CONTRA 48 LAWS
Edward E. Rochon
Edward E. Rochon on Shakespir
Contra 48 Laws
Copyright © 2016 by Edward E. Rochon
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Wikipedia: Friedrich Nietzsche (photo); By F. Hartmann [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Some Other Works by the Author
Compound Interest: An Essay
Dollar Inflation: An Essay
Dollar Inflation II: An Essay
Green Gold: An Essay
Inflation Court: An Essay
Jobmasters: An Essay
Minimum Wage & Economics: Essays
Monetary Stability: An Essay
Table of Contents
by Robert Greene and Joost Ellfers is a fairly recent book whose basic tenet is that the secret to power is vice manifested in deception, lies, cruelty, mercilessness, vanity, pettiness, betrayal and other related vices. This is always predicated upon judicious use of these vices. Vice without cunning is definitely a no-no. Why not fool the world into thinking you are a nice guy who only employs his immoral cunning in the performance of his duty? Everyone wants to think of himself as a nice guy. The people want to be ruled by nice guys, and would be fools not to want it. It is all part of the game of life. It is only sin if you get caught, killed instead of killing. Do unto others before they do it unto you, and show no mercy, a sign of weakness, nor apologize other than insincerely, another sign of weakness.
Critics have contended that many of these Laws are counterproductive to the purpose, just not true, and yes, immoral. This essay will only cite the Laws without any quotes to the book itself. To be cautious, I will paraphrase the Laws rather than quote. These Laws can be found online should anyone suspect I am deliberately misrepresenting. Moreover, words sometimes have two meanings, and with irony, shades of meaning, even direct quotes can be misquotes when the intent is other than intended. I have listened to the audio book, have a list of the Laws from online, and will proceed to my critique and alternative Laws when appropriate.
Chapter 1: 48 Laws of Power
: The Law advises that we never look better than, smarter than, more accomplished than the prince. When we impress to seek favor, do not overdo it, lest the prince grow envious, insecure, and take measures to eliminate his brilliant subordinate, thereby leaving his own light to shine brightest.
*NOTE: Prince derives from ‘first citizen’ in Latin. We have a first lady; the President is the first man, conversely. The word took on an hereditary meaning over time. The Roman emperor was Princeps. Emperor derives from Imperator, meaning commander. I often use prince here for chief-of-state, or an equivalent chief executive in private life, shorter and covers more territory from an historical perspective. It does not imply Prince Charming, but the sense used by Machiavelli in his work of the same name, The Prince.
: We have two types of admiration, one that seeks to emulate so as to add talent to talent, the other that is envious underneath and wishes to supplant the object of admiration. We have two types of masters, or fathers. One seeks to gain glory through a son that exceeds his own means, talents and intelligence, truly the good man, and the other resents a son that aspires to be better than his father, a mean sort of spirit. To be sure we have the dichotomy mentioned above, to emulate for self-improvement, or to exceed in talent out of pettiness, supplanting your mentor with obnoxious ingratitude.
We say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. Is any flattery good, or simply insincere envy hiding behind admiration? Well, what is important here is the intent of the subordinate in demonstrating his gifts. A prince needs to have capacity to judge men’s character. If that man is using his talents for seditious purposes, the prince removes him from his presence out of duty and prudence, not out of petty jealousy. The glory of a state is the glory of the prince. How can his kingdom reach the peak of glory without talent in its citizenry, and the more so those citizens who work directly for the prince? It is not possible, and a good prince will not stand for this petty glory, shame in disguise.
When the people believe the prince to be the indispensable man, his enemies will seek to break the realm by decapitating the head. By surrounding himself with mean and stupid people, these traits will make it easier for his enemies to succeed. When enemies realize that the prince is an object of love and gratitude due to his virtues, they know that the hatchet men will take brutal revenge on them. They will be filled with ire and determination to destroy his perfidious foes. The prince trains his children to excel in statecraft without concern for his own vainglorious reputation. A great prince raises great heirs and is admirable to that degree. His excellent general staff, statesmen and lieutenants will take vengeance and uphold the glory of the prince by saving his life and realm in life, or avenging his demise in death.
When a prince goes into battle and sees that the enemy is trying kill him at the expense of overall good strategy, he signals his corps commanders to take advantage of this. If the enemy breaks his army, he will be killed, forced to flee as little better than a vagrant, or ransomed. If despicable, his country will not be especially worried about his captivity. When his generals turn the tide on the foolish enemy who think that only the prince can maintain command (only true with an evil/foolish prince), they will put their own army at jeopardy. A wise rival prince will not even attempt to kill the prince other than killing any of his other enemies. He attacks to win the battle by crushing the army. In either case, the prince does what is expedient to save not only his army but his own life. If he flees from the field as a coward, his reign is compromised and he has undermined his own authority. Also, the graveyards of the world are filled with indispensable men, and the world continues without them. You have likely heard that adage before as well.
