ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Robert Greene has a degree in classical studies and has been an editor at
Esquire and other magazines. He is also a playwright and lives in Los
Angeles.
Joost Elffers is the producer of Penguin Studio’s bestselling The Secret
Language of Birthdays, The Secret Language of Relationships, and of Play
With Your Food. He lives in New York City.
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A Treasury of Jewish Folklore by Nathan Ausubel. Copyright © 1948, 1976
by Crown Publishers, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Crown Publishers,
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Books / G. P. Putnam’s Sons. © 1960 G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
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University Press. © Charles Downing 1972.
The Little Brown Book of Anecdotes, edited by Clifton Fadiman; Little,
Brown and Company. Copyright © 1985 by Little, Brown and Company
(Inc.)
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Beard. Copyright, 1939, by Yale University Press. By permission of Yale
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The Oracle: A Manual of the Art of Discretion by Baltasar Gracián,
translated by L. B. Walton; Orion Press.
Behind the Scenes of Royal Palaces in Korea (Yi Dynasty) by Ha Tae-hung.
Copyright © 1983 by Ha Tae-hung. By permission of Yonsei University
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Hollywood by Garson Kanin (Viking). Copyright © 1967, 1974 by T. F. T.
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(London). Collection © 1980 Jan Knappert.
The Great Fables of All Nations, selected by Manuel Komroff; Tudor
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Selected Fables by Jean de La Fontaine, translated by James Michie;
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A Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, translated by Victor Harris;
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The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, revised standard
version, edited by Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger; Oxford
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Makers of Rome: Nine Lives by Plutarch, translated by Ian Scott-Kilvert;
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The Rise and Fall of Athens: Nine Greek Lives by Plutarch, translated by
Ian Scott-Kilvert; Penguin Books (London). Copyright © Ian Scott-Kilvert,
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Cha-no-yu: The Japanese Tea Ceremony by A. L. Sadler; Charles E. Tuttle
Company. © 1962 by Charles E. Tuttle Co.
Amoral Politics: The Persistent Truth of Machiavellism by Ben-Ami
Scharfstein; State University of New York Press. © 1995 State University
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Caravan of Dreams by Idries Shah; Octagon Press (London). Copyright ©
1970, 1980 by Idries Shah.
Tales of the Dervishes by Idries Shah. Copyright © Idries Shah, 1967. Used
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The Craft of Power by R. G. H. Siu; John Wiley & Sons. Copyright © 1979
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The Art of War by Sun-tzu, translated by Thomas Cleary; Shambhala
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To Anna Biller, and to my parents
R. G.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
First I would like to thank Anna Biller, who helped edit and research this
book, and whose invaluable insights played a critical role in the shape and
content of The 48 Laws. Without her, none of this would have been
possible.
I must also thank my dear friend Michiel Schwarz who was responsible
for involving me in the art school Fabrika in Italy and introducing me there
to Joost Elffers, my partner and producer of The 48 Laws of Power. It was
in the scheming world of Fabrika that Joost and I saw the timeless-ness of
Machiavelli and from our discussions in Venice, Italy, this book was born.
I would like to thank Henri Le Goubin, who supplied me with many
Machiavellian anecdotes over the years, particularly concerning the
numerous French characters who play such a large role in this book.
I would also like to thank Les and Sumiko Biller, who lent me their
library on Japanese history and helped me with the Japanese Tea Ceremony
part of the book. Similarly, I must thank my good friend Elizabeth Yang
who advised me on Chinese history.
A book like this depended greatly on the research material available and I
am particularly grateful to the UCLA Research Library; I spent many
pleasant days wandering through its incomparable collections.
My parents, Laurette and Stanley Green, deserve endless thanks for their
patience and support.
And I must not forget to pay tribute to my cat, Boris, who kept me
company throughout the never-ending days of writing.
Finally, to those people in my life who have so skillfully used the game
of power to manipulate, torture, and cause me pain over the years, I bear
you no grudges and I thank you for supplying me with inspiration for The
48 Laws of Power.
Robert Greene
In addition, we would like to thank Susan Petersen and Barbara Grossman,
the Penguin publishers for believing in this book; Molly Stern, editor, who
oversaw the whole project for Viking Penguin. Sophia Murer, for her new
classic design. David Frankel, for editing the text. Roni Axelrod, Barbara
Campo, Jaye Zimet, Joe Eagle, Radha Pancham, Marie Timell, Michael
Fragnito, and Eng-San Kho.
