Three thousand years of the history of power into 48 essential laws by drawing from the philosophies of Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, and Carl Von Clausewitz. Some laws teach the need for prudence, others teach the value of confidence, and many recommend absolute self-preservation.
Laws of Power
Law 1. Never Outshine The Master
Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. Hide the extent of your own talents, as your masters may otherwise feel insecure. The better you make your master appear, the greater the level of power you will attain. Those above you want to feel secure and superior in their positions. This may involve making a few harmless mistakes so that you can ask your master for help.
If, however, you are more naturally charming than your master, it would be best to avoid working for them entirely.
Law 2. Never Put Too Much Trust in Friends, Learn How to Use Enemies
Friends are more likely to betray you in haste as they are more prone to envy. However, if you hire a former enemy, they will prove themselves more trustworthy, as they have more to prove. Consequently, you have more to fear from friends than your enemies.
Often, you think you know your friends better than you do. This is because honesty rarely strengthens bonds, so friends frequently hide their true feelings about each other. As people want to feel they deserved their good fortune in hiring a friend, they can feel undeserving and, ultimately, resentful. Instead, it’s better to hire an enemy, as your motives are upfront and are not clouded with personal feelings.
Law 3. Conceal Your Intentions
Always keep your intentions obscured. This way, your opponents cannot defend themselves. Lead them astray, and by the time they realize your plans, it will be too late. Use humankind’s tendency to trust appearances to your advantage. By dangling a decoy set of intentions in front of your opponents, they will fail to see what you’re really plotting.
By cloaking your intentions, people will believe you to be friendly and honest. This will lead them further down the wrong path. Additionally, by being bland and inconspicuous, people are even less likely to doubt your intentions, as they trust the familiar.
Here are 2 effective tactics to conceal your true purpose:
- Throw people off the scent by pretending to support an idea or position that’s opposed to your true interest. Or, share a heartfelt thought on something unimportant—people will mistake your sincerity for honesty and believe you when you lie later on.
- Distract and misdirect people with a smoke screen. Show them something they’re familiar with so they’ll let down their guard and be led in the direction you want them to go, without realizing your true intent. Combine this with other smoke screens e.g. a poker-face, noble gesture, or setting a pattern (then breaking it later).
Law 4. Always Say Less Than Necessary
Persons who cannot control their words show that they cannot control themselves, and is unworthy of respect. But the human tongue is a beast that few can master. It strains constantly to break out of its cage, and if it is not tamed, it will run wild and cause you grief. Power cannot accrue to those who squander their treasure of words.
Power is in many ways a game of appearances, and when you say less than necessary, you inevitably appear greater and more powerful than you are.
Learn the lesson:
Once the words are out, you cannot take them back.
Keep them under control. Be particularly careful with sarcasm: The momentary satisfaction you gain with your biting words will be outweighed by the price you pay.
Law 5: Defend your reputation with your life
Always be alert to potential attacks and thwart them before they happen. Meanwhile, learn to destroy your enemies by opening holes in their own reputations. Then stand aside and let public opinion hang them.
Doubt is a powerful weapon: Once you let it out of the bag with insidious rumors, your opponents are in a horrible dilemma.
Once you have a solid base of respect, ridiculing your opponent both puts him on the defensive and draws more attention to you, enhancing your own reputation.
Law 6. Court attention at all costs
Better to be slandered and attacked than ignored.
At the start of your career, you must attach your name and reputation to a quality, an image, that sets you apart from other people.
Create an air of mystery.
Remember: Most people are up front, can be read like an open book, take little care to control their words or image, and are hopelessly predictable. By simply holding back, keeping silent, occasionally uttering ambiguous phrases, deliberately appearing inconsistent, and acting odd in the subtlest of ways, you will emanate an aura of mystery. The people around you will then magnify that aura by constantly trying to interpret you
Do something that cannot be easily explained or interpreted
Law 7. Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit
The lesson is twofold: First, the credit for an invention or creation is as important, if not more important, than the invention itself. You must secure the credit for yourself and keep others from stealing it away, or from piggybacking on your hard work. This can be done to be quiet until you can be sure there are no vultures circling overhead. Second, learn to take advantage of other people’s work to further your own cause. Time is precious and life is short. If you do it all on your own, you waste energy and burn yourself out.
