“The 48 Laws of Power” is first published in 1998. It became a classic and an international bestseller. It literally lists 48 advices on how a person can gain strong power. For each advice, the author used different stories of different people so that the reader can understand the principle. In this summary, we will learn about the first few laws.
“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.” We may not notice it but we encounter the struggle for power every day. It may be within our family, our work or our community. In this world, it is inevitable for us to we deal with power.
That is why we must choose not to be powerless. It will only make us miserable. “Infact, the better you are dealing with power, the better friend, lover, husband, wife and person you become.”
Before having power over things or other people, you must first have power over your own emotions. You must learn not to react emotionally on anything that happens to you. Your emotions will only cloud your reason. You will not think clearly and you will not choose the best decision.
It is hard to control emotions especially love and anger. You should not try to stop feeling them. You should only be careful on how you express your emotions, because your enemies can use them against you. Now that you know the foundation, let’s learn about the first law.
NEVER PUT TOO MUCH TRUST IN FRIENDS, LEARN HOW TO USE ENEMIES
For 700 years after the end of Han dynasty, China was covered in chaos. There is a constant struggle of power for the throne. Each new emperor was killed off. The army was always having a coup. The fight for power is marked with violence and blood.
The generals would kill an emperor and replace him with the strongest among them. To ensure his power, the new emperor would kill all the others. However, in a few years, he would also be killed. Younger generals would plot against him. They would assassinate him and his sons.
The pattern continues on and on. Whoever sits in the throne is always in danger. He has enemies everywhere. To be an emperor of China at the time is to be alone, with no security and no real power.
But the game changed when General Chao K’uang-yin rose to power in 959 AD. He became the Emperor Sung. He is fully aware of the situation. Emperor Sung knows that he could be killed in the next few years. He thought of a way to finally stop the pattern.
After being crowned, Emperor Sung invited all the generals of the army. He held a banquet to celebrate his new dynasty. When everyone has drunk too much wine, he ordered them to leave including all the guards. Only the generals were left in the banquet. They thought that emperor Sung would have them all killed.
Instead, Emperor Sung said, “The whole day is spent in fear, and Iam unhappy both at the table and in my bed. For which one of you does not dream of ascending the throne?” the generals were covered with fear. They claimed innocence and pledged loyalty to Emperor Sung.
But the emperor knew better. Emperor Sung proclaimed, “the best way to pass one’s days is in peaceful enjoyment of riches and honor. If you are willing to give up your commands, I am ready to provide you with fine estates and beautiful dwellings…”
The generals were surprised that the emperor offered them wealth and security. They do not have to live in fear. The next morning, every general resigned their post. They accepted the retirement that Emperor Sung offered. They became nobles and masters of the estates that the emperor has given them. In just one move, Emperor Sung got rid of the people that might betray him.
Emperorsung continued to unite his kingdom. Southern Han was in rebellion for years. It was led by King Liu. When the rebel leader surrendered, the emperor did not punish him. Instead, Emperor Sung gave King Liu a position in his imperial court. He also invited him to drink wine as a sign of friendship.
Inside the palace, emperor sung offered King Liu the glass of wine. King Liu hesitated. He is afraid that the wine is poisoned. “Your subject’s crimes certainly merit death, but I beg your Majesty to spare your subject’s life. Indeed I dare not to drink this wine.”
The emperor just laughed. He has no plans of poisoning King Liu. Emperor Sung took the wine and drank it himself. Starting from that day, King Liu became loyal to emperor sung. The former rebel became the emperor’s most trusted friend.
It was a smart move for Emperor Sung to offer the generals with grand estates. They stopped being a threat to him.This is smarter than murdering them. Emperor sung became free of any vengeance from the army. Indeed, emperor sung was able stop the violence and civil war in China. The Sung dynasty reigned for three centuries.
“A man suddenly spared the guillotine is a grateful man indeed, and will go to the ends of the earth for the man who has pardoned him.” When you turn your enemies into friends, they become your most faithful ally. They are more reliable than the friends who surround you.
Friends agree with you to avoid conflict. They hide qualities that might offend you. You might not really know them well. They may be envious. When conflicts arise, your friendship may fade. “Your enemies, on the other hand, are an untapped gold minethat you must learn to exploit.”
CONCEAL YOUR INTENTIONS
There was a courtesan in 17th century France by the name of Ninon de Lenclos. Many great men, politicians, thinkers and writers had fallen in love with her. She became experienced in the art of love.
