. In the US and Taiwan, there were poor worker safety conditions, as well as a complete disregard for air permit rules, toxic substance control acts and clean water acts. To make matters even worse, government officials received donations from Formosa over the years. The Environmental Protection Agency’s immense fine for environmental violations was 8.3 million dollars. Then, four executives donated 1000 USD each to the Phil Gramm campaign; which was the legal limit at the time. This led to EPA dropping the fine down to little over three million USD (ibid).
Furthermore, the Texas Environmental Agency and Air Control Board were colluding with Formosa. The American Chemistry Council and the Plastics Industry Trade Association SPI coordinated their public relations campaigns. Moreover, scientists at EPA were excluded from conversations between the chemical industry and the top administrators of EPA (ibid).
Over three years, the FBI carried out an investigation into Formosa. However, it is important to note that they did not prosecute due to a loss of momentum. A case against Koch industries took up their time and resources (ibid). Could this be a coincidence or a distraction strategy done on purpose?
Finally, the insidious third dimension can be applied to Point Comfort. The workers were initially blinded by the illusion of a caring company due to the 1500 new amazing jobs that provided a good salary and benefits. But by employing them, Formosa owned and still owns Point Comfort to this day. Workers were forced to lie and do things they did not want to do. People were fired on every level to conceal information. Production was placed over the environment and public’s health. Deep fear stopped people from testifying. A whistleblower was seen as bad to the community and he was threatened and physically harmed. Another aspect of the third dimension relates to the media. A veil of success, care and environmental consciousness was pulled over the eyes of employees and consumers on an international scale (ibid).
To conclude, power is wielded in various ways over many levels, from the open and visible court of law down to the media pushing a secretive government’s agenda. With the knowledge of these three faces, one can effectively evaluate power for the betterment of modern society.
Brown, M. (2020). “Point Comfort”, Dirty Money, season 2, episode 6. United States: Netflix.
Luke, S. (1974). “Power: A Radical View”. London and New York: Macmillan