Find people with the skills or creativity you lack
Law 8. Make other people come to you – Use bait if necessary
The essence of power is the ability to keep the initiative, to get others to react to your moves, and to keep your opponent and those around you on the defensive. When you make other people come to you, you suddenly become the one controlling the situation. And the one who has control has power. Two things must happen to place you in this position. \ You must learn to master your emotions and never to be influenced by anger, meanwhile, you must play on people’s natural tendency to react angrily when pushed and baited.
For negotiations or meetings, it is always wise to lure others into your territory, or the territory of your choice. You have your bearings, while they see nothing familiar and are subtly placed on the defensive.
Manipulation is a dangerous game. Once someone suspects he is being manipulated, it becomes hard and hard to control him. But when you make your opponent come to you, you create the illusion that he is controlling the situation.
Everything depends on the sweetness of your bait. If your trap is attractive enough, your enemies’ emotions and desires will blind them to reality. The greedier they become, the more they can be led around.
Law 9. Win through your actions, never through arguments
Any momentary triumph you think you have gained through argument is not really a victory. The resentment and ill will you stir up is stronger and lasts longer than any change of opinion. It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word.
Demonstrate, do not explicate.
It is not simply a question of avoiding an argument with those who stand above you. We all believe we are masters in the realm of opinions and reasoning. You must be careful, then: Learn to demonstrate the correctness of your ideas indirectly.
In the realm of power you must learn to judge your moves by their long term effects on other people. The problem with trying to gain a victory through argument is that it may appear that people are agreeing with you but inside they may resent you. And days after agreeing with someone, we often revert to our old opinion out of sheer habit.
The truth is generally seen, rarely heard.” ~ Baltasar Gracián
When aiming for power, or trying to conserve it, always look for the indirect route. If it does not matter in the long run whether the other person agrees with you – or if time and their own experience will make them understand what you mean – then it is best not even to bother with a demonstration. Save your energy and walk away.
Law 10. Infection; Avoid the unhappy and unlucky
You can die from someone else’s misery — emotional states are as infections as diseases. You may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster.
Those misfortunes among us who have been brought down by circumstances beyond thor control deserve all the help and sympathy we can give them. But there are others who are ont born to misfortune or unhappiness, but who draw it upon themselves by their destructive actions and unsettling effect on others.It would be a great thing if we could raise them up and change their patterns, but more often than not it is their patterns that end up getting inside and changing us.
Humans are extremely susceptible to the moods, emotions, and even the ways of thinking of those with whom they spend their time. The risk of associating with infectors is that you will waste valuable time and energy trying to free yourself. Never underestimate the dangers of infection.
There is only one solution to infection: quarantine. But by the time you recognize the problem, it is often too late. So how do you protect yourself against such viruses? The answer lies in judging people on the effects they have on the world and not on the reasons they give for their problems.
Law 11. Learn to keep people dependent on you
To maintain your independence you must always be needed and wanted. The more you are relied on, the more freedom you have. Never teach them enough so that they can do without you.
The ultimate power is the power to get people to do as they wish. When you can do this without having to force people or hurt them when they willingly grant you what you desire, then your power is untouchable. The best way to achieve this position is to create a relationship of dependence.
Do not be one of the many who mistakenly believe that the ultimate form of power is independence. You will always need other allies, pawns, or even as weak masters who serve as your front.
The weakness of making others depend on you is that you are in some measure dependent on them. But trying to move beyond that point means getting rid of those above you — it means standing alone, depending on no one. No such independence comes without a price. Better to place yourself in a position of mutual dependence. You will not have the unbearable pressure of being on top and the master above you will essentially be your slave, for he will depend on you.
