Power is an Idea. It is exactly what it is thought to be.
Even among pre-civilized social animals, where the temptation to confuse power with force is strongest, the need to demonstrate force is only sporadic, and wherever force is not continuously demonstrated, power has arisen.
That is how dominance distinguishes itself from predation. On occasions, no doubt, a predator dominates its prey, convincing a struggling herbivore that resistance is futile, and its passage into nourishment is already, virtually, over. Even in these cases, however, a predator does not seek to install an enduring dominion. It matters not at all that its command of irresistible force be recognized beyond the moment of destruction. There is no social relationship to establish.
Even the most rudimentary society requires something more. The economy of force has to be institutionalized, and power — perfectly coincident with the Idea of power — is born. When power is tested, driven to resort to force, or regress to it, the idea has already slipped, its weakness exposed.
Mere dominance has to regularly re-assert itself, rebuilding itself out of force. Under civilized conditions, in contrast, power is exempted from the test of force, and thus realizes itself consummately. It becomes magic and religion, perfectly identified with its apprehension, as a radiant assumption.
Power is thus profoundly paradoxical. Its truth is inextricable from a derealization, so that when it is practically interrogated, by forces determined to excavate its reality, it tends to nothing.
Even the force that power calls upon, when pressed to demonstrate or realize itself, has to be spell-bound to its idea. Will the generals obey? Will the soldiers shoot? It is power, and not force, that decides. No surprise, therefore, that power can evaporate like the snow-slopes of a volcano, as if instantaneously, when an eruption of force is scarcely more than a rumble. Power is the eruption not happening, far more than the eruption being contained. (Equally, anarchy is the question of power being practically posed, before it is any kind of ‘solution’.)
To conceive economic power as wealth, is to misconstrue it as (rationalized) force, and thus to miss the Idea. ‘True’ economic power is a thoroughly derealized yet authoritative standard and store of value, as instantiated — exclusively — in fiat currency. Monetary signs that are not backed by anything beyond the ‘credit’ (or credibility) of the State are the tokens of pure, supremely idealized power in its economic form. They symbolize the effective — because untested — suppression of anarchy. They live through the Idea, and die with it.
Those who recognize the completion of power in an Idea, celebrants and antagonists alike, have no reason to object to its belated baptism as the Cathedral: our contemporary political appropriation of numinous authority, served by an academic, journalistic, judicial, and administrative clerisy, prominently including the priesthood of fiat adoration and financial central planning. There is no macroeconomics that is not Cathedral liturgy, no confidence or ‘animal spirits’ independent of its devotions, no economic cataclysm that is not simultaneously a crisis of faith. A single Idea is at stake.
In macroeconomics, as in politics more generally, only one (systematically inhibited) question remains: Do we believe? Well, do we?