Who is Europe’s most powerful man? If one phrased the question as who is Europe’s most powerful person, the answer might well be Angela Merkel. But the deliberate use of the masculine excludes Germany’s chancellor, leaving the field open to Mario Draghi.
This answer can, of course, be disputed. How can one compare power in economics with power in, say, religion? Is it possible to rank the technocratic European Central Bank boss on the same scale, for example, as the Pope?
The best place to start is with an attempt to understand what power is. Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher, said it was the production of intended effects. By contrast, Steven Lukes, one of the top contemporary power theorists, said in an interview last week that power is the capacity to make a difference in a manner that is significant.
What’s appealing about the way that Lukes, a professor of sociology at New York University, puts things is his use of the word “significant”. Whereas Russell just looks at whether people can get their way, the introduction of significance allows us as observers to take a view about whether powerful people are affecting things in a manner that matters to us.
That, in turn, allows us to rank individuals’ power. We can decide that, in Europe at the current conjuncture, what matters most is navigating the current euro crisis and pick our ranking with that in mind. That, indeed, is my view – which, of course, is somewhat subjective.