In this five-part series, I want to discuss individualism and power by analyzing the brilliant book, The 48 Laws of Power.
What Is the 48 Laws of Power
The 48 Laws of Power is, without a hint of hyperbole, a masterpiece. Robert Greene masterfully describes how to gain, maintain, and expand power through self-control, manipulation, and subterfuge. For the individual, The 48 Laws of Power will help you understand how to protect yourself from the power-hungry as well as how to achieve self-mastery.
Through five blog posts, I want to analyze this book through the lens of individualism. The first post serves as an introduction to the power-hungry and the tactics they utilize to garner and expand their power.
My second post covers offensive tactics. For example, how to conceal your intentions, the importance of doing rather than saying, and much more. These tactics are primary proactive and rely heavily on your volition, direction, and determination.
My third post covers defensive tactics. Tactics include how to avoid supporting evil causes and how to reject gifts from dishonest people. My defensive techniques are perfect for protecting yourself against the power-hungry who seek to control you.
This post will detail the crucial laws individuals should avoid at all costs. These laws will undermine your virtue and individual sovereignty. Why? Because submitting to the lust of power will enslave you to the very people you wish to control.
Lastly, I will conclude with a post summarizing everything and providing further tools for growth and development.
The Dangers of Power Lust and False Power
I want to start by saying that power is not a problem. Self-control and self-mastery are forms of internal power. For example, if we have emotional control, it’s easier to avoid anger when dealing with a difficult situation. By controlling our temper, we can approach complex issues with a level-head. Therefore, when we can control our impulses and vices, we can live life more intentionally and with less regret.
However, the 48 Laws of Power expertly details how to expand, cultivate, and maintain power over the external world, primarily through the control of the masses. Procuring more influence while giving into power-lust can spell doom for any individual.
Historically, there are multiple examples of rulers who have garnered immense power only to become a target of others. The powerful, such as Al Capone, found themselves alone and without reliable allies. His empire, just like many others, fell to bloodshed, corruption, and backstabbing because it attracted vice-ridden, power-hungry individuals.
I have witnessed multiple people build fame, fortune, and worship only for it to disappear after one misguided tweet, small social gaffe, or the disloyalty of a treasured ally.
These individuals built their empires through blood, sweat, and tears. They sacrificed time with family or avoided pursuing a subject they loved. They had money, fame, and fortune, but were constantly stressed about losing all of it. Eventually, despite their sacrifices, everything they built crumpled over one transgression. In the end, they had nothing to show for all their work except rubble.
Power Makes You A Slave
Power affects us in multiple ways. Primarily, building external power requires sacrificing higher ideals. In the pursuit of money, fame, or fortune, individuals typically have to forego meaningful relationships, the accomplishment of life goals, and their physical health.
Additionally, building power may require participating in unseemly acts and dubious methods. These actions, from petty crime to manipulation of the innocent, can spell doom for your integrity or the integrity of others. Such pursuits can only lead to the corruption of the individual’s spirit as well as the degradation of society.
Thirdly, power tends to attract evil people. Power corrupts and the more we cultivate control over others, the more we attract manipulators, thieves, and looters. The government is a primary example of this rule. As the government expands and grows, stories of corruption and evil are becoming so common that the average citizen can’t even feign outrage if they tried.
Lastly, controlling the masses makes one a slave to the masses. When you garner power, you have to maintain it through the techniques you used to gain it. You cannot become powerful through lying and manipulation then speak the truth once you reach the top. You have to continue deceit after deceit, even to your closest allies, which leads to nothing but misery.
Individualism and Power
Not all control is built on the backs on the innocent. Power earned through skill, hard work, virtue, and commitment to excellence is not evil and is un unsustainable. For example, an honest business owner can rest easy. His company may not be as expansive as a more cutthroat competitor. However, he doesn’t have to worry about paying off the local politician or mobster to keep his business running. He also doesn’t have to doubt the loyalty of his respected employees.
Individualism gives us a framework by which to garner and expand power over ourselves. Through self-mastery, we can walk through life with a clear conscience. We also gain the ability to deal with everything life has to throw at us.
Therefore, I want to use this post to go through some of the more insidious laws of power and why individuals should avoid them. Additionally, I will provide alternative ways of thinking that will help us live a virtuous life.
Law 7 – Get Others to do the Work for You, but Always Take the Credit
This law is tempting because you could easily save time. You can get other people to do your work while taking credit, thus ensuring you are celebrated without having to lift a finger.
However, there are a few problems. Firstly, stealing credit creates enemies who will want to destroy you. For example, putting your name on projects done by a co-worker. Either they will expertly expose your ignorance in front of others or find a way to surpass you while working in silence.
Furthermore, stealing credit is exploitive and will ensure others will not want to work with you. Without allies, you will become an open target to attack.
Work With Others
Lastly, I argue that such actions are counter-productive and lack virtue. It’s better to work with others and utilize their strengths to help them and yourself.
If you work with everyone, you’ll garner respect based on the mutual exchange of abilities instead of exploitation. The exchange of value will help you gain allies that are committed to helping you. Additionally, when you work with others, your skills improve, and you grow as an individual. If you steal from others, then your skills will stagnate from a lack of use.
Don’t use other people. Remain humble and work alongside others.
Law 11 – Learn to Keep People Dependent on You | Law 27 – Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following
There is joy in having the masses follow you. When the collective is dependent on your voice, you’ll have their attention and the ability to command them. Either out of blind worship or fear, people will fall in line and ensure your needs are met. There is a tempting value in this.
However, the masses are fickle. Most dictators throughout history have always resorted to violence and fear to keep people in line. Thinking small scale, if you are a manager that has control over others, you’ll have to use fear to keep them working. These fear tactics alienate your employees. They will find ways to fight back against your tyranny, either directly or indirectly, which will create a miserable work environment.
