Worthwhile advice on how not to be subjugated; Powers of the Weak, by Elizabeth Janeway. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $13.95.
If you are among the weak -- if, for example, you are a woman -- Elizabeth Janeway says you should know why you are dominated by the powerful, how you are kept that way, and how you can find the power to escape.
She is happy to point the way with her guidebook, "Powers of the Weak," which contends by its very title that the weak are not powerless at all. They need only learn and use effective techniques against the power structure to become strong.
Then, newly in command, they can rule their own lives with grace and create a new world in which power is shared for the good of all. This is no utopian dream, she says repeatedly, but a practical blueprint on the verge of coming true, especially if women continue the forward surge of their movement for liberation.
It is a hopeful contention, and Elizabeth Janeway is a vigorous cheerleader. She explains the weapons women can use -- a wise mistrust of the powerful and a willingness to band together and exercise dissent. But all the while she warns that change does not come easily and demands bravery, risk-taking, sacrifice, and endless vigilance.
It is all in the way we define ourselves, she says. If the weak accept the labels "powerful" and "weak" and accept the roles that go with the labels, they are doomed. They consent to be subjugated. But once the weak identify themselves as worthy and equally capable persons, the maskof power can be ripped away.
Janeway argues that one of the more devious devices of the powerful to keep their subjects in check is to polarize society and make the weak feel isolated and estranged, a group to be treated differently on all counts.
She tries not to fall heir to this device herself by not isolating women from the rest of the powerless. Instead, she includes with them all men and women trying to throw off yokes of supression -- those struggling for racial equality or for freedom from personal or political dictatorships.
Hope lies in history, she says, citing Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson as examples of US Presidents who tumbled when they abused their powers.And people living under conditions of despotism and slavery the world over will win their freedom ultimately, for if we did not have "protection against absolute totalitarian domination," she says, we would stll be living today under the tyrants of past ages.
Still, for all her compassion for the weak- at-large, Janeway returns again and again in her book to the special plight of women, whom she defines as "the oldest, largest and most central group of the weak and the ruled."
She is not a new champion; her earlier books, "Man's World, Woman's Place" and "Between Myth and Morning," were like preliminary bouts that have brought her to the main event -- the dissection of power so women may get it.
Her explanations help. Tokens, she warns -- a few women in a few high places in government or industry -- are the way of the powerful for pacifying the powerless, so don't be satisfied with "token" progress.
And women should not accept the bullyfear that getting power means becoming masculine; it really means bringing about a much-needed mutuality -- an "unpolarized humanity," she reasons.
There is more -- but it is not easy reading. The book is strongest and almost lively when it offers specific techniques for coping. It is weakest (a word I tremble now to use) and ploddingly dull when it gets sidetracked into too many byways of history and psychology, trying almost too hard to be ALL.
And many will not doubt find much room for argument. Even so, she motivates the reader to start thinking, and that in itself is a noble accomplishment.