Power and its Paradoxes

The Convoco! Edition is an annual book series that collects contributions from our thinkers on Convoco’s annual topics. The edition is published in both German and English.

Power and its Paradoxes

Series: Convoco! Edition

Contributors: Clemens Fuest, Thomas Hoeren, Wolfgang Ischinger, Stefan Korioth, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Simon Denny, Christoph G. Paulus, Albrecht Ritschl, Jörg Rocholl, Roger Scruton, Brendan Simms

Pages: 236

ISBN 978-0-9931953-2-7

Paperback: £19.26

Available here

Price EPUB: £3.99

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Who is really in charge in a globalized world? The complexity of public, economic and societal developments necessitates decisions that are largely prepared by experts. After all, one cannot make decisions without shedding light on all options for action. Thus, decision makers, more than ever, have to rely on third parties. However, through consultation the „powerful“ decision maker becomes dependent on other persons’ points of view. A corridor to power of implicit influences and authorities is created. The outwardly powerless advisor is actually powerful. Power and powerlessness only seem to be contradictions. They are mutually dependent.

The Convoco edition discusses the interaction of power and powerlessness from different angles and asks how politics and scientific consultation interrelate. Who has power over the Euro? How powerful is the ECB? How do we deal with geopolitical disintegration of power? What role does the power of data play? What needs to change about our understanding of power in order for it to be in keeping with the times and not become powerless?


It is an interesting phenomenon that power does not appear alone, but is linked to powerlessness. This seems paradoxical, but only at first sight. In reality power and powerlessness are only apparent opposites. They belong together like two sides of the same coin; they are mutually dependent.

Corinne M. Flick

At least as much as big personalities in politics and policy advice, we need excellent science, intelligible communication skills from policy advisors, and intellectual argument. Intellectual argument means that we should not see controversy and dissent in the debate as negative but as fruitful. Theory is not gray; policy advice has the power it needs. If contributions produced by policy advice lead to public controversy, then policy advice is working. In Germany in particular we do not need more conformism but more fruitful dissent. Ultimately the best guardian of the common good is neither politics nor policy advice, but a combative, critical, and lively public.

Clemens Fuest

Science and politics have not drifted apart since 1945—quite the contrary. The awareness of interdependence has become stronger rather than weaker. One constant in this development is that today, whether it likes it or not, science is influenced more strongly by its social and political surroundings than science can conversely make its mark on them. In any event, what remains science’s obligation is the preservation of its independence, starting with the formulation of its questions, and ending in its attempts at answering them.

Stefan Korioth

The historical record shows that successful unions have resulted not from gradual processes of convergence in relatively benign circumstances, but through sharp ruptures in periods of extreme crisis. They come about not through evolution but with a “big bang.” They are events rather than processes. The European political unity, which the continent so desperately needs, therefore requires a single collective act of will, by its governments and elites and ultimately by its citizens.

Brendan Simms 

In the future, time and again conflicts will be dealt with using military power. The theory, however, that anything can be solved with overwhelming military dominance has proven to be a fallacy. People have understood—a realization that can be traced back to Clausewitz—that as a general rule only military problems can be solved by military force. But if a political problem must be solved, what is needed most of all is a political concept whose implementation might possibly require military involvement.

Wolfgang Ischinger

Without a solution to the problem of sovereign debt the future of the Euro is the perpetuation of the state of emergency: a Euro that is longer-lasting than we thought, more malleable than we wanted, and in which an unregulated system of fiscal transfers is binding the weak countries to the strong, whether they want it or not. As long as the debt issue in Europe remains unresolved, one thing will remain the same: the position of the ECB as the unchallenged manager of the crisis, the master of the perpetual state of emergency, and the true if extra-constitutional sovereign of the Eurozone.

Albrecht Ritschl

The dividing line between legitimate lobbying and reprehensible corruption is very fine, and thus it is particularly important to describe the criteria that can ensure that companies’ political connections are employed in a transparent and accountable way.

Jörg Rocholl

Power has a lot to do with knowledge, access to, and utilization of data. But in the context of the debate about power, the question of data quality is hardly ever raised. This is because legal standards for data quality are lacking.

Thomas Hoeren

It’s really interesting the way that people who work in supposedly secret associations such as the NSA often put all their work histories online. It’s very easy, if you spend enough time, to map out a group of co-workers from the way that they’re working within these institutions. The public display of things on social media undermines the secrecy of the government agency.

Simon Denny

Beginning with the antithesis of power and powerlessness, in which the allocation of roles is by no means clear as the powerful can be powerless and vice versa, we can see that the exercise of power triggers counter-movements that try to control power. According to which power base is in question, whether it can be changed or not, the methods for controlling power are various. However, they always have the inherent characteristic that, like water in communicating vessels, they are mutually dependent.

Christoph G. Paulus

Where the ruling power has no authority, the search for authority—even if it is only a charismatic and personal authority—brings power of another kind, power that is effective in ways that the “authorities,” as they ironically called themselves, could not hope to enjoy. This was the power to move people’s hearts and souls, and to join with them in what Jan Patočka called “the solidarity of the shattered.” It is a power that comes from placing truth where it belongs, at the center of your life, and at the beginning and end of our discourse.

Roger Scruton



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