Fight with virtue and prudence, and God commands your army. The enemy cannot dislodge him, cut off his head. All this is said here in refutation of Mr. Greene and is clearly true. The evidence is within the dicta themselves. Do not be misled by satanic nonsense.
As a final counterpoint, subordinates by nature and duty must be the prince’s hatchet men. They should never strive to be more merciful or kinder than the prince. They also put the prince’s life in jeopardy when doing so. This is not envy to be acted upon, but sedition and treason to be suppressed. The enemy must know that killing the prince will not lead to better terms, more merciful terms. In this one respect, there is something to be said for Law 1.
: It supposes friends are more prone to envy by close proximity to the prince, and inclined to hubris due to their favorable position in state. The turncoat enemy has to prove himself, feels in peril, and so more likely to be loyal. In fact, make enemies so that you can employ them with suitable inducements.
: Do you recall the gangster advice of keeping your friends close to you, but your enemies closer to keep an eye on them and uncover their secret plots? This may seem to make sense to a gangster. Many princes have been gangsters for all practical purposes or little better than them. What applies to a gangster does not apply to a prince. Keep your friends far from you, your enemies even further away. Why is this? You have the prince and the marquis who mans the borderlands, always the first to face enemy attack. The prince needs reliable men for this. He gives them extra privileges and assets for their trouble. Far from the prince, they seldom make obeisance to him formally or informally. From time to time the prince makes the rounds to ensure that all is well on the borders. If all is well, the more quickly he moves on, having little need to investigate deeply, to make personnel changes. The marquis does his duty, the prince commends him and moves on. The marquis goes back to being the prince of his own estate without superiors to contravene, contradict his ordinances. Both parties are content with this, a good basis for friendship.
His friends keep his enemies at bay. Overcentralization of power is a threat to every state, every true prince. It is an oligarchic, courtier plot hatched by pimps, whores, embezzlers, seditionists and traitors, always, to be sure, claiming to act out of patriotism. This creates a boom/bust cycle. Overcentralization leads to uncontrollable corruption, ignorance in the state of the provinces, corrupted and blind potentates manipulated by the scum of the earth. A well balanced federal or feudal system is the ideal. When flunkies come into the provinces to tell their superiors, the governors what to do, this infuriates them. Now, a messenger is the voice of the prince at a distance. The message might be good news or bad, but he does not tell the duke how to run his duchy. It is the prince who sent the message. If the prince suspects trouble in the provinces, he should go in person or send the crown prince to tend to the matter. The duke may not be happy, but royalty has the power to take command of the field as a matter of law. The duke is obligated to obey. Once things are right, leave the duke to his duties and things settle down. When an edict applies to a realm, let the duke enforce it in his own territory, even if modifying in a fair, loyal way to fit the occasion. He is on site and better able to discern the need, unless he is corrupt. What of corrupt lieutenants in provinces?
When a duke usurps the prince, first follow the law of Moses; pull the ground from under the duke’s feet, as Moses did to Dathan and Kore (Korah.) You contact his counts, barons and the rest. “This man is obligated to obey me. He is a usurper. If he usurps his agreement to me, what makes you suppose he will not deprive you of what pertains to you when the occasion comes? You are obligated to the duke, and the duke to me. So you are also obligated to me, especially when the duke oversteps his duty. Who will rid me of this miscreant? I have the bill of attainder in my hand; the count, baron or he, even he, that excels all others in upholding my right will be duke in his place.”
Now suppose the prince is vile, letting his lieutenants rob and plunder, his flunkies meddle in things that ought not to be meddled with? Then the people of the duchy will despise the prince and cleave to the duke. What should the prince expect, then? Get your flunkies in order. You can try sending royal armies or other dukedom levies to suppress this anger, but you undermine your own realm. Your line will be extinguished in God’s good time, often too long for humanity though it be.
So we see that out of the loins of lions come forth lions. If not, nature is corrupted. Leave your marquis to their duties in the distance. They are princes in their own domain. Duty compels them to obey. If they do not do their duty, how can they upbraid their barons, counts, knights for disobeying them, and so on down the line? To undercut the superior’s authority is to undercut their own.
Now important statesmen should be well paid. Honesty can be bought. You think not? If a poor man is tempted to steal but otherwise honest, and you throw him a boon, or give him some employment at pay, will he not remain honest? He will. If a man of dubious character is rich by reason of his state duties, is he less likely to take bribes that may