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Power is a term which can refer to vital or incidental social or political power, the ability to influence or control people, circumstances or events, including the economic power to specifically influence systems of finances, currency, production and services, or the military power derived from these. In the physical sciences power represents the rate at which work is performed or energy is transferred, used, or transformed.


Let us, cautious in diction
And mighty in contradiction,
Love powerfully. ~ Martin Buber
  • Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.
  • Power always sincerely, conscientiously, de très bon foi, believes itself right. Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views, beyond the comprehension of the weak.
  • What is called music today is all too often only a disguise for the monologue of power. However, and this is the supreme irony of it all, never before have musicians tried so hard to communicate with their audience, and never before has that communication been so deceiving. Music now seems hardly more than a somewhat clumsy excuse for the self-glorification of musicians and the growth of a new industrial sector.
  • He hath no power that hath not power to use.
  • Greatness by nature includes a power, but not a will to power. … The great man, whether we comprehend him in the most intense activity of his work or in the restful equipoise of his forces, is powerful, involuntarily and composedly powerful, but he is not avid for power. What he is avid for is the realization of what he has in mind, the incarnation of the spirit.
  • When we see a great man desiring power instead of his real goal we soon recognize that he is sick, or more precisely that his attitude to his work is sick. He overreaches himself, the work denies itself to him, the incarnation of the spirit no longer takes place, and to avoid the threat of senselessness he snatches after empty power. This sickness casts the genius on to the same level as those hysterical figures who, being by nature without power, slave for power, in order that they may enjoy the illusion that they are inwardly powerful, and who in this striving for power cannot let a pause intervene, since a pause would bring with it the possibility of self-reflection and self-reflection would bring collapse.
  • So long as a man’s power, that is, his capacity to realize what he has in mind, is bound to the goal, to the work, to the calling, it is, considered in itself, neither good nor evil, it is only a suitable or unsuitable instrument. But as soon as this bond with the goal is broken off or loosened, and the man ceases to think of power as the capacity to do something, but thinks of it as a possession, that is, thinks of power in itself, then his power, being cut off and self-satisfied, is evil; it is power withdrawn from responsibility, power which betrays the spirit, power in itself.
  • The balance of power.
    • Edmund Burke, speech, (1741). Sir Robert Walpole—Speech. (1741). John Wesley, Journal (Sept. 20, 1790), ascribes it to "the King of Sweden." A German Diet, or the Ballance of Europe. Title of a Folio of 1653.
  • Men are never very wise and select in the exercise of a new power.
  • If you want to discover just what there is in a man — give him power.
    • Francis Trevelyan Miller (1910), Portrait Life of Lincoln: Life of Abraham Lincoln, the Greatest American.
  • A right, in the abstract, is a fact; it is not a thing to be given, established, or conferred; it is. Of the exercise of a right power may deprive me; of the right itself, never.
  • Power expands through the distribution of secrecy.
    • David John Moore Cornwell (John le Carré) (b. 1931), British author and one time spy, interviewed by Pip Ayers in Live magazine, The Mail on (July 10, 2011).
  • It is not possible to found a lasting power upon injustice, perjury, and treachery.
    • Demosthenes, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 455.
  • What elements of power we wield! Truth unmixed with error, flashing as God's own lightning in its brightness, resistless if properly wielded, as that living flame! O what agencies! The Holy Ghost standing and pleading with us to so work that He may help us, the very earth coming to the help of the Lord Jesus Christ. And yet I am painfully impressed that we are not wielding the elements of Christian achievement nearly up to their maximum.
    • T. M. Eddy, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 455.
  • We have, in truth, resorted to power [in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam] because our politics has failed. Since no politician can afford to admit this, we must pretend that we are resorting to power in order to make our politics succeed.
  • "Power doesn't have to show off. Power is confident, self-assuring, self-starting and self-stopping, self-warming and self-justifying. When you have it, you know it."
  • Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than any material force.
    • Ralph Waldo Emerson, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 456.
  • Then, everlasting Love, restrain thy will;
    'Tis god-like to have power, but not to kill.
    • John Fletcher, The Chances (c. 1613–25; 1647), Act II, scene 2. Song.