Robert Greene
Joost Elffers
Table of Contents
About the Authors
Title Page
Copyright Page
Dedication
Acknowledgments
PREFACE
LAW 1 - NEVER OUTSHINE THE MASTER
LAW 2 - NEVER PUT TOO MUCH TRUST IN FRIENDS, LEARN HOW
TO USE ENEMIES
LAW 3 - CONCEAL YOUR INTENTIONS
LAW 4 - ALWAYS SAY LESS THAN NECESSARY
LAW 5 - SO MUCH DEPENDS ON REPUTATION—GUARD IT WITH
YOUR LIFE
LAW 6 - COURT ATTENTION AT ALL COST
LAW 7 - GET OTHERS TO DO THE WORK FOR YOU, BUT ALWAYS
TAKE THE CREDIT
LAW 8 - MAKE OTHER PEOPLE COME TO YOU—USE BAIT IF
NECESSARY
LAW 9 - WIN THROUGH YOUR ACTIONS, NEVER THROUGH
ARGUMENT
LAW 10 - INFECTION: AVOID THE UNHAPPY AND UNLUCKY
LAW 11 - LEARN TO KEEP PEOPLE DEPENDENT ON YOU
LAW 12 - USE SELECTIVE HONESTY AND GENEROSITY TO
DISARM YOUR VICTIM
LAW 13 - WHEN ASKING FOR HELP, APPEAL TO PEOPLE’S SELF-
INTEREST, NEVER TO THEIR ...
LAW 14 - POSE AS A FRIEND, WORK AS A SPY
LAW 15 - CRUSH YOUR ENEMY TOTALLY
LAW 16 - USE ABSENCE TO INCREASE RESPECT AND HONOR
LAW 17 - KEEP OTHERS IN SUSPENDED TERROR: CULTIVATE AN
AIR OF UNPREDICTABILITY
LAW 18 - DO NOT BUILD FORTRESSES TO PROTECT YOURSELF—
ISOLATION IS DANGEROUS
LAW 19 - KNOW WHO YOU’RE DEALING WITH—DO NOT OFFEND
THE WRONG PERSON
LAW 20 - DO NOT COMMIT TO ANYONE
LAW 21 - PLAY A SUCKER TO CATCH A SUCKER—SEEM DUMBER
THAN YOUR MARK
LAW 22 - USE THE SURRENDER TACTIC: TRANSFORM
WEAKNESS INTO POWER
LAW 23 - CONCENTRATE YOUR FORCES
LAW 24 - PLAY THE PERFECT COURTIER
LAW 25 - RE-CREATE YOURSELF
LAW 26 - KEEP YOUR HANDS CLEAN
LAW 27 - PLAY ON PEOPLE’S NEED TO BELIEVE TO CREATE A
CULTLIKE FOLLOWING
LAW 28 - ENTER ACTION WITH BOLDNESS
LAW 29 - PLAN ALL THE WAY TO THE END
LAW 30 - MAKE YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS SEEM EFFORTLESS
LAW 31 - CONTROL THE OPTIONS: GET OTHERS TO PLAY WITH
THE CARDS YOU DEAL
LAW 32 - PLAY TO PEOPLE’S FANTASIES
LAW 33 - DISCOVER EACH MAN’S THUMBSCREW
LAW 34 - BE ROYAL IN YOUR OWN FASHION: ACT LIKE A KING
TO BE TREATED LIKE ONE
LAW 35 - MASTER THE ART OF TIMING
LAW 36 - DISDAIN THINGS YOU CANNOT HAVE: IGNORING
THEM IS THE BEST REVENGE
LAW 37 - CREATE COMPELLING SPECTACLES
LAW 38 - THINK AS YOU LIKE BUT BEHAVE LIKE OTHERS
LAW 39 - STIR UP WATERS TO CATCH FISH
LAW 40 - DESPISE THE FREE LUNCH
LAW 41 - AVOID STEPPING INTO A GREAT MAN’S SHOES
LAW 42 - STRIKE THE SHEPHERD AND THE SHEEP WILL
SCATTER
LAW 43 - WORK ON THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF OTHERS
LAW 44 - DISARM AND INFURIATE WITH THE MIRROR EFFECT
LAW 45 - PREACH THE NEED FOR CHANGE, BUT NEVER REFORM
TOO MUCH AT ONCE
LAW 46 - NEVER APPEAR TOO PERFECT
LAW 47 - DO NOT GO PAST THE MARK YOU AIMED FOR; IN
VICTORY, LEARN WHEN TO STOP
LAW 48 - ASSUME FORMLESSNESS
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
INDEX
PREFACE
The feeling of having no power over people and events is generally
unbearable to us—when we feel helpless we feel miserable. No one wants
less power; everyone wants more. In the world today, however, it is
dangerous to seem too power hungry, to be overt with your power moves.