Ninon understood that seduction is a game. It is a skill that could be practiced. Over the years, her reputation became known. The rich families of France would make their sons come to her. She would instruct them in matters of the heart. Marquis de Sevigne was one of them.
The marquis was only 22 years old. He was rich and handsome but he has no experience in love. At the time, Ninon was already 62 and very famous. She listened to the story of the marquis. There was a young and beautiful countess to whom he had fallen in love with. But he was hopeless in pursuing her. He did many mistakes in trying to court her.
First of all, Ninonmade the marquis understand that love is a war. He must plan his every step. He must execute those plans carefully. Ninon instructed the marquis to start over. What he must do is to appear distant and indifferent towards the countess.
When the marquis sees the countess again, he would treat her as a friend. The countess will think that he only wants friendship. This would make her confused. The next step is to make her feel jealous. The marquis should walk around Paris surrounded with beautiful girls. The countess would not only be jealous. She would think that a lot of women desire the marquis.
Ninon explained to him that a woman wants a man who is also wanted by many others. It would be more satisfying to win his love. After making the countess confused and jealous, that will be the best time to seduce her.
The marquis must change his routine. His moves must be unpredictable. He must not come to the events where the countess expects to see him. He must show up in salons he has never been to before, salons that the countess visit often.
It took weeks for the marquis to execute all these steps. Ninon took note of the marquis’ progress. She learned everything from her spies. The countess now laughs at the marquis’ jests. She listens closely when he tells her stories.
Ninon heard that the beautiful countess is now curious about the marquis. She would ask questions about him. At social affairs, she would often stare at the marquis. Ninon was sure that the countess is already falling for the marquis. In a few months, she would become his. But something wrong happened.
The marquis visited the countess in her home. Suddenly, he became desperate. He acted against Ninon’s advices. The marquis took the countess’ hand. He told her at once that he loves her. The countess was shocked. She politely excused herself.
As the night went on, the beautiful girl avoided his glances. She did not tell good night and see him leave. When the marquis visited again, he was told that the countess was away.
After a few more visits, the countess let him in. but everything has changed. She became uncomfortable and awkward towards the marquis. That became the end of his love story.
Most people say what they are feeling all the time. They tell their opinions openly. They reveal their intentions and plans at once. This is natural and easy to do for us humans. Limiting what you reveal and say takes effort.
Moreover, many of us believe that honesty is a sign of good nature. It will win the hearts of everyone. But sometimes, this is not true. “Honesty is actually a blunt instrument, which bodies more than it cuts.”
When you are very honest, it makes you predictable. People will not see it fit to fear or respect you. To become powerful, it is better to set honesty aside. Learn the art of hiding your true intentions. This will give you an advantage.
People instantly believe what they hear and what they see. It is easy to deceive. Pretend that you have your eyes for something else. This will make you free to work on your real goal. “In seduction, set up conflicting signals, such as desire and indifference, and you not only throw them off the scent, you inflame their desire to possess you.”
ALWAYS SAY LESS THAN NECESSARY
It was a custom in the French court to discuss the state issues first before presenting to the king. The ministers and nobles would debate and argue with each other for days. Then, they mustchoose two representatives. Each of them would explain one point of view to Louis XIV. The king would decide on the best resolution of the state issue.
The representatives finally came to him. They relayed the issue and shared to him the two best possible tactics. Louis XIV just listens. His face reveals nothing. When they are done talking, he would just say, “I shall see”.Then, he would already take his leave.
Louis XIV will never talk on the subject again. The court men would only know his decision after a few weeks. That is when Louis XIV has already acted on the state issue.
By being silent, no one knows what he is thinking. No one can predict his next move. His silence also causes the men around him to just talk. Instead of knowing his thoughts, they would end up revealing their own selves. Later on, Louis XIV will use that information against them.
As a result, Louis XIV became powerful and feared. He can take anyone off-balance. He knows what makes them tick. Silence became Louis XIV’s strong defence.
Limiting your words will not only make you powerful. It will also prevent you from making mistakes. When you don’t think first of what you say, you may say something wrong or foolish. It can also cause you danger.
In the year 1825, there was a rebellion in Russia. Nicholas I was newly crowned as the new Czar. But the liberals wanted change. They wanted Russia to become a modern country. They wanted its economy and government to keep up with the other European countries.
Nicholas I ultimately crushed this rebellion in the Decembrist Uprising. He ordered the rebellion leader, KondratyRyleyev, to be hanged and executed. Ryleyev stood on the platform with a rope upon his neck. The doors at his feet opened. But instead of choking, Ryleyev’s rope broke. He fell to the ground.