  • One needs to be nominalistic, no doubt: power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society.
  • Domination is not that solid and global kind of domination that one person exercises over others, or one group over another, but the manifold forms of domination that can be exercised within society.
  • One should try to locate power at the extreme of its exercise, where it is always less legal in character.
  • The analysis [of power] should not attempt to consider power from its internal point of view and...should refrain from posing the labyrinthine and unanswerable question: 'Who then has power and what has he in mind? What is the aim of someone who possesses power?' Instead, it is a case of studying power at the point where its intention, if it has one, is completely invested in its real and effective practices.
  • Let us ask...how things work at the level of on-going subjugation, at the level of those continuous and uninterrupted processes which subject our bodies, govern our gestures, dictate our behaviors, etc....we should try to discover how it is that subjects are gradually, progressively, really and materially constituted through a multiplicity of organisms, forces, energies, materials, desires, thoughts, etc. We should try to grasp subjection in its material instance as a constitution of subjects.
  • Power is everywhere...because it comes from everywhere.
    • Michel Foucault, quoted in Who's Who in Contemporary Gay & Lesbian History : From World War II to the Present Day (2001) edited by Robert Aldrich and Gary Wotherspoon.
  • More power than any good man should want, and more power than any other kind of man ought to have.
    • Senator Daniel O. Hastings, remark in the Senate on the power to be given President Franklin D. Roosevelt by the proposed work-relief program (March 23, 1935). Hastings said the bill as passed by the House was remarkable in two ways. "First, the huge amount involved, it being probably the largest appropriation ever made by any legislative body. Second, the amount was not only shocking to the average American citizen, but what was more alarming was the fact that its expenditure was left entirely in the discretion of the Executive". Congressional Record, vol. 79, p. 4353. Hastings's remark echoes words made famous in an exchange in the Senate between Senators Lucius Q. C. Lamar of Mississippi and Roscoe Conkling of New York. Conkling, whose arrogance made him unpopular, was humiliated by Lamar, who was considered one of the coolest, most courteous members of the Senate. Lamar's reputation for self-control gave his words an added sting. Conkling said that if Lamar charged him with falsehood outside the Senate, he would denounce him as a blackguard, a coward, and a liar. Lamar responded: "Mr. President, I have only to say that the Senator from New York understood me correctly. I did mean to say just precisely the words, and all that they imported. I beg pardon of the Senate for the unparliamentary language. It was very harsh; it was very severe; it was such as no good man would deserve, and no brave man would wear". Though Conkling had served notice that he would attend to the insult at some other time, he never did, and his prestige was lost. He resigned from the Senate two years later. Congressional Record (June 18, 1879), vol. 9, p. 2144. See also Wirt Armistead Cate, Lucius Q. C. Lamar (1932, reprinted 1969), p. 348–58.
  • The impulse of power is to turn every variable into a constant, and give to commands the inexorableness and relentlessness of laws of nature. Hence absolute power corrupts even when exercised for humane purposes. The benevolent despot who sees himself as a shepherd of the people still demands from others the submissiveness of sheep. The taint inherent in absolute power is not its inhumanity but its anti-humanity.
    • Eric Hoffer, The Ordeal of Change (1963), Ch. 15 : The Unnaturalness Of Human Nature.
  • There are similarities between absolute power and absolute faith: a demand for absolute obedience, a readiness to attempt the impossible, a bias for simple solutions—to cut the knot rather than unravel it, the viewing of compromise as surrender. Both absolute power and absolute faith are instruments of dehumanization. Hence, absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power.
    • Eric Hoffer, "Thoughts of Eric Hoffer, Including: 'Absolute Faith Corrupts Absolutely,'" The New York Times Magazine (April 25, 1971), p. 24.
  • The best education will not immunize a person against corruption by power. The best education does not automatically make people compassionate. We know this more clearly than any preceding generation. Our time has seen the best-educated society, situated in the heart of the most civilized part of the world, give birth to the most murderously vengeful government in history.
    Forty years ago the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead thought it self-evident that you would get a good government if you took power out of the hands of the acquisitive and gave it to the learned and the cultivated. At present, a child in kindergarten knows better than that.
