The Idea of Social Structure: Papers in Honor of Robert K. Merton

By Lewis A. Coser | Go to book overview

Legitimate and Illegitimate Use of Power

JAMES S. COLEMAN

N EGOTIATIONS, promises, inducements, threats, and bargains constitute the major mechanisms through which social choices are resolved and through which actors with differing interests manage to make mutual gains when it first appears that one of them must necessarily lose.

Yet in systems of collective choice, such as committees and legislative bodies, the use of these devices is often regarded with suspicion or disfavor, sometimes extending as far as legal constraints. Similarly, in other actions, which involve no public choice, certain negotiations and deals are similarly illegal: a policeman's acceptance of bribery for not enforcing the law, collusion leading to price-fixing by business firms, under-the-counter payments by contractors.

Why are these actions either illegal or illegitimate? And why, on the other hand, are certain of these actions, or actions very like them, seen by some social scientists and by some politicians as the principal means for resolving issues of social choice? It would be easy, but only a partial truth, to say that the citizen's view of legislative deals is distorted by the fact that they are often made secretly and by the suspicion that the parties to them are profiting unduly. It would also be easy to say that both sides are correct: that some such deals and negotiations are beneficial to the system, while others

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