At times like these, the people think that it was the will of the heavens. Usually, the man to be hanged will be given a pardon. Ryleyev stood up. He shouted in front of the crowd. “You see, in Russia they don’t know how to do anything properly, not even how to make a rope!”
The messenger quickly went to the Czar to tell him what happened. Nicholas I was disappointed that Ryleyev’s hanging failed. But he went on to sign his pardon papers. Before doing so, he asked the messenger. “Did Ryleyev say anything after this miracle?” to which the messenger answered, “Sire, he said that in Russia they don’t even know how to make a rope.”
Nicholas I then tore the pardon papers. He commanded, “In that case, let us prove the contrary.” That very next morning, Ryleyev was brought to the gallows again. Unfortunately for him, the rope did not break anymore.
Once you have said something, you can never take your words back. Becareful of what you say. You might offend other people. You might say words that can be harmful to you. As the saying goes, “less talk, less mistakes.”
NEVER OUTSHINE THE MASTER
Galileo Galilei was an Italian scientist. In the beginning of the 1600s, he had a problem. He had become very dependent on the rulers for the funding of his research. Galileo dedicated his discoveries and inventions to the rulers. It was a norm for the scientists of the Renaissance period.
When he invented the military compass, he brought it to Duke of Gonzaga. He wrote a book on how to use that compass. Galileo gave that book to the Medici family. Both the Duke and Medicis were impressed. They gave him more students.
However, no matter the greatness of his discovery, the rulers always pay him by gifts and not by cash. This led to Galileo being always dependent on them. In order to live, he always had to win their favors.
In 1610, Galileo discovered the Jupiter moons. He thought of a new strategy. He used to divide his discovery for each of his patron, a telescope for one ruler, a book for another, etc etc. This time, Galileo decided to focus on the Medicis. He solely dedicated the Jupiter moons to them.
It is a brilliant tactic since Jupiter has always been a symbol of the Medici family. Cosimo I, the founder of the Medici, hailed Jupiter as the most powerful god. In Greek mythology, Jupiter is called Zeus. Cosimo I saw Jupiter as a perfect symbol of the power of the Medici dynasty. He founded Medici in 1540.
Galileo announced that he discovered the Jupiter moons on the coronation day of Cosimo II. He honoured the Medici in front of the court and the whole Italy. There are four Jupiter moons. Galileo proclaimed that the four moons symbolize Cosimo II and his three brothers. The four moons orbit around Jupiter just as the four sons orbit the Medici founder Cosimo I.
By doing so, Galileo showed Italy that the heavens bless the Medici dynasty.Galileo also had an emblem made. The emblem pictured the god Jupiter in the skies and the four stars around him. He offered it as the new symbol of Cosimo II.
The efforts of Galileo paid off. That year, he was appointed by Cosimo II as the official mathematician and philosopher of the throne. Galileo was entitled with full salary. Because of his action, he did not have to be dependent anymore on his patrons. He did not have to beg anymore for their favour.
All masters want to be superior to all their subjects. No subject must be more intelligent and brilliant than they are. The masters do not actually care about the inventions and discoveries of science. All they are concerned about is their glory and the honor of their name. By associating Medici with the heavenly bodies, Galileo gave them even more honor.
Intelligent people like Galileo make masters insecure. Masters do not want to appear just as the financer. They wanted to be part of the invention or discovery. They wanted to appear intelligent as well as powerful. Galileo was right to give Medici all the glory.
Galileo did not pose himself as more intelligent than the rulers. They did not become insecure of him. Instead, he elevated the Medici’s status in Italy. Galileo made the Medici name more powerful when he linked them to the heavenly bodies. He brought the glory to his master and not to himself. By doing that, he was greatly rewarded.
It is dangerous to be the reason of your Masters’s insecurity. What you must do is to flatter your master. But make it discreet. Make your master get all the credit. Do not make it appear that you are more brilliant than the master. it is better to act naïve. Always ask for your master’s advice. If you had a brilliant idea, make it appear that you got it from your master.
To gain power, it is better to disguise the strengths you possess. Let other people outshine you. Do not be the cause of their insecurity. When the time comes for you to shine, this will become your advantage.
These are only a few advices that you can apply in your daily life. They are not only useful to those who want power. You can use these laws to have a better relationship with others.
Never out shine your master can also be interpreted as being grateful to people who help you. Use your enemies can also be understood as forgiving those who have offended you or giving people a second chance.
Concealing your intentions may teach you to be humble and unassuming. Saying a few words will make you become a better person. You may not be a politician. But surely, you will learn something from this book.