The masses are fickle and easily swayed by the smallest gesture. If you make a mistake or show weakness, your flock will scatter, and many will turn on you. Additionally, if a new ruler arrives, the new ruler may take the masses from you and utilize their dependence against you.
Whether you’re a shift manager or the President, the collective will judge you harshly for the smallest transgression. They will attack you at a moment’s notice which will rob you of any opportunity to relax. As I stated before, you may be the master, but soon you become a slave to the approval and folly of the masses you wish to control.
The Danger of Cults and Mass Movements
Avoid building cults and cultivating dependency within others. When people need you for guidance, approval, and substance, you become dependent on them for resources, admiration, and validation.
The solution is to create value that is exchanged for value. For example, if you work at a corporation, you should develop your skills, so you’re a linchpin and a necessary member of the team. The business relies on your skills and abilities while you rely on their finances and the opportunity to learn. There are no machinations or lying – it is a value for value.
It is essential to inspire everyone to be their best while they pursue the best. Manipulating others only robs individuals of their reasoning capacities which spells doom in the long-term. By building others up, you create value that serves you, other people, and society as a whole.
Law 31 – Control Opinions: Get Others to Play with the Cards You Deal
It can be tempting to utilize our influence over others to limit their options. By limiting the choices of others, we can force them into making the decisions we want them to make.
On its face, such options are golden. However, we will create bitterness in our victims. Either they will remain angry at us, or they will retaliate. Such hostility forms an uneasy environment.
For example, in a work environment, the talented will expand their options and go elsewhere, which means you will lose skilled labor. Furthermore, having a workforce of people unwilling or unable to escape the machinations of the powerful will lead to a stagnated work environment. Only large corporations well protected by unnecessary regulations can stand such stagnation.
Develop Your Personal Power
Instead, you should focus on developing your personal power. Through the cultivation of emotional stability, the expansion of willpower, and the development of many skills, we can ensure the powerful never have control over us.
Lastly, limiting the options of others is cruel. Give individuals the tools they need to grow their abilities and improve their lot in life. Some people will continue to wallow in sadness and despair no matter how well, or often you help them. Leave these people behind. However, some people under your command could use your help to improve themselves and achieve their dreams.
Law 32 – Play into People’s Fantasy | Law 38 – Think as You like but Behave like Others
These laws are exceptional cases because they have legitimate value. There is value in playing the courtier and smiling while in mixed company. Some people are dishonest, and opening yourself to them can spell your doom and rob you of peace of mind.
However, playing into the destructive fantasies of others is unhealthy. For example, don’t lie about what you do for fun to seem cool to others. Or, don’t give people the impression you are more talented, then you are. Lying may provide temporary power over others, but it won’t ease your soul nor sustain your relationship.
Additionally, thinking like others is hard to maintain. If you have values and beliefs, then lying about them will drain you emotionally. Such deceit can be hard to maintain. Even if you can manage your deception, you’ll never build healthy relationships because your relationship is based on lies. Also, if people see you as a spy, they will readily disown you, which seals your doom.
Be Honest and Upfront
It is more rewarding to be honest and upfront with people – within reason. If you’re in a group of trustworthy individuals, it pays to give them the truth for your benefit and theirs. However, if you are surrounded by enemies or spies pretending to be friends, then having your guard up is wise. Never spill your secrets or struggles to a manipulator because this will give them power over you.
Lastly, avoid placing yourself in an environment where you have to deny being your true self. For example, if you always held a simplistic view on immigration, then your tribe may love you. However, if you develop a more nuanced view of the issues, then your tribe may stop speaking to you. They won’t celebrate your growth but will condemn your change of thought.
Avoid being in static, hostile environments and you will never have to deny being yourself. Play the courtier when necessary, but never make such deceptions a lifestyle.
Law 37 – Create Compelling Spectacles
The masses love a fun spectacle, and when you’re able to create one, you will momentarily entertain them. However, if you want to keep your influence over them, they will demand more and more spectacles.
Personally, I know how to copy the voice of a famous person. When I did this impersonation for company meetings and customers, I gained influence and power. However, I realized my control was hollow and very unsustainable. I was known for the impersonation and not for my skills. I decided to stop doing the impersonation. From there, I focused on developing my charisma and technical skills. Eventually, I was respected for my professional abilities and not for my imitations.
Seek to be respected for your abilities. Appealing to the limited attention span of the masses will ensure your defeat. The collective will soon find other people to entertain them, and you will be left to increase the shock value of your words and actions.
Build Respect and Your Reputation
Your goal should always be to build your reputation on sustainable and impressive feats. Your popularity may not be as widespread, and you’ll still attract enemies, but you’ll be secure in yourself. Attacking a man or woman of talent is hard.
Always aim to appear respectable and professional. Your appearance can be a spectacle in itself. However, if your persona is professional and noble, you’ll garner praise from the virtuous, not from the easily swayed masses.
The 48 Laws of Power is ultimately an amoral book. We can decide to use the laws for cruelty or for studying the cruelty of others. The best solution is to take the rules and tweak them for our virtuous endswhile defending ourselves against the power-hungry.
Power kills. Never seek to grow or expand it at the expense of your virtue or the innocence of others. Focus on your self-improvement and a sustainable, moral power will come to you. Don’t build an empire that will attract the cruel and evil. Create a community where you can achieve your goals, improve yourself, and help others do the same.
- Which law do you utilize the most? Why do you utilize it so often?
- Do you enjoy power? Do you believe your power over others has been rightfully obtained?
- If you do have extensive power over others, do you believe it is sustainable? What can you do to be more just with your power?
Please remember that it’s important to do the actionables. You’re not on this earth to simply read but to do. To become an individual, you must act more than you consume.
*Image credit to Unsplash.