  • The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.
    • Jesus as reported by Matthew 20:25-27
  • Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.
    • Carl Jung, The Psychology of the Unconscious (1943).
  • Him I would call the powerful one who controls the storms of his mind.
    • Walter S. Landor, “Diogenes and Plato,” Imaginary Conversations of Greeks and Romans, vol. 4 (1829).
  • Power never takes a back step — only in the face of more power.
  • Every Communist must grasp the truth: "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."
  • There is no surer mark of a low and unregenerate nature than this tendency of power to loudness and wantonness instead of quietness and reverence. To souls baptized in Christian nobleness the largest sphere of command is but a wider empire of obedience, calling them, not to escape from holy rule, but to its full impersonation.
    • James Martineau, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 456.
  • Beware of the man who rises to power
    From one suspender.
    • Edgar Lee Masters, "John Hancock Otis", Spoon River Anthology (1915, reprinted 1916), p. 123. In this poem, the rich John Hancock Otis describes a man "born in a shanty and beginning life as a water carrier … then section hand … afterwards foreman … who rose to the superintendency of the railroad" as "a veritable slave driver, grinding the faces of labor, and a bitter enemy of democracy".
  • Without his rod revers'd,
    And backward mutters of dissevering power.
  • Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.
  • Power only has meaning if it's put into action, it defines you, power like that is what rules the world. Everyone seeks power, seeks to grow in strength, but this goal is out of reach of ordinary men. The poor seek riches, the ugly, beauty. We compare ourselves to others, sheltering our own inadequacies to find peace of mind. The mere existence of those who are better than us becomes intolerable, we fight in retaliation. If beauty is not enough, we'll use money. If money does not work, we resort to violence. This energy powers our world, it is essential! All I seek, is to move this natural process along. This destructive force begotten from conflict, this power that everyone must have, I will spread it across the world with but a touch. It is like a well that can never run dry. A precious mineral, flowing from an inexhaustable mine!...This power will be mine
  • Next to enjoying ourselves, the next greatest pleasure consists in preventing others from enjoying themselves, or, more generally, in the acquisition of power.
    • Bertrand Russell, Sceptical Essays (1928), Ch. 10: Recrudescence of Puritanism.
  • The fundamental concept in social science is Power, in the same sense in which Energy is the fundamental concept in physics.
  • The pursuit of knowledge is, I think, mainly actuated by love of power. And so are all advances in scientific technique.
  • Nonviolent action involves opposing the opponent's power, including his police & military capacity, not with the weapons chosen by him but by quite different means...Repression by the opponent is used against his own power position in a kind of political "ju-jitsu" and the very sources of his power thus reduced or removed, with the result that his political and military position is seriously weakened or destroyed.
  • If you were handed power on a plate you'd be left fighting over a plate.
  • All power corrupts, absolute power is even more fun.
  • Power corrupts, PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.
    • Ed Tufte, Wired, issue 11:09 (September 2003).
  • Power, like a desolating pestilence,
    Pollutes whate'er it touches; and obedience,
    Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
    Makes slaves of men, and of the human frame
    A mechanized automaton.
  • 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, How to Argue and Win Every Time (1995), Ch. 6 : The New King : Tyranny of the Corporate Core, p. 90.
  • Suspectum semper invisumque dominantibus qui proximus destinaretur.
    • Rulers always hate and suspect the next in succession.
    • Tacitus, Annales (AD 117), I. 21.
  • Imperium flagitio acquisitum nemo unquam bonis artibus exercuit.
    • Power acquired by guilt was never used for a good purpose.
    • Tacitus, Annales (AD 117), I. 30.
  • Imperium cupientibus nihil medium inter summa et præcipitia.
    • In the struggle between those seeking power there is no middle course.
    • Tacitus, Annales (AD 117), II. 74.
  • Potentiam cautis quam acribus consiliis tutius haberi.
    • Power is more safely retained by cautious than by severe councils.
    • Tacitus, Annales (AD 117), XI. 29.
  • Cupido dominandi cunctis affectibus flagrantior est.
    • Lust of power is the most flagrant of all the passions.
    • Tacitus, Annales (AD 117), XV. 53.
  • Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo.