Law 12. Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim
One sincere and honest move will cover dozens of dishonest ones.
The essence of deception is distraction. Distracting the people you want to deceive gives you the time and space to do something they won’t notice. An act of kindness, generosity, or honesty is often the most powerful form of distraction because it disarms other people’s suspicions.
Selective honesty is best employed on your first encounter with someone. If someone believes you are honest at the start of your relationship it takes a lot to convince them otherwise.
Law 13. When Asking for Help, Appeal to the Self-interests of Others, Never to Their Mercy or Gratitude
If you must ask for help, make sure your request includes a benefit for your ally that you can exaggerate beyond proportion. When your ally sees that there is something in it for them, they are more likely to respond with enthusiasm. Self-interest is the greatest motivator for people. Once you master the art of working out what others want and using it to further your own plans, there will be no limits on what you can accomplish.
Law 14. Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy
Knowledge about your rival is essential. By posing as a friend, you can ask indirect questions and gradually get your opponents to reveal their weaknesses and their intentions. Once you know this information, you can better predict how they are going to move next.
If you don’t want to pose as a friend, get others to spy for you. However, while you gather information, you open yourself up to vulnerabilities by letting other people do your work for you. It’s always better to spy and pose as a friend yourself.
Law 15. Crush Your Enemy Totally
To crush your enemy partially means that they will eventually recover and seek revenge. Ultimately, you can only gain peace and serenity if your enemies cease to exist. If you manage to remove all of your opponent’s options, then they will have no choice but to bend to your will. By giving them nothing to negotiate with and no room to maneuver, you will have crushed them.
Law 16. Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor
The more present you are, the more common you appear. Create an air of scarcity around yourself to increase your perceived value. If you currently exist within an established group, intermittently withdraw so that others talk about you and admire you more.
To do this effectively, you must learn when is the right time to withdraw. In doing so, you force their respect by inadvertently threatening your absence for good. Once you return from your absence, it will appear as if you have been resurrected, and people will be relieved to see you again.
Law 17. Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability
Humans are creatures of habit who look for familiar patterns in the behaviors of others. By acting unpredictably, your opponents will tire themselves out by trying to predict and analyze your moves. This means occasionally striking without warning. When you act predictably, you give others power over you. If you act surprised, they will feel that they don’t understand you and will be intimidated.
Similarly, if you find yourself the underdog, using a strategy of unpredictable moves can confuse your enemies into making a tactical blunder.
Law 18. Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself – Isolation is Dangerous
If you decide to isolate yourself from your enemies and the world at large, you cut yourself off from valuable information. This makes you vulnerable to attack. It’s always better to mingle amongst people, as you are better protected in a crowd. Because humans are social creatures, power comes with social interaction.
Therefore, to become powerful, you must place yourself at the center of things. Activity should revolve around you. Resist the urge to retreat when things feel uncertain. Instead of turning inward, focus on seeking out old allies and forcing yourself into new social circles.
Law 19. Know Who You’re Dealing With – Don’t Offend the Wrong Person
Choose your opponents wisely. There are some people that once defeated, will spend the rest of their lives seeking revenge. Consequently, it pays to not offend the wrong person. The skill of correctly measuring people is the most important with regard to getting and maintaining power. Be sure to know everything about a person before you work with them.
However, don’t rely on your instincts to get an understanding of a person, and never trust appearances. Watch your target over a long period of time to get a truer picture of their nature.
Law 20. Do Not Commit to Anyone
Master your emotions and know you can never control the dispositions of those around you. Your self-control will only bother and infuriate them. Make sure the only cause you commit to is yourself. Maintain your independence at all costs. This allows you to play people off against each other. When you hold back from joining a side, you create a sense of respect because you appear untouchable. You gain a reputation for independence.
