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Kinds of Power

A Guide to Its Intelligent Uses

by James Hillman
Book review Copyright © 1995 by Bert H. Hoff

James Hillman, Kinds of Power: A Guide to Its Intelligent Uses. (New York, NY: Currency/Doubleday, 1995). Order on-line


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Kinds of Power
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The Force of Character: and the Lasting Life
by James Hillman
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In this book, James Hillman invites us into deep thinking—and deep feeling—about power. Power is something we seek or, more frequently, deny. Its shadow then comes back to haunt us. Many of us doing Men’s Work like to think we are finding ways to transcend the fixation for power (competition, domination, control, reward) and for the material goods that show that we have manifested power—that we are a "success." That type of thinking is inherent in the mythos of masculinity that we were taught as boys, and which we now seek to reject as we seek new ways of defining what it is to be a man, to work with our brothers as colleagues in spirit rather than as competitors. We resist authority. "I have too much of that at work: nobody in my small group is going to tell me what to do or how to do it." But the work is incomplete. In the sacred chambers of our inner work—in our small groups, in our monthly gatherings, in the workings of Seattle M.E.N.—the shadow side of power emerges and we find ourselves in conflict over issues of control.

Hillman would remind us that our view of power is narrow and limited. We equate power only with strength. We deny we want "power" for ourselves, and resist efforts at leadership as efforts to assert power over us. A minute’s reflection will show us that this view is limited. For example, Robert Greenleaf demonstrates a more benign and generative expression of power in his concept of "servant leadership." Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette point out that the duty of the sacred King (as opposed to the tyrant) is to use his power to protect his subjects and encourage each to manifest his or her maximum potential for the greater good of all. Hillman invites us to contemplate twenty different forms or expressions of power (e.g., control, office-holding, prestige, exhibitionism, ambition, reputation, influence, resistance, leadership, persuasion, charisma, decisiveness, fearsomeness and more subtle styles of power) in order to reconsider our own reactions to, and resistance to, power.

He has three purposes in this book. The first is to move us beyond simplistic notions of power, such as "money is power," "knowledge is power," or as Chairman Mao said, "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." Second, he hopes to differentiate the bundle of ideas that constitute the baggage behind the word "power." Third, he hopes to extend the concept of power beyond the political and material world into the regions of feeling, intellect and spirit that reach beyond the exercise of power by the human will. As poet W. H. Auden observes, "We are lived by powers we pretend to understand." Mr. Hillman hopes to make the book "empowering." He succeeds on all three counts.

In the process, he challenges us to reconsider simplistic notions of growth (expansion can be cancerous, and personal growth is cyclical, not linear), efficiency (the concentration camps were super-efficient at exterminating and disposing of humans), and maintenance and services (vital functions wrongly conceived of as demeaning). I would love to give more examples of the depth of his refreshing insights, but the task is difficult. Every third or fourth page of my copy of the book is flagged. His chapter on Myths of Power—Power of Myths is particularly enlightening. I urge you to get the book and find out for yourself. It will change your thinking.

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