A political joke from Steven Lukes


Five citizens of the Reich were sitting in a railway waiting room.  One of them sighed, another clasped his head in his hands, the third one groaned loudly and the fourth sat with tears streaming down his face.

The fifth one looked at them, and shook his head.

‘Be careful , gentlemen.  It’s not wise to discuss politics in public.’

Lukes, Steven; Galnoor, Itzhak; illustrations by Michael Heath. (1986) pdf_iconNo Laughing Matter: A Collection of Political Jokes. Routledge Kegan & Paul.

In our ALT-C 2011 symposium last week I referred to Lukes’ 1,2 and 3 dimensional views of power and whilst reading more by him, came across his wonderful gift of a book of political jokes (see link in caption above).  This joke (that I told in our session) neatly demonstrates “the third dimension of such power, where the power consists, not in prevailing over the opposition of others, nor in imposing an agenda on them, but in influencing their desires, beliefs and judgments in ways that work against their interests.” (Steven Lukes with Clarissa Hayward) ‘Nobody to shoot? Power, structure, and agency: A dialogue‘ Journal of Power, Vol. 1, No. 1, April 2008, pp. 5–20

My contention in my contribution to our symposium was that it’s really important to keep asking the awkward and uncomfortable questions, resisting the third dimension of power. In my Twitter stream I have come across Jennifer Jones’ fascinating narrative of her engagement with seminars about the Olympics, see her blog post and Twitter stream.  To me, this is a classic case of resistance to the third dimension of power.  This blog post, and more importantly the joke above, are offered in your honour Jennifer.

Let’s all keep asking the questions.

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