Further, do not commit to anyone. Stay out of petty fights and squabbles. Feign interest, but let others do the fighting while you watch and wait. Often, it can be a good tactic to stir up quarrels between two parties and then gain power by acting as the go-between.
Law 21. Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker – Appear Dumber Than Your Mark
We always try to justify someone else's intelligence in different ways: “He only has book knowledge”, “Her parents paid for her to get a good education” … Given how important, the idea of intelligence is to most people, it is critical never to insult a persons’ brain power.
No one likes feeling stupider than the person next to them. The trick is to make your victims feel smart or more intelligent than you are. Once they believe themselves are more intelligent, they will never suspect you have ulterior motives.
Law 22. Use the Surrender Tactic: Transform weakness into Power
Surrender before you are about to be defeated. This buys you more time to plot your revenge and torment your conqueror. By surrendering, you deny them the satisfaction of destroying you. In doing so, you make the act of surrendering a tool of power. This confuses your opponents and means they are unlikely to act aggressively against you. The essence of the surrender tractor: Inwardly you stay firm, but outwardly you bend.
Law 23. Concentrate Your Forces
Conserve your energies by focusing them all on a single source of power. When looking for such a source, identify a single spring that will sustain you for a long time to come. You gain more power by finding a singularly rich source than by flitting between many more shallow sources of power.
Power exists in a concentrated form. In any organization, power will emanate from a small group of people who are holding all the strings. Consequently, power is like oil, you only need to strike it once to assure yourself a lifetime of wealth and power.
Law 24. Be the Perfect Courtier
The courtier wields power through discrete avenues. By flattering and yielding to their superiors and only enforcing their power through charm and grace, they gradually accumulate an ever-increasing amount of power. There are several steps one can take to become the perfect courtier, and they involve the following:
- Practicing nonchalance
- Being frugal with flattery
- Adapting your style and language according to your audience
- Avoiding being the bearer of bad news
- Never criticize your superiors
- Being self-observant
- Master your emotions
- Be a source of pleasure
Law 25. Recreate Yourself
Do not accept the role that society has given you. Forge your own identity, one that commands attention. Master your image rather than letting others dictate it for you. Remake yourself into a figure of power as if molding yourself from clay.
To do this, you must first be self-aware, and you must learn to master your emotions. Then, you must create a memorable character. From here, you can learn to play many roles to adapt to what any given situation requires of you. However, remember that overacting can be counterproductive.
Law 26. Keep Your Hands Clean
You must maintain a spotless appearance. You should never be associated with nasty deeds. To do this, employ the use of scapegoats to disguise your involvement. Your reputation depends more on what you conceal than what you reveal. You should always have a convenient scapegoat on hand when needing to conceal your more dubious activities.
In addition to a scapegoat, you will also need a cat’s paw. This is someone who does your dirty work for you while obscuring your involvement. This means letting someone else be the bearer of bad news while you choose to associate yourself exclusively with the good.
Law 27. Play On People’s Need to Believe (To Create A Cultlike Following)
People want to believe in something. By inventing yourself as this cult-like entity, they will follow you and give you untold amounts of power. To become such a figure, you need to follow these steps:
- Keep your words vague and simple but full of promise
- Emphasize enthusiasm rather than the intellectual and the rational
- Structure your group in accordance with the forms of organized religion
- Disguise your sources of income
- Create an us-versus-them dynamic
Law 28. Enter Action With Boldness
Everyone admires the bold. The timid are frowned upon. Consequently, you shouldn’t choose a course of action half-heartedly. Your doubts will become apparent and will tarnish your reputation. It’s always better to act boldly. Any mistakes made are easily compensated by acting even more audaciously.
Few are born bold. It’s a habit that needs to be cultivated. It must be practiced. Likewise, timidity is also a learned trait. If you find yourself acting timidly, you must root this out and replace it with acts of boldness instead.