We have to seem fair and decent. So we need to be subtle—congenial yet
cunning, democratic yet devious.
This game of constant duplicity most resembles the power dynamic that
existed in the scheming world of the old aristocratic court. Throughout
history, a court has always formed itself around the person in power—king,
queen, emperor, leader. The courtiers who filled this court were in an
especially delicate position: They had to serve their masters, but if they
seemed to fawn, if they curried favor too obviously, the other courtiers
around them would notice and would act against them. Attempts to win the
masters favor, then, had to be subtle. And even skilled courtiers capable of
such subtlety still had to protect themselves from their fellow courtiers, who
at all moments were scheming to push them aside.
Meanwhile the court was supposed to represent the height of civilization
and refinement. Violent or overt power moves were frowned upon; courtiers
would work silently and secretly against any among them who used force.
This was the courtiers dilemma: While appearing the very paragon of
elegance, they had to outwit and thwart their own opponents in the subtlest
of ways. The successful courtier learned over time to make all of his moves
indirect; if he stabbed an opponent in the back, it was with a velvet glove on
his hand and the sweetest of smiles on his face. Instead of using coercion or
outright treachery, the perfect courtier got his way through seduction,
charm, deception, and subtle strategy, always planning several moves
ahead. Life in the court was a never-ending game that required constant
vigilance and tactical thinking. It was civilized war.
Today we face a peculiarly similar paradox to that of the courtier:
Everything must appear civilized, decent, democratic, and fair. But if we
play by those rules too strictly, if we take them too literally, we are crushed
by those around us who are not so foolish. As the great Renaissance
diplomat and courtier Niccolò Machiavelli wrote, “Any man who tries to be
good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are
not good.” The court imagined itself the pinnacle of refinement, but
underneath its glittering surface a cauldron of dark emotions—greed, envy,
lust, hatred—boiled and simmered. Our world today similarly imagines
itself the pinnacle of fairness, yet the same ugly emotions still stir within us,
as they have forever. The game is the same. Outwardly, you must seem to
respect the niceties, but inwardly, unless you are a fool, you learn quickly to
be prudent, and to do as Napoleon advised: Place your iron hand inside a
velvet glove. If, like the courtier of times gone by, you can master the arts
of indirection, learning to seduce, charm, deceive, and subtly outmaneuver
your opponents, you will attain the heights of power. You will be able to
make people bend to your will without their realizing what you have done.
And if they do not realize what you have done, they will neither resent nor
resist you.
Courts are, unquestionably, the seats of politeness and good breeding; were
they not so, they would be the seats of slaughter and desolation. Those who
now smile upon and embrace, would affront and stab, each other, if
manners did not interpose....
LORD CHESTERFIELD, 1694-1773
To some people the notion of consciously playing power games—no matter
how indirect—seems evil, asocial, a relic of the past. They believe they can
opt out of the game by behaving in ways that have nothing to do with
power. You must beware of such people, for while they express such
opinions outwardly, they are often among the most adept players at power.
They utilize strategies that cleverly disguise the nature of the manipulation
involved. These types, for example, will often display their weakness and
lack of power as a kind of moral virtue. But true powerlessness, without any
motive of self-interest, would not publicize its weakness to gain sympathy
or respect. Making a show of one’s weakness is actually a very effective
strategy, subtle and deceptive, in the game of power (see Law 22, the
Surrender Tactic).
There is nothing very odd about lambs disliking birds of prey, but this is no
reason for holding it against large birds of prey that they carry off lambs.
And when the lambs whisper among themselves, “These birds of prey are
evil, and does this not give us a right to say that whatever is the opposite of
a bird of prey must be good?” there is nothing intrinsically wrong with such
an argument—though the birds of prey will look somewhat quizzically and
say, “We have nothing against these good lambs; in fact, we love them;
nothing tastes better than a tender lamb.”
FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE, 1844-1900
Another strategy of the supposed nonplayer is to demand equality in
every area of life. Everyone must be treated alike, whatever their status and
strength. But if, to avoid the taint of power, you attempt to treat everyone
equally and fairly, you will confront the problem that some people do
certain things better than others. Treating everyone equally means ignoring
their differences, elevating the less skillful and suppressing those who
excel. Again, many of those who behave this way are actually deploying
another power strategy, redistributing people’s rewards in a way that they
determine.
Yet another way of avoiding the game would be perfect honesty and
straightforwardness, since one of the main techniques of those who seek
power is deceit and secrecy. But being perfectly honest will inevitably hurt
and insult a great many people, some of whom will choose to injure you in
return. No one will see your honest statement as completely objective and
free of some personal motivation. And they will be right: In truth, the use of
honesty is indeed a power strategy, intended to convince people of one’s
noble, good-hearted, selfless character. It is a form of persuasion, even a
subtle form of coercion.
Finally, those who claim to be nonplayers may affect an air of naïveté, to
protect them from the accusation that they are after power. Beware again,
however, for the appearance of naivete can be an effective means of deceit
(see Law 21, Seem Dumber Than Your Mark). And even genuine naivete is
not free of the snares of power. Children may be naive in many ways, but
they often act from an elemental need to gain control over those around
them. Children suffer greatly from feeling powerless in the adult world, and
they use any means available to get their way. Genuinely innocent people
may still be playing for power, and are often horribly effective at the game,
since they are not hindered by reflection. Once again, those who make a
show or display of innocence are the least innocent of all.
The only means to gain one’s ends with people are force and cunning. Love
also, they say; but that is to wait for sunshine, and life needs every moment.
JOHANN VON GOETHE, 1749-1832
You can recognize these supposed nonplayers by the way they flaunt
their moral qualities, their piety, their exquisite sense of justice. But since
all of us hunger for power, and almost all of our actions are aimed at
gaining it, the nonplayers are merely throwing dust in our eyes, distracting
us from their power plays with their air of moral superiority. If you observe
them closely, you will see in fact that they are often the ones most skillful at
indirect manipulation, even if some of them practice it unconsciously. And
they greatly resent any publicizing of the tactics they use every day.
The arrow shot by the archer may or may not kill a single person. But
stratagems devised by a wise man can kill even babes in the womb.
KAUTILYA, INDIAN PHILOSOPHER, THIRD CENTURY B.C.
If the world is like a giant scheming court and we are trapped inside it,
there is no use in trying to opt out of the game. That will only render you
powerless, and powerlessness will make you miserable. Instead of
struggling against the inevitable, instead of arguing and whining and feeling
guilty, it is far better to excel at power. In fact, the better you are at dealing
with power, the better friend, lover, husband, wife, and person you become.
By following the route of the perfect courtier (see Law 24) you learn to
make others feel better about themselves, becoming a source of pleasure to
them. They will grow dependent on your abilities and desirous of your
presence. By mastering the 48 laws in this book, you spare others the pain
that comes from bungling with power—by playing with fire without
knowing its properties. If the game of power is inescapable, better to be an
artist than a denier or a bungler.
Learning the game of power requires a certain way of looking at the world,
a shifting of perspective. It takes effort and years of practice, for much of
the game may not come naturally. Certain basic skills are required, and once
you master these skills you will be able to apply the laws of power more
easily.
The most important of these skills, and powers crucial foundation, is the
ability to master your emotions. An emotional response to a situation is the
single greatest barrier to power, a mistake that will cost you a lot more than
any temporary satisfaction you might gain by expressing your feelings.
Emotions cloud reason, and if you cannot see the situation clearly, you
cannot prepare for and respond to it with any degree of control.
Anger is the most destructive of emotional responses, for it clouds your
vision the most. It also has a ripple effect that invariably makes situations
less controllable and heightens your enemy’s resolve. If you are trying to
destroy an enemy who has hurt you, far better to keep him off-guard by
feigning friendliness than showing your anger.
Love and affection are also potentially destructive, in that they blind you
to the often self-serving interests of those whom you least suspect of
playing a power game. You cannot repress anger or love, or avoid feeling
them, and you should not try. But you should be careful about how you
express them, and most important, they should never influence your plans
and strategies in any way.