    • If I can not influence the gods, I shall move all hell.
    • Virgil, Æneid (29-19 BC), VII. 312.
  • The possession of great power necessarily implies great responsibility
    • William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne Hansard, Thomas Curson. "Habeus Corpus Suspension Bill." The Parliamentary Debates From The Year 1803 To The Present Time. Vol. 36. London: T.C. Hansard, 1817. 1127. Print. Parliamentary Debates
    • NOT Voltaire: Voltaire. Jean, Adrien. Beuchot, Quentin and Miger, Pierre, Auguste. Œuvres de Voltaire, Volume 48. Lefèvre, 1832. - This is a misattribution, as nothing in this work reflects a similar quote.
    • The sentiment is also found in Luke 12:48: "from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked" (NIV).
  • Every institution which grapples with the problem of molding recalcitrant material into a fairer shape—and nothing is more recalcitrant than the passions and interests of men—runs the risk of being defeated by its material. And since the institution which proposes the ideal is itself served by fallible human beings, the danger is not only that the experiment may fail but that the artists themselves, wrestling with such insidious substances as power, responsibility, and material goods, may themselves be caught by these powerful instincts, may appropriate to themselves the power they sought to tame or the riches they had hoped to divert to a nobler cause.
  • An untoward event. (Threatening to disturb the balance of power.)
    • Duke of Wellington, on the destruction of the Turkish Navy at the battle of Navarino (Oct. 20, 1827).
  • My cool judgement is, that if all the other doctrines of devils which have been committed to writing since letters were in the world were collected together in one volume, it would fall short of this; and that, should a Prince form himself by this book, so calmly recommending hypocrisy, treachery, lying, robbery, oppression, adultery, whoredom, and murder of all kinds, Domitian or Nero would be an angel of light compared to that man.
    • John Wesley, comment after reading The Works of Nicholas Machiavel, journal entry (January 26, 1737); in Nehemiah Curnock, ed., The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M. (1909), vol. 1, p. 313.
  • Power consists in one's capacity to link his will with the purpose of others, to lead by reason and a gift of cooperation.
    • Woodrow Wilson, From a letter to Mary A. Hulbert (21 September 1913).

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations[edit]

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 622-24.
  • Give me a lever long enough
    And a prop strong enough,
    I can single handed move the world.
  • Odin, thou whirlwind, what a threat is this
    Thou threatenest what transcends thy might, even thine,
    For of all powers the mightiest far art thou,
    Lord over men on earth, and Gods in Heaven;
    Yet even from thee thyself hath been withheld
    One thing — to undo what thou thyself hast ruled.
  • Iron hand in a velvet glove.
    • Attributed to Charles V. Used also by Napoleon. See Carlyle, Latter Day Pamphlets, No, II.
  • To know the pains of power, we must go to those who have it; to know its pleasures, we must go to those who are seeking it: the pains of power are real, its pleasures imaginary.
  • Qui peut ce qui lui plaît, commande alors qu'il prie.
    • Whoever can do as he pleases, commands when he entreats.
    • Pierre Corneille, Sertorius, IV. 2.
  • So mightiest powers by deepest calms are fed,
    And sleep, how oft, in things that gentlest be!
  • For what can power give more than food and drink,
    To live at ease, and not be bound to think?
  • Du bist noch nicht der Mann den Teufel festzuhalten.
  • O what is it proud slime will not believe
    Of his own worth, to hear it equal praised
    Thus with the gods?
  • Nihil est quod credere de se
    Non possit, quum laudatur dis æqua potestas.
    • There is nothing which power cannot believe of itself, when it is praised as equal to the gods.
    • Juvenal, Satires, IV. 70.
  • Et qui nolunt occidere quemquam
    Posse volunt.
    • Those who do not wish to kill any one, wish they had the power.
    • Juvenal, Satires, X. 96.
  • Ut desint vires tamen est laudanda voluntas.
    • Though the power be wanting, yet the wish is praiseworthy.
    • Ovid, Epistolæ Ex Ponto, III. 4. 79.
  • A cane non magno sæpe tenetur aper.
    • The wild boar is often held by a small dog.
