WeberIn literary works by Gaetano Mosca and Max Weber, the idea of “power” can be extracted and further understood by examining related notions of power such as the “ruling class” and “legitimate domination” presented in them respectively. In particular, through the analysis of power, the distinction between individual and collective contexts of power becomes evident. That is, a difference in the idea of power is apparent when in the hands of one versus many. In both Mosca and Weber, the general meaning of power itself is similar, however, in their discussions the applications of individual and collective power diverge. In “The Ruling Class,” Mosca begins by stating that in all civilized societies, people are divided into two classes, “a class that rules and a class that is ruled” (Mosca 50). Given his characterization of each class, collective power can be described by the ruling class and individual power by the ruled. On the other hand, while discussing different forms of political domination, in Weber’s “Charisma and its Transformations,” collective power is associated with the public, while individual power with the leader. In “Bureaucracy” however, this distinction between collective and individual power is less defined.

To begin with, power presented in Mosca and Weber can be generally defined as an ability possessed by a person or group of people to influence others. In addition, putting aside definitions of power defined by previous authors such as Hobbes and Blau, power can be described as the ability to possess and preserve a value or tradition represented at the time. Expanding on this idea, individual and collective power, that is, power in the hands of one or many, are reflected in different social groups illustrated in Mosca and Weber’s writings.

