Wednesday, March 09, 2005

"A Theory of Power" Online

The entire text of the book "A Theory of Power" is now available online via the links below. Please feel free to use it as you wish. If you would like to purchase a hardcopy from, CLICK HERE.

Preface (August, 2004)
Chapter 1 - Introduction: A Theory of Power
Chapter 2 - The Structure of Evolution
Chapter 3 - The Interplay of Genetics and Culture
Chapter 4 - The Rise of Symbolic Thought
Chapter 5 - Agriculture: Burning the Bridge to our Past
Chapter 6 - Economics: The Anthropology of Freedom
Chapter 7 - Neutral Technology and the Demands of Power
Chapter 8 - Self-Aware: Ego and Power
Chapter 9 - Forward, to Rhizome
Bibliography (Hypertext version)

Please post feedback and comments by clicking on "Post a Comment" below:


Anonymous said...

Jeff, thanks so much for posting your book online. I feel it's a very important work and that making it available on the web will do a lot to get more people to read it!

irritant said...

I agree with the previous (anonymous) comments. Good on you!

Anonymous said...

Wow, thank you, Jeff! I really appreciate your generosity.

aep said...

Fantastic. I salute this move.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your perspective and your work, Jeff!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jeff - I look forward to reading your book online!

You might consider mentioning, via an review, the availability of the book here on your website. I purchased an ebook, only to find I couldn't read it in Linux nor print or export it from Windows, and consequently requested a return, before I found the publisher's website, which allowed me to browse the book (unlike at's listing for the book,) noticed your note in the Preface where you encouraged non-commercial reproduction, and then thought to search Google to see if I could find such a copy.

Of course, if you want to encourage shoppers to buy it rather than come to your website and read it for free, that's up to you.

Anyway, thanks for your effort and generosity.

Jeff Vail said...

Thanks for the suggestion--I'll play around with the Amazon reviews and see if I can make this work--I tried posting a review that mentioned the free version available at, but it was rejected as it linked to my own website. Maybe I can make up a fake name? We'll see...

Jeff Vail said...

Looks like it worked, just had to put "jeffvail dot net" instead of ""

David White said...

"The state emerges as a closely related development, often inseparable from the market."

There is probably no more common, or more tragic, mistake than the assumption that the state is a naturally arising phenomenon, that it "had developed, by gradual growth, from the family group…[that]…at the beginning, individuals were free, equal politically and economically, and that it was from such an original social order that there had developed, through gradual differentiation, the fully developed State with its class hierarchy" (Franz Oppenheimer, "The State"]. Nothing could be farther from the truth, however, for "if we look not to imaginary beginnings in the never-never land of ethnological reconstruction but to historically connected sequences of change in such specific areas as ancient Athens, Rome, or modern England and France, we discover that the rise and aggrandizement of political States took place in circumstances of powerful opposition to kinship and other traditional authorities” (Robert Nisbet, "The Quest for Community: A Study in the Ethics of Order and Freedom").

Furthermore, because the market arises naturally out of family and community, the state is also in powerful opposition to it, seeking everywhere and always to usurp the market outright (socialism, communism, fascism) or simply subordinate it (corporatist welfarism). In either case, the state is an agent of force and, as such, is antithetical to the market, which is cooperative in nature (since it only exists where a willing seller and a willing buyer meet).

Thus, to legitimize the state is to legitimize force or, more specifically, a territorial monopoly on the use thereof, assuring that force will be society's defining characteristic. This goes for the democratic state, which Benjamin Franklin rightly defined as "two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner," all the more so when, having whetted its appetite on empire-building, the state proceeds to feasts its eyes on "Universal Democracy" (

What it means by this, of course, is the universalization of the corporate state and the welfarism that keeps its victims dumbed-down, docile, and dependent. That is will all come crashing down is not to be doubted, the only question being when.

jomama said...

It's really quite simple as David White said.

Suggested reading, also as David said:
The State by Franz Oppenheimer.

The current power structure is just a "civilized" version of how it all started.

Paul said...