Law 29. Plan All the Way to the End
Always plan until the end. This means thinking through every possibility that could prevent you from reaching your end goal. Thus, you will be able to accommodate for any surprises along the way and secure your future.
Most people are too trapped by their emotions at the moment to see ahead, so this will give you the upper hand. Plan in detail before you act, and don’t succumb to making any vague plans. Your end goal must always be crystal clear.
Law 30. Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless
Make your success seem easy. Conceal all the toil and tricks you used to attain it, as it otherwise arouses too much curiosity in others. Never reveal how you reached your position of power to anyone, or they may use it against you. There are great advantages to remaining silent. The more mysterious your actions appear, the greater your power appears to be. It will make it seem as if you have an exclusive gift that no one can replicate and that knows no limits.
Law 31. Control the Options: Get Others to Play With the Cards You Deal*
By giving your opponents a choice, they will feel that they’re controlling their destiny. What they won’t realize is that you’re using them as a puppet to choose between two scenarios, both of which serve you.
When given a choice between two possibilities, people rarely consider all the other potential options that could be on the table. Instead, they blindly choose to believe they have autonomy in their decision-making; too much freedom creates anxiety. By setting up a narrow range of choices, you can guide your opponent to play right into your hands.
Law 32. Play Into People’s Fantasies
As the truth is often ugly, if you appeal to it, you risk being bombarded with the anger of disenchantment. Instead, by tapping into the fantasies of the masses, people will flock to you as you offer an alternative to the disillusionment of reality. By observing which aspects of everyday life are most abhorred, you can conjure up fantasies that promise the opposite of peoples’ current realities and thus wield phenomenal power.
Law 33. Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew
Find your opponent’s weakness. This is often insecurity, an untamed emotion or desire, or sometimes a secret pleasure. To do so, look for the following:
- Instances when they behave like a child, which indicates some unresolved trauma in childhood
- Contrasts, an overt trait often conceals its opposite (i.e., arrogance is often hiding insecurity)
- The weak link is often someone behind the scenes controlling their behavior
- Ways to fill the void of their insecurity or unhappiness to wield significant power
- How to encourage their uncontrollable emotion, as they won’t be able to control themselves, and you can do the controlling for them
Law 34. Be Royal in Your Own Fashion
Act Like a King to Be Treated Like One
How you present yourself to the world will reflect how others see and treat you. Carry yourself with self-respect, confidence, and dignity to make it seem like you were destined for power. We must make ourselves demand and expect as much as a young child. Believe you are destined for greatness; this belief will radiate outwards, and others will believe it, too. Ask for less, and that is exactly what you’ll get.
Law 35. Master the Art of Timing
Never seem to be in a rush – patience is a virtue. Learn to bide your time and only strike when the timing is right. As time is a perception, by mastering your emotions, you can make time seem to move more slowly and lengthen your perception of the future. This allows you to become more patient and to see the bigger picture.
Law 36. Disdain Things You Cannot Have: Ignoring Them is the Best Revenge
The less interest you take in things that irritate you, the more superior you seem. By acknowledging your enemy, you give their existence credibility and, therefore, power. Paradoxically, the more you want something, the more it eludes you as your interest is too strong, which makes others feel uncomfortable and fearful. Occasionally, it’s best just to leave things alone. By turning your back on what you want, you will drive your opponents crazy.
Law 37. Create Compelling Spectacles
By generating grand, spectacular gestures, you will heighten your presence and your power. People will be too dazzled by appearances to uncover what you’re really up to. As opposed to using words, visual gestures contain an emotive power and immediacy that leave no room for doubt. Where words divide, images unite. Use this to your advantage.
Law 38. Think as You Like, but Behave Like Others
By consistently going against the grain in public, people will begin to resent you for making them feel inferior. Practice blending in and hiding your true feelings to nurture the common touch. By doing so, you will be left alone to express your true beliefs in a targeted manner. Once a base of power is established, you can then begin to disseminate your beliefs gradually, and they are more likely to be adopted.
