I recently attended a presentation on the shift in power over the centuries. The speaker argued that ...

  • the power in the middle ages was in the churches, i.e., the priests and, thus, in the spiritual centers
  • in contrast, in the 17th century there was a shift towards the political centers, i.e., the palaces and the kings and princes, alter also a shift towards democratic institutions
  • nowadays, he argued, the power lies in the economical forces, i.e. the businesses and their CEOs

I suppose that this theory was taken from somewhere, but even with extensive research I could not find any sources for it.

Have you ever heard of a similar theory?

  • 3
    It's a common enough opinion, with similar sentiments in everything from political theory books to science-fiction. I don't know of any single source for the idea, but I don't know that the presenter necessarily needed to have one. It might just be a casual analysis of historical trends.
    – Nerrolken
    Oct 7 '14 at 21:31
  • 2
    Merchant, Soldier, Sage
    – MCW
    Oct 7 '14 at 22:12
  • Michael Mann - Sources of Social Power
    – two sheds
    Nov 13 '14 at 20:52

I am considering this a reference request for seminal works on "power" in historiography.

The most well known recent theorist of "power" as a historical determinant is Foucault. In Foucault's work power seems to be organised by a historical context of possibilities of knowledge, an "episteme," that orders how people perceive and enact power. I do not believe that Foucault's conclusions about the organisation of past societies matches your speaker's: Foucault's concept of power is much more developed. Additionally, many historians blanch at the lack of traditional historiography backing Foucault's conclusions.

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