Thanks for posting the book. I am very impressed and will recommend it to all my friends. I will also buy a copy.

If the book had not been posted in its entirety, I would not have bought one.

Anonymous said...

Interesting premises, and I find it refreshing to see someone citing R.A. Wilson. Might I add some food for thought? In basic physics, Power is(“is” works in mathematics!)equal to Work times Time: P= WT. I suggest that we add another factor, I, for intelligence: P=WIT. Pretty tough to quantify the intelligence, but it might prove useful for finding power ratios in the myriad relationships you describe, for example: a hypothetical US bomber pilot vs. Iranian nuclear reactor. One has a capability of delivering a 60 kiloton tactical nuke 2000 km, the other has several feet of concrete or rock strategically placed for protection. Or for another example, a human T-cell’s DNA intelligence versus the protein coat of an HIV virus; the virus must work over time with a specific set of data in order to hijack said cell membrane and nucleus. Numerous solutions to the equation may exist, and numerous other factors may be derived from the terms, such as breaking power apart into force and distance or potential energy, or breaking apart intelligence into knowledge, wisdom, memes or data. All told, is there a parity in power? 1:1? Or is one side much more powerful, say 500:1, and does a huge power ratio imply a snafu where intelligence for one decreases due to negative feedback? Does the limit of the power ratio approach equality?

Anyway, I’ve been wrapping my noodle around the issue of power vis a vis the structure of the universe for years, and really appreciate you work for adding to my own understanding.

Benjamin Nelson said...

Interesting so far. One thing is necessarily to point out though (in chapter 3).

"Howard Bloom described this power-relationship in his concept of the Inner Judge, the ability of the human brain to recognize certain sets of cultural stimuli as a signal to remove itself from the population.... The extreme rate of suicide among the aboriginal populations of Australia, Oceania and North America shows one example of this Inner Judge at work, where a widespread sense of hopelessness or lack of purpose drives suicide rates to as much as 500 times greater than that of non-aboriginals."

You might want to emphasize that the "inner judge" hypothesis only demands that the suicidals have a subjective sense of their negative impact on group survivability, but not demand that this sense of hinderance actually be justified. Otherwise, it leaves open the possibility of being read as a cruel comment at the expense of the suicidal.

Benjamin Nelson said...

Another thing (Ch 4). You indicate that property arises after the symbolic period has begun. However, ordinary (non-symbolic) animals engage in territorial behavior which, in most relevant respects, is identical to property ownership. It seems to be more "gene-based" than "meme-based".

Anonymous said...

"In either case, the state is an agent of force and, as such, is antithetical to the market, which is cooperative in nature (since it only exists where a willing seller and a willing buyer meet)."

The "willingness" to buy or sell may be a result of economic destitution. I think this fact lays behind the classical anarchist rejection of capitalism. The market would truly be cooperative if individuals came to it as equals. But they do not. Moreover, I think markets tend to creates these inequalities.

Anonymous said...

I am very pleased to see the above comment. I think it deserves a response. I have a comment of my own.

"Furthermore, because the market arises naturally out of family and community..."

I would like some argument for that statement, I don't think it passes for obvious. I think we must all agree that private property requires some enforcement mechanism. I suppose we can imagine non-state alternatives for this enforcement. However, I think that this enforcement is hardly volunatry or cooperative. In other words it sounds very state-like. More importantly, the things that anarchists don't like about the state I think are also present in whatever enforcement mechanism can be imagined.

Diane said...

Hi Jeff,

I've placed a link to your book on my blog here:

Thanks for making it available to the general public. As far as Even It Up! is concerned, not enough scrutiny and interrogation of ideology occurs in our day to day lives, particularly in terms of our dealings with hierarchy and bureacracy. Captialism does not encourage free thinking and unfortunately, acquiescence is the key to "getting on or ahead" in our culture.

Another good read is David Edward's "Free to Be Human" and McNamara and McNamee's "The Meritocracy Myth". Alain de Botton's "Status Anxiety" is also useful.

Diane :))