The Source and Nature of Power: Comparing "Noumenal" and "Structural" Power According to Forst and Strange

By Shaun Docherty
2015, Vol. 7 No. 05 | pg. 2/2 |

All these sources of power were craved by a weakened western world who believed in the U.S and its ability to re-build a free global political economy. In this traumatized and vulnerable state we can see how noumenal power—the belief, the justification, the recognition of U.S superiority—was just as important as its physical prowess.

Forst shows how noumenal power can cement itself over time, sealing the subject’s space of reasons and institutionalizing the justification of certain orders,

“in a sequence of events or in a general social situation or structure, where certain social relations are seen as justified, so that social order comes to be accepted as an order of justification. Relations and orders of power are relations and orders of justification; and power arises and persists where justifications arise and persist, where they are integrated into certain narratives of justification.”24

From the destruction and chaos of the Second World War grew not only a new global political economy but a belief and recognition in a new system. This noumenal belief has created a historical narrative of justification, which has deeply entrenched itself in the psyche of the western world and stopped people questioning the status quo.

During the 1980’s through this established noumenal belief in the global political economy the U.S embarked on a campaign to expand and prioritize the role of the market. This deregulation created a form of casino capitalism where markets are so strong it is debatable who in present day is really in possession of structural power. Strange writing in 1994 offers her opinion,

“it is power that determines the relationship between authority and market. Markets cannot play a dominant role in the way in which a political economy functions unless allowed to do so by whoever wields power.”25

Whether it is the U.S or the financial markets who now exercise structural power is no concern for us here. Forst concludes by stating how “unjustifiable asymmetrical social relations” are supported by “hegemonic justifications” making situations “appear as natural.”26 This “superior structural power” enjoyed by the U.S, founded upon the desire of its subjects to be resurrected from the ashes of the Second World War has now developed into an order of justifications, a noumenal narrative legitimizing free-market neoliberalism and the massive global inequalities it produces; justifying a dysfunctional, decadent and decaying system.

It is a noumenal belief in the system, which over time has transfigured into an incarcerating narrative of justification, creating a generation of reactionaries who refuse to question the voodoo economics and unequal social order of the global political economy. Instead of a social contract we accept a suicide pact.

Noumenal power is fundamental to the successful administration of structural power. The latter cannot exist without the former. The contemporary global political crisis is our new paradigm: the system is failing, yet it cannot collapse as long as people give it legitimacy, we are the empowering agents. People still believe in the system, they do not want to change it; instead they want to go back to happier days where everything was fine.

To quote the late Gill-Scott Heron, “people want nostalgia.”27 It is now only belief, noumenal power which is holding up this dysfunctional system. It will therefore take something far simpler than a catastrophic financial meltdown to end it, although it appears we are prisoners of this neoliberal ideology, just like the Irish hunger strikers, all we have to do is stop recognizing power to be free of it.


Allen, Robert ed, “The Penguin English Dictionary,” (London: Penguin Books, 2001)

Forst, Rainer “Noumenal Power” (Goethe University, Frankfurt/Main, 2012),

Issacs, Jeremy and Downing, Taylor “Cold War,” (London: Bantam Press, 1998)

Strange, Susan “States and Markets” (London: Pinter, 1994)


1.) Rainer Forst, “Noumenal Power” (Goethe University, Frankfurt/Main, 2012), p. 2.

2.) Rainer Forst, “Noumenal Power” (Goethe University, Frankfurt/Main, 2012), p.4.

3.) Ibid.

4.) Susan Strange, “States and Markets” (London: Pinter, 1994), pp.24-25.

5.) Ibid. p.25.

6.) Ibid. p.32.

7.) Ibid. p.25

8.) Ibid. p.26.

9.) Ibid. pp. 26-31.

10.) Ibid. p.23.

11.) Robert Allen ed, “The Penguin English Dictionary,” (London: Penguin Books, 2001), p.602.

12.) Rainer Forst, “Noumenal Power,” (Goethe University, Frankfurt/Main, 2012), p.1.

13.) Ibid. p.2.

14.) Ibid. p.5.

15.) Jeremy Issacs and Taylor Downing, “Cold War,” (London: Bantam Press, 1998), pp.218-223.

16.) Ibid. p.3.

17.) Ibid.

18.) Susan Strange, “States and Markets” (London: Pinter, 1994), p. 22.

19.) Ibid. p.26.

20.) Ibid. p.29.

21.) Ibid. p.29.

22.) Ibid. p.30.

23.) Ibid. p.30.

24.) Rainer Forst, “Noumenal Power” (Goethe University, Frankfurt/Main, 2012), p.5.

25.) Susan Strange, “States and Markets” (London: Pinter, 1994), p. 23.

26.) Rainer Forst, “Noumenal Power” (Goethe University, Frankfurt/Main, 2012), p.10.

27.) Gill Scott-Heron, “ “B”movie,” (U.S, 1981)

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