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In Mosca’s “The Ruling Class,” the ruling class can be associated with collective power. As a group, they possess qualities that allow them to become the ruling class. They are composed of a small group of people, are organized, and possess similar interests, needs, and goals, all of which are facilitated by better communication between members due to its small size. Characterized by common wants and a basic uniformity, this promotes efficiency within the group that allows them to become more influential in society and to thus create and maintain a societal norm.
Mosca describes the ruling class as “an organized minority…with a common understanding” (Mosca 53) and attributes that allow them to dominate and be influential. In separate historical instances, Mosca explains the basic conditions under which a group of people became a class ruling over another. In one example, the transition from an agricultural to warlike society enabled warriors, a position once avoided by men because of the risk of death, to become a dominant class. Changes in societal values and lifestyles (from farmers to crusading and defending warriors) best explain this “superposition of races” (Mosca 54); that is, the warriors possessed and represented what evolved to become valued at the time over agriculture, the maintenance of security.
Similarly in some other societies, priests who “possess legal and scientific knowledge…constitute the class of highest intellectual culture” (Mosca 59). Thus, possession of what was greatly valued became a prerequisite, and in this case, the power of knowledge.
On the other hand, individual power is associated with the ruled class, an “unorganized majority” (Mosca 53) where each person carried their own individual power. Due to their sheer size, not only would their opinions and interests greatly differ, but it would also make it harder for them to “organize for reaction against the minority” (Mosca 53). Thus, as Mosca states, “individual power is curbed by the collective power” (Mosca 57) where the ruled are subjected to the ruling class.
However, transition between collective and individual power is dynamic and fluid Conflicts through the introduction of “foreign peoples…discoveries, wars…new poverty and new wealth…new ideas…new social elements” (Mosca 67) can arise to counter and reestablish what was valued before. For example, in the case of priestly aristocracy, if one were to possess the mechanical process of gaining knowledge (Mosca cites a scribe) or a new religion or ideas were to sweep the society, then such a “shift in the balance of political forces” (Mosca 65) would break the norm and allow the ruled to force their way up.
Thus collective power can be represented by the ruling class and individual by the ruled given the understanding of power and the nature of Mosca’s social structure. Contrary to Mosca, in Weber’s “Charisma and Its Transformation,” collective power lies in the majority of the people for in this case, their collective interest and goal is embodied in their leader. Their goal creates a standard and their support of such an ideal form the belief of the value of a larger cause, and thus the very foundation of their power.
Unlike any other form of domination, charismatic domination relies on personality and “specific gifts of body and mind” (Weber 1112). It does not depend on material gifts or compensation, but rather “voluntary contributions of its own following” (Weber 1113). According to Weber, the power of the charismatic leader rests on his followers’ recognition of his mission. That is, to the people, the charismatic leader is the embodiment of their goals, and his being a charismatic leader to begin with, rests solely on their belief and legitimization. Thus the leader depends on “personal devotion…and enjoys loyalty and authority by virtue of a mission believed to be embodied in him” (Weber 1117).
Furthermore, charismatic domination works by internalizing its ideas and “manifests its revolutionary power from within” (Weber 1117). By internalizing these ideas, people are basically responsible for validating and legitimizing the charismatic leader’s existence and power. Therefore, the followers as a group form a collective power by setting and maintaining the custom.
The charismatic leader’s power as a result, is influenced by his followers’ and their recognition of his charisma. He serves to extend their beliefs and further maintains “the sacredness of tradition…and solely for the sake of glorifying genuine prophetic and heroic ethos” (Weber 1115). The charismatic leader is thus represented by individual power in that he is subject to his followers’ beliefs. Charismatic domination stems from “collective excitement produced by extraordinary events and from surrender to heroism of any kind” (Weber 1121). Thus, if events were to change, then the people’s interests and collective power would change directions and cause the downfall of the leader. For “when the tide that lifted a charismatically led group out of everyday life flows back into the channels…at least the ‘pure’ form of charismatic domination will wane” (Weber 1121). Consequently, the leader’s individual power is futile without the collective power.
Contrary to charismatic leadership, bureaucracy is characterized by rules, office-like hierarchy, and democratic elections. It is much more stable due to the presence of established laws instead of a figurehead whose power is dependent on the people. Bureaucracy also relies on “technical means…as does every economic reorganization, ‘from without’” (Weber 1116) or implementing changes thru external mediums which classifies it as a rational organization. Due to its fixed and rigid nature and “system of rational rules, bureaucracy is oriented toward the satisfaction of calculable needs with ordinary everyday means” (Weber 1111).
However, what makes collective and individual power so indistinguishable in bureaucracy is the fact that the levels of power between what would normally consist of a ‘ruled’ and ‘ruler’ classes are not as discrete in bureaucracy. Weber writes:
The political ‘master’ always finds himself, vis–vis the trained official, in the
position of a dilettante facing the expert. This holds whether the ‘master,’ whom
the bureaucracy serves, is the ‘people’ equipped with the weapons of legislative
initiative, referendum, and the right to remove officials; or a parliament elected on a
more aristocratic or more democratic basis and equipped with the right of the de facto
power to vote a lack of confidence… (991)
Thus, there is a system of balance and checks and mutual dependency involved which prevent the distinction between individual and collective power. In the passage, the bureaucracy serves a master who is identified with the people or a parliament with decisive powers, yet at the same time, the bureaucracy is the maintainer of rules and regulations in society and official hierarchy. Equality between the two is observed, and no reference to collective or individual can be made since both the bureaucracy and the people (or parliament) pose as a collective and individual power.
The discussion of collective and individual power can be further applied to scenes in the propaganda film, “The Triumph of the Will.” The movie glorifies Hitler for being a charismatic leader, the embodiment of a political movement. Hitler is portrayed as being cheered on and adored by the masses, thus emphasizing the massive public support he is receiving, which according to Weber is the very foundation of his power. In fact, in the final scene of the movie, a speaker declares (in German) in front of the entire audience that the party is Hitler and Hitler is Germany. Thus his individual power is the ultimate embodiment of the collective power. This could also explain why people didn’t seem to mind the fact that Hitler had recently killed the leader of the SA army since his actions could have been seen as part of the ‘mission’ and therefore condoned. To this concerning laws, Weber also writes that “genuine charismatic domination knows no abstract laws and regulations and no formal adjudication” (1115).

On the other hand, all this can be likewise viewed according to Mosca. For example, Hitler and his generals can be considered as the ruling minority, and their followers, the German public and the soldiers, the ruled majority. With war plans and tactics laid out, the ruling minority has their goals organized. Along with charismatic domination, the rulers have swept away the majority with Nazi ideologies and goals that they devoutly serve the ruling minority.
Independent of physical size and relative strength between collective and individual power, it seems evident in Mosca and Weber (in charismatic domination) that collective power tends to be associated with the dominant force given the general definition of power as an ability to influence, possess, and preserve a value. This could perhaps be due to some human group tendency or phenomenon in having to give up a little for the ‘greater good.’ In bureaucracy however, guided by democracy, market economy, and ‘dehumanization,’ a pervasive equality prevented the distinction of collective and individual power. Nevertheless, all this depends on individual perception and implication, as the applications to “The Triumph of the Will” suggest, beginning from the basic concept of power.