Related to mastering your emotions is the ability to distance yourself
from the present moment and think objectively about the past and future.
Like Janus, the double-faced Roman deity and guardian of all gates and
doorways, you must be able to look in both directions at once, the better to
handle danger from wherever it comes. Such is the face you must create for
yourself-one face looking continuously to the future and the other to the
past.
I thought to myself with what means, with what deceptions, with how many
varied arts, with what industry a man sharpens his wits to deceive another,
and through these variations the world is made more beautiful.
FRANCESCO VETTORI, CONTEMPORARY AND FRIEND OF
MACHIAVELLI, EARLY SIXTEENTH CENTURY
For the future, the motto is, “No days unalert.” Nothing should catch you
by surprise because you are constantly imagining problems before they
arise. Instead of spending your time dreaming of your plan’s happy ending,
you must work on calculating every possible permutation and pitfall that
might emerge in it. The further you see, the more steps ahead you plan, the
more powerful you become.
The other face of Janus looks constantly to the past—though not to
remember past hurts or bear grudges. That would only curb your power.
Half of the game is learning how to forget those events in the past that eat
away at you and cloud your reason. The real purpose of the backward-
glancing eye is to educate yourself constantly—you look at the past to learn
from those who came before you. (The many historical examples in this
book will greatly help that process.) Then, having looked to the past, you
look closer at hand, to your own actions and those of your friends. This is
the most vital school you can learn from, because it comes from personal
experience.
There are no principles; there are only events. There is no good and bad,
there are only circumstances. The superior man espouses events and
circumstances in order to guide them. If there were principles and fixed
laws, nations would not change them as we change our shirts and a man
can not be expected to be wiser than an entire nation.
HONORÉ DE BALZAC, 1799-1850
You begin by examining the mistakes you have made in the past, the ones
that have most grievously held you back. You analyze them in terms of the
48 laws of power, and you extract from them a lesson and an oath: “I shall
never repeat such a mistake; I shall never fall into such a trap again.” If you
can evaluate and observe yourself in this way, you can learn to break the
patterns of the past—an immensely valuable skill.
Power requires the ability to play with appearances. To this end you must
learn to wear many masks and keep a bag full of deceptive tricks. Deception
and masquerade should not be seen as ugly or immoral. All human
interaction requires deception on many levels, and in some ways what
separates humans from animals is our ability to lie and deceive. In Greek
myths, in India’s Mahabharata cycle, in the Middle Eastern epic of Gilga
mesh, it is the privilege of the gods to use deceptive arts; a great man,
Odysseus for instance, was judged by his ability to rival the craftiness of the
gods, stealing some of their divine power by matching them in wits and
deception. Deception is a developed art of civilization and the most potent
weapon in the game of power.
You cannot succeed at deception unless you take a somewhat distanced
approach to yourself—unless you can be many different people, wearing the
mask that the day and the moment require. With such a flexible approach to
all appearances, including your own, you lose a lot of the inward heaviness
that holds people down. Make your face as malleable as the actors, work to
conceal your intentions from others, practice luring people into traps.
Playing with appearances and mastering arts of deception are among the
aesthetic pleasures of life. They are also key components in the acquisition
of power.
If deception is the most potent weapon in your arsenal, then patience in
all things is your crucial shield. Patience will protect you from making
moronic blunders. Like mastering your emotions, patience is a skill—it
does not come naturally. But nothing about power is natural; power is more
godlike than anything in the natural world. And patience is the supreme
virtue of the gods, who have nothing but time. Everything good will happen
—the grass will grow again, if you give it time and see several steps into the
future. Impatience, on the other hand, only makes you look weak. It is a
principal impediment to power.
Power is essentially amoral and one of the most important skills to
acquire is the ability to see circumstances rather than good or evil. Power is
a game—this cannot be repeated too often—and in games you do not judge
your opponents by their intentions but by the effect of their actions. You
measure their strategy and their power by what you can see and feel. How
often are someone’s intentions made the issue only to cloud and deceive!
What does it matter if another player, your friend or rival, intended good
things and had only your interests at heart, if the effects of his action lead to
so much ruin and confusion? It is only natural for people to cover up their
actions with all kinds of justifications, always assuming that they have acted
out of goodness. You must learn to inwardly laugh each time you hear this
and never get caught up in gauging someone’s intentions and actions
through a set of moral judgments that are really an excuse for the
accumulation of power.
