Gellner om våldsmakt, koordinering och legitimitet

The effectiveness of coercion depends on the cohesion of the agents of coercion. Any single one of them is generally weak: to be really effective, it is necessary that there be a number of them, often quite a large number, and that they stick together and maintain discipline. But what exactly makes men stick together, especially in perilous situations, in which betrayal and abandonment of a group — if that group is about to lose — may be by far the best strategy? Among the considerations liable to induce an individual to remain loyal, one of the most important is the conviction that others are also remaining loyal to the group, so that it will continue to be a numerous, disciplined and effective force. If the others are about to desert, it is very wise to do the same; if no one else will do so, it is most unwise to constitute the one exception, who will then be conspicuously punished, by way of example to all the others.

But how does one know, in situations which often involve geographical dispersal and lack of quick and reliable communication, whether this or that group or leader will continue to attract loyalty? One good criterion is whether that group or leader or cause is, by the recognized standards of the culture, ‘legitimate’. This consideration does not sway the individual waverer because he is necessarily a fanatical adherent of the locally held doctrines concerning what is and is not legitimate. It sways him because he thinks that others are also swayed by it, perhaps in the same opportunist spirit as he is, and so, in the interest of his own safety, he wants to stay on the ‘legitimate’ side because he expects it to win.

For this kind of reason, those who control the symbols of legitimacy thereby also in some considerable measure control the crystallization of social cohesion and loyalty, and thus exercise great power, even if they are not themselves direct possessors of weapons or practitioners of coercion.

Referens: Gellner, Ernest. 1995. Anthropology and Politics. Wiley-Blackwell, s. 165–66.

Randall Calvert om ledarskap och makt

Suppose we identify the ”power” of an individual as that individual’s ability to induce others to take actions that they would not have taken, had the first individual not acted. The leader’s power, then, is founded upon his ability to solve derived coordination problems. Here the leader causes followers to act in concert, whereas they would not otherwise have been able to do so. When the coordination problem is impure, one might say that followers are coerced: due to the leader’s actions, at least some are forced to give up on seeking their favorite outcomes because the leader causes other players to expect, and thus implement, other outcomes instead. Nevertheless, in ex ante expectation or in the long run, all followers can be made better off than if they contended constantly for their most preferred results. This kind of ”power” seems mild, but as we have seen, it lends the leader stability against challenges by individuals and by coalitions, and makes real leader discretion possible. Thus in primary social dilemmas the leader is able to apply sanctions to force action, to dictate allocations, and to settle disputes. These are the more conventional trappings of ”power”.

It is misleading to say that leadership is based on power. In an important sense, rather, power is based on leadership. Because the leader produces group benefits that are degraded when leaders are overthrown or weakened, and because the realization of those benefits requires responsiveness on the part of followers, the leader does indeed have power. But as this model shows, power need not precede leadership at all. Leadership is based on the group’s need for solution of social dilemmas; the focalization of the leader confers power.


Thus the coordination model focuses its analysis of leadership on a particular class of political, social, and organizational ”leadership” situations: those in which a group faces a series of social dilemmas whose solution is eased by the mediation, sanctioning, and especially the focal suggestions of an identified person. Within that class of situations, the approach unifies all sorts of leadership activity, from informal task leadership in a small group to moral statesmanship in a large population. Further, the model avoids the confusing use of ”power” as a foundation, rather than as a result, of leadership. Ultimately the power of a leader depends on the forbearance of those who have the ability, and even some motivation, to overthrow or defeat him. The coordination model establishes that such restraint is problematic, and thus locates the power of a leader in the goals of followers.

Calvert, Randall L. 1992. “Leadership and Its Basis in Problems of Social Coordination.” International Political Science Review 3 (1), s. 19-20.

Brian Barrys kritik av Hardins koordineringsteori

The fundamental objection to Hardin’s whole approach is that to make a state the solution of a coordination problem is far too good an explanation of social order. Coordination conventions have built-in self-enforcing mechanisms that give everybody a strong incentive to comply without any need for any additional enforcement. By contrast, a state has to rely heavily on its ability to call down heavy sanctions on those who break its laws or fail to pay its taxes. Even then, states achieve nothing remotely like the high levels of compliance effortlessly created by coordination conventions.


It is quite common in Africa and Latin America for a fairly small group of military personnel to overthrow a constitutional regime or for a constitutional president to turn into a dictator by an autogolpe. This fact does not in itself point us more towards states being solutions to one kind of problem rather than the other. But if we reflect on its significance, we shall surely see how implausible it makes the idea that states are solutions to coordination problems. Nobody sheds blood over the time zone, the rule of the road, or the system of weights and measures, even if they arouse some degree of disagreement. Political power is only at the extreme margins concerned with coordination problems such as these. Control of the government enables those who hold it to enrich themselves corruptly (or in accordance with corrupt laws they have created), to channel costs and benefits to some regions and ethnic groups and away from others, and so on. Especially where other means of enrichment are scant, this power is worth fighting for. I apologize for the obviousness of these reminders, but they seem to be needed.


Barry, Brian. 2010. “David Hume as a Social Theorist.” Utilitas 22 (04), s. 387–89.

David Lewis om vad som kännetecknar en social konvention

Filosofen David Lewis ger ett exempel på vad han menar med en konvention och hur de kan ha sitt ursprung i en överenskommelse:

If four men who camp together find that often they waste effort by covering the same ground in search of firewood, they may get fed up and agree once and for all: let Morgan look to the north, Jones to the east, Owen to the south, Griffith to the west. From that day on, each goes his proper way without further discussion. A regularity has begun by explicit agreement. At first, perhaps, it persists because each man feels bound by his promise and takes no account of the advantages of keeping it or breaking it. But years pass. They forget that they agreed. Morgan is replaced by Thomas, who never heard of the agreement and never promised anything. Yet whenever they need firewood each still goes off in his proper direction, because he knows that is how to have the ground to himself. As the force of their original promises fades away, the regularity in their behavior becomes a convention.

Lewis, David. (2002) Convention. A Philosophical Study, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, s 45.


När man ser en naturdokumentär tänker man ofta ”oj, häftigt att de lyckats fånga det där på film!”. En japansk räv som jonglerar med ekollon. Coolt!

Med samhällsfenomen är det faktiskt ibland på samma sätt. Häromdagen, i en mejlkonversation med en amerikansk forskare, fick jag vibbar av naturdokumentär då jag fann det relevant att tipsa forskaren om att ”there exists actual footage of a diagonal leap in a large-scale pure coordination game”. Jag syftade då på en sekvens fyra minuter in i det här filmklippet som är från Stockholm morgonen den tredje september 1967.

Sveriges omläggning till högertrafik är faktiskt ett exempel som ibland används i internationell litteratur om koordineringsspel. Skälet är att ändringar i ett så storskaligt ”spel” är väldigt ovanliga. Lösningar på koordineringspel är normalt stabila, eftersom incitamenten för alla enskilda individer att hålla sig till konventionen som alla andra följer. Därför krävs det politisk makt för att åstadkomma ett skifte, men även sådana insatser är sällsynta eftersom kostnaderna är väldigt höga. Hursomhelst, jag gissar att exemplet har använts av många utan att de känner till hur skiftet rent konkret gick till.