We’ve heard it said, culture is downstream of power, or is power downstream of culture? Which controls the levers to the other?
As I’ve said before, power (the ability to force your will) comes from authority (the ability to command), which comes from legitimacy (people’s beliefs in your right to command).
The power/culture discussion is always off because it misses the underlying link between the two: legitimacy.
Power can do whatever it wants within its dominion. That’s the inherent nature of power. If you can not do what you want, you, definitionally, do not have power. The limits of power exist where you can no longer accomplish your will.
Someone with power over culture can change the culture to be whatever he desires. If multiple people have power over culture, the culture will be changed to wherever the limits of their power meet. Power creates, destroys, and changes culture.
Note: Culture is always, to at least some degree, organic, so power over culture is always widely distributed. No one ever has absolute power over culture.
But, power creates culture only insofar at it has authority. Culture is organic and of men. If men do not obey, there is no power and culture can not created, destroyed, or changed. Culture is only changed insofar as men allow it to be changed.
Men only allow culture to be changed, in so far as they think the change and the power causing the change are legitimate.
This is where culture influences power. Legitimacy comes from culture. If the culture holds to the Divine Right determines power men will obey power with Divine Right. If culture holds to patriarchy determines power, men will obey fathers. If the culture holds to popular will, they will obey democratically elected politicians.
Power is downstream of legitimacy, which is downstream of culture, which is downstream of power.
By changing culture, power can change what men view as legitimate, changing legitimacy, authority, and, ultimately, where power lays.
This is how power destroys itself. It changes the culture that made itself legitimate, which then changes what legitimizes power, changing the basis of authority, changing the power itself. Power changing culture undermines itself.
Culture change is slow and difficult, so changing the method of legitimacy is slow and difficult. It is easier to destroy legitimacy than to create. Culture change is also unpredictable. When you destroy culture, what replaces it may not always be what you expected or hoped.
This is why revolutions are so turbulent and unstable and often end in a strong man: one can destroy the legitimacy of the present order, but creating a new order viewed as legitimate is time-consuming and difficult. When you destroy a culture and legitimacy, it is hard to predict what form legitimacy will take, hence revolutions often destroying their instigators.
In a legitimacy vacuum, the simplest form of legitimacy to create is martial: men naturally respect strength and strength is relatively simple to demostrate. A strong-man short-circuits the legitimacy-creation process by focusing the creation of legitimacy among a group of armed men through his strength. Once he obtains enough power through this specific legitimacy, he kills those who oppose him until they obey. He is then free to influence culture until another strong-man overthrows him or until he creates a more sustainable legitimacy.
Power flows from legitimacy. Culture creates legitimacy. Power influences culture.
In a stable system culture will reinforce legitimacy which will reinforce power, which will in turn reinforce the culture. For example, the church supports supports divine right, which legitimizes the monarch, who in turn supports the church.
In an unstable system, power destroys culture (or its own legitimacy) and/or culture undermines power’s legitimacy. For example, enlightnment ideas and culture undercut divine right, the monarch mismanages power squandering legitimacy, and then revolution occurs.