Law 39. Stir Up Waters to Catch Fish
If you can stay calm while infuriating your opponents, you can gain an advantage. By finding their weaknesses, you can disturb them and play with them at will. The angrier they become, the more ridiculous they will appear. This will reduce their power.
Law 40. Despise the Free Lunch
Never trust anything that comes for free. Anything of worth is worth paying for. Most things that come for free come with a burdensome psychological price task. By paying, you avoid falling into the trap of having to be grateful, guilty, or deceitful. Further, being lavish with your money is a sign of power. Generosity softens up your opponents into being deceived.
Law 41. Avoid Stepping Into a Great Man’s Shoes
What came first always seems more original than what follows. Don’t get lost in the shadows of those that came before you. You must establish your own name and identity by not following the same course of your predecessors.
Law 42. Strike the Shepherd, and the Sheep Will Scatter
All trouble can usually be traced back to one individual. By rooting out these individuals and preventing them from operating, you will stop their influence. Don’t waste time, or their influence will multiply. In every group, power is concentrated around one or two people. Consequently, understanding who controls the group is critical. This is made more challenging, as troublemakers prefer to disguise their actions. Isolate their power, however, and they become redundant.
Law 43. Work on the Hearts and Minds of Others
If people feel coerced into acting in a specific way, they will resent you. Instead, you must seduce others so that they act how you want without you having to ask them. By understanding their psychology and their weaknesses, you can play with their emotions and conquer their hearts and minds so that they are loyal to you. By softening them up, you can slowly bend people towards your will without them realizing.
The ability to measure people and to know who you’re dealing with is the most important skill of all in gathering and conserving power.
Law 44. Disarm and Infuriate With the Mirror Effect
By mirroring your opponents and doing exactly as they do, you humiliate them and cause them to overreact. By making them believe you share their values, they find it challenging to work out your strategy, as they are blinded by your mirror. You are also able to teach your opponents a lesson by giving them a taste of their own medicine.
Law 45. Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform Too Much at Once
If you have recently entered a position of power or are an outsider trying to make a claim for it, respect the way people have been living up until this point. Too much change will engender a revolt. To introduce change, make it seem like a gradual and gentle improvement on the past.
Law 46. Never Appear Too Perfect
While appearing superior to others is dangerous, to appear faultless and without weakness is even more perilous. By displaying harmless vices, you prevent envy from developing, and you make yourself appear more approachable. By letting envy fester, it can manifest in a host of problematic ways that will ultimately try to rob you of your power. Stop it in its tracks by making yourself seem powerful but not faultless.
Law 47. Don’t Go Past the Mark You Aimed For: In Victory, Learn When to Stop
Don’t let success go to your head. The moment you achieve victory is often when you’re at your most vulnerable. Don’t get ahead of yourself with your overconfidence and push beyond your initial target. This could create more enemies than you are capable of defeating. There can be no substitute for meticulous strategic planning. Once you reach your goal, stop.
Law 48. Assume Formlessness
By being tangible, you open yourself up to attack. To be malleable, adaptable, and on the move makes you ungraspable. Accept that everything everywhere changes, and embody this truth. By being as fluid as water, you protect yourself from the ever-shifting nature of reality. By refusing to adapt and to change, you fail to evolve and your power will be usurped. The powerful are constantly adapting, and their power comes from the speed at which they can change.
Best Quotes by Robert Greene
Do not leave your reputation to chance or gossip; it is your life's artwork, and you must craft it, hone it, and display it with the care of an artist.
...But the human tongue is a beast that few can master. It strains constantly to break out of its cage, and if it is not tamed, it will turn wild and cause you grief.
There is nothing more intoxicating than victory, and nothing more dangerous.
Lord, protect me from my friends; I can take care of my enemies.
There is nothing more intoxicating than victory, and nothing more dangerous.