    • Ovid, Remedia Amoris, 422.
  • Nunquam est fidelis cum potente societas.
    • A partnership with men in power is never safe.
    • Phaedrus, Fables, I. 5. 1.
  • Unlimited power corrupts the possessor.
  • And deal damnation round the land.
  • The powers that be are ordained of God.
    • Romans, XIII. 1.
  • Kann ich Armeen aus der Erde stampfen?
    Wächst mir ein Kornfeld in der flachen Hand?
    • Can I summon armies from the earth?
      Or grow a cornfield on my open palm?
    • Friedrich Schiller, Die Jungfrau von Orleans, I. 3.
  • Ich fühle eine Armee in meiner Faust.
  • Quod non potest vult posse, qui nimium potest.
    • He who is too powerful, is still aiming at that degree of power which is unattainable.
    • Seneca the Younger, Hippolytus, 215.
  • Minimum decet libere cui multum licet.
  • No pent-up Utica contracts your powers,
    But the whole boundless continent is yours.
    • Jonathan Sewall, Epilogue to Addison's Cato. Written for the performance at the Bow Street Theatre, Portsmouth, N.H.
  • The awful shadow of some unseen Power
    Floats, tho' unseen, amongst us.
  • Male imperando summum imperium amittitur.
    • The highest power may be lost by misrule.
    • Syrus, Maxims.
  • I thought that my invincible power would hold the world captive, leaving me in a freedom undisturbed. Thus night and day I worked at the chain with huge fires and cruel hard strokes. When at last the work was done and the links were complete and unbreakable, I found that it held me in its grip.
  • He never sold the truth to serve the hour,
    Nor paltered with Eternal God for power.
  • Et errat longe, mea quidem sententia,
    Qui imperium credat esse gravius, aut stabilius,
    Vi quod fit, quam illud quod amicitia adjungitur.
    • And he makes a great mistake, in my opinion at least, who supposes that authority is firmer or better established when it is founded by force than that which is welded by affection.
    • Terence, Adelph, Act I. 1, line 40.
  • A power is passing from the earth.

Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989)[edit]

  • Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.
  • There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.
  • In the main it will be found that a power over a man's support [salary] is a power over his will.
  • From this we learn that a wise prince sees to it that never, in order to attack someone, does he become the ally of a prince more powerful than himself, except when necessity forces him, as I said above. If you win, you are the powerful king's prisoner, and wise princes avoid as much as they can being in other men's power.
    • Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, chapter 21, in Machiavelli: The Chief Works and Others, trans. Allan Gilbert, vol. 1, p. 83–84 (1965).
  • The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.
    • James Madison, speech in the Virginia constitutional convention, Richmond, Virginia (December 2, 1829), in Gaillard Hunt, ed., The Writings of James Madison vol. 9 (1910), p. 361. These words are inscribed in the Madison Memorial Hall, Library of Congress James Madison Memorial Building.
  • The power of Kings and Magistrates is nothing else, but what is only derivative, transferr'd and committed to them in trust from the People, to the Common good of them all, in whom the power yet remaines fundamentally, and cannot be tak'n from them, without a violation of thir natural birthright.
    • John Milton, "The Tenure of Kings", The Works of John Milton, vol. 5, p. 10 (1932).
  • For we put the power in the people.
    • William Penn. Robert Proud, The History of Pennsylvania in North America, vol. 1, p. 139 (1797).
  • They realize that in thirty-four months we have built up new instruments of public power. In the hands of a people's Government this power is wholesome and proper. But in the hands of political puppets of an economic autocracy such power would provide shackles for the liberties of the people.
    • Franklin D. Roosevelt, annual message to the Congress, January 3, 1936. The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1936, p. 16 (1938).
  • When I resist, therefore, when I as a Democrat resist the concentration of power, I am resisting the processes of death, because the concentration of power is what always precedes the destruction of human initiative, and, therefore of human energy.
    • Woodrow Wilson, governor of New Jersey, speech, New York City, September 4, 1912. The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, ed. Arthur S. Link, vol. 25, p. 100 (1978). This speech was delivered to the Woodrow Wilson Workingmen's League "dollar dinner", at the Yorkville Casino.

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