It is a game. Your opponent sits opposite you. Both of you behave as
gentlemen or ladies, observing the rules of the game and taking nothing
personally. You play with a strategy and you observe your opponent’s
moves with as much calmness as you can muster. In the end, you will
appreciate the politeness of those you are playing with more than their good
and sweet intentions. Train your eye to follow the results of their moves, the
outward circumstances, and do not be distracted by anything else.
Half of your mastery of power comes from what you do not do, what you
do not allow yourself to get dragged into. For this skill you must learn to
judge all things by what they cost you. As Nietzsche wrote, “The value of a
thing sometimes lies not in what one attains with it, but in what one pays for
it—what it costs us.” Perhaps you will attain your goal, and a worthy goal at
that, but at what price? Apply this standard to everything, including whether
to collaborate with other people or come to their aid. In the end, life is short,
opportunities are few, and you have only so much energy to draw on. And
in this sense time is as important a consideration as any other. Never waste
valuable time, or mental peace of mind, on the affairs of others—that is too
high a price to pay.
Power is a social game. To learn and master it, you must develop the
ability to study and understand people. As the great seventeenth-century
thinker and courtier Baltasar Gracián wrote: “Many people spend time
studying the properties of animals or herbs; how much more important it
would be to study those of people, with whom we must live or die!” To be a
master player you must also be a master psychologist. You must recognize
motivations and see through the cloud of dust with which people surround
their actions. An understanding of people’s hidden motives is the single
greatest piece of knowledge you can have in acquiring power. It opens up
endless possibilities of deception, seduction, and manipulation.
People are of infinite complexity and you can spend a lifetime watching
them without ever fully understanding them. So it is all the more important,
then, to begin your education now. In doing so you must also keep one
principle in mind: Never discriminate as to whom you study and whom you
trust. Never trust anyone completely and study everyone, including friends
and loved ones.
Finally, you must learn always to take the indirect route to power.
Disguise your cunning. Like a billiard ball that caroms several times before
it hits its target, your moves must be planned and developed in the least
obvious way. By training yourself to be indirect, you can thrive in the
modern court, appearing the paragon of decency while being the
consummate manipulator.
Consider The 48 Laws of Power a kind of handbook on the arts of
indirection. The laws are based on the writings of men and women who
have studied and mastered the game of power. These writings span a period
of more than three thousand years and were created in civilizations as
disparate as ancient China and Renaissance Italy; yet they share common
threads and themes, together hinting at an essence of power that has yet to
be fully articulated. The 48 laws of power are the distillation of this
accumulated wisdom, gathered from the writings of the most illustrious
strategists (Sun-tzu, Clausewitz), statesmen (Bismarck, Talleyrand),
courtiers (Castiglione, Gracián), seducers (Ninon de Lenclos, Casanova),
and con artists (“Yellow Kid” Weil) in history.
The laws have a simple premise: Certain actions almost always increase
one’s power (the observance of the law), while others decrease it and even
ruin us (the transgression of the law). These transgressions and observances
are illustrated by historical examples. The laws are timeless and definitive.
The 48 Laws of Power can be used in several ways. By reading the book
straight through you can learn about power in general. Although several of
the laws may seem not to pertain directly to your life, in time you will
probably find that all of them have some application, and that in fact they
are interrelated. By getting an overview of the entire subject you will best
be able to evaluate your own past actions and gain a greater degree of
control over your immediate affairs. A thorough reading of the book will
inspire thinking and reevaluation long after you finish it.
The book has also been designed for browsing and for examining the law
that seems at that particular moment most pertinent to you. Say you are
experiencing problems with a superior and cannot understand why your
efforts have not lead to more gratitude or a promotion. Several laws
specifically address the master-underling relationship, and you are almost
certainly transgressing one of them. By browsing the initial paragraphs for
the 48 laws in the table of contents, you can identify the pertinent law.
Finally, the book can be browsed through and picked apart for
entertainment, for an enjoyable ride through the foibles and great deeds of
our predecessors in power. A warning, however, to those who use the book
for this purpose: It might be better to turn back. Power is endlessly
seductive and deceptive in its own way. It is a labyrinth—your mind
becomes consumed with solving its infinite problems, and you soon realize
how pleasantly lost you have become. In other words, it becomes most
amusing by taking it seriously. Do not be frivolous with such a critical
matter. The gods of power frown on the frivolous; they give ultimate
satisfaction only to those who study and reflect, and punish those who skim
the surfaces looking for a good time.
Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among
the great number who are not good. Hence a prince who wants to keep his
authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain
from using it, as necessity requires.
THE PRINCE, Niccolò Machiavelli, 1469-1527
LAW 1
NEVER OUTSHINE THE MASTER
JUDGMENT
Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. In your desire to
please and impress them, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you
might accomplish the opposite—inspire fear and insecurity. Make your
masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights
of power.
TRANSGRESSION OF THE LAW
Nicolas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s finance minister in the first years of his reign,
was a generous man who loved lavish parties, pretty women, and poetry. He
also loved money, for he led an extravagant lifestyle. Fouquet was clever
and very much indispensable to the king, so when the prime minister, Jules
Mazarin, died, in 1661, the finance minister expected to be named the
successor. Instead, the king decided to abolish the position. This and other
signs made Fouquet suspect that he was falling out of favor, and so he
decided to ingratiate himself with the king by staging the most spectacular
party the world had ever seen. The party’s ostensible purpose would be to
commemorate the completion of Fouquet’s château, Vaux-le-Vicomte, but
its real function was to pay tribute to the king, the guest of honor.
The most brilliant nobility of Europe and some of the greatest minds of
the time—La Fontaine, La Rochefoucauld, Madame de Sévigné attended
the party. Molière wrote a play for the occasion, in which he himself was to
perform at the evening’s conclusion. The party began with a lavish seven-
course dinner, featuring foods from the Orient never before tasted in France,
as well as new dishes created especially for the night. The meal was
accompanied with music commissioned by Fouquet to honor the king.
After dinner there was a promenade through the château’s gardens. The
grounds and fountains of Vaux-le-Vicomte were to be the inspiration for
Versailles.
Fouquet personally accompanied the young king through the
geometrically aligned arrangements of shrubbery and flower beds. Arriving
at the gardens’ canals, they witnessed a fireworks display, which was
followed by the performance of Molière’s play. The party ran well into the
night and everyone agreed it was the most amazing affair they had ever
attended.
The next day, Fouquet was arrested by the king’s head musketeer,
D’Artagnan. Three months later he went on trial for stealing from the
country’s treasury. (Actually, most of the stealing he was accused of he had
done on the king’s behalf and with the king’s permission.) Fouquet was
found guilty and sent to the most isolated prison in France, high in the
Pyrenees Mountains, where he spent the last twenty years of his life in
solitary confinement.
Interpretation
Louis XIV, the Sun King, was a proud and arrogant man who wanted to be
the center of attention at all times; he could not countenance being outdone
in lavishness by anyone, and certainly not his finance minister. To succeed
Fouquet, Louis chose Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a man famous for his
parsimony and for giving the dullest parties in Paris. Colbert made sure that
any money liberated from the treasury went straight into Louis’s hands.
With the money, Louis built a palace even more magnificent than Fouquet’s
—the glorious palace of Versailles. He used the same architects, decorators,
and garden designer. And at Versailles, Louis hosted parties even more
extravagant than the one that cost Fouquet his freedom.
Let us examine the situation. The evening of the party, as Fouquet
presented spectacle on spectacle to Louis, each more magnificent than the
one before, he imagined the affair as demonstrating his loyalty and devotion
to the king. Not only did he think the party would put him back in the king’s
favor, he thought it would show his good taste, his connections, and his
popularity, making him indispensable to the king and demonstrating that he
would make an excellent prime minister. Instead, however, each new
spectacle, each appreciative smile bestowed by the guests on Fouquet, made
it seem to Louis that his own friends and subjects were more charmed by
the finance minister than by the king himself, and that Fouquet was actually
flaunting his wealth and power. Rather than flattering Louis XIV, Fouquet’s
elaborate party offended the king’s vanity. Louis would not admit this to
anyone, of course—instead, he found a convenient excuse to rid himself of
a man who had inadvertently made him feel insecure.
Such is the fate, in some form or other, of all those who unbalance the
masters sense of self, poke holes in his vanity, or make him doubt his pre-
eminence.
When the evening began, Fouquet was at the top of the world.
By the time it had ended, he was at the bottom.
Voltaire, 1694-1778