Quotes About Power


Power and privilege are similar and related social justice concepts (especially as they intersect race)…and I think both are difficult to define and understand. We’ll examine power further in the future. But for this week I’m just going to tease you with a few short (but hopefully helpful) definitions of power, and a handful of quotes on the topic.

Personally, I like to define power, at its most basic level, as the ability to get things done. Here’s how others describe it:

“Power is the legitimate control of, or access to, those institutions sanctioned by the state.” ~Barbara Major, The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond

“Power is the ability to define reality and to convince other people that it is their definition.” ~Dr. Wade Nobles

And here are the quotables:

“The measure of a man is what he does with power.” ~Plato

“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” ~Paulo Freire

“For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.” ~Noam Chomsky

“The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims , have been born of great struggles…if there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppose.” ~Frederick Douglass

“The function of the law is not to provide justice or to preserve freedom. The function of the law is to keep those who hold power, in power.” ~Gerry Spence

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”  ~James A. Baldwin

“All too often arrogance accompanies strength, and we must never assume that justice is on the side of the strong. The use of power must always be accompanied by moral choice.” ~Theodore Bikel

“It is feasible for someone who comes from a privileged background to understand the privilege they have had and to use the formal political arena in a way that would disperse power and engage with people in their own lives.” ~David Blunkett

“Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just.” ~Blaise Pascal

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