Notes on the Observation and Measurement of Political Power

If political power is taken as one of the central phenomena to be explained by political science, then the propositions of political science will necessarily contain sentences and phrases like "the power of A is greater than the power of B," "an increase (or decrease) in the power of A," "the distribution of political power," and the like. And if the empirical truth or falsity of such propositions is to be tested, there must be agreement as to the operational definition of the term "power" and the operational means that are to be used to determine the degree of its presence or absence in any situation. All of this is elementary enough-but how far has the task been carried out; to what extent have the operational tools of observation and measurement been provided us? That a great deal remains to be done can be made clear, I think, by an outrageous example. Suppose that, in the presence of a boorishly critical skeptic, we were to assert: "Peron holds a monopoly of power in Argentina." Suppose that our skeptic were to reply: "Prove it." We could, of course, adopt the tactics of Dr. Johnson who, when asked to prove the existence of the table at which he was sitting, suggested that his disputant kick it. While this reply has never been adjudged entirely adequate by metaphysicians, kicking a table would certainly settle the question of its existence to the satisfaction of most empirical scientists. But how, precisely, does one "kick" a dictatorship to find out if it exists? If I kicked Peron, I would go to jail; but I would also if I kicked the King of England, who is not usually regarded as a dictator. Now I do not doubt that Peron is dictator of Argentina; nor (a slightly more difficult point to establish) that the King is not dictator of England; nor (an even more subtle point) that Stalin was dictator of Russia at a time when he held no official governmental position whatsoever. Nor will I ask the reader to doubt these propositions. I will ask the reader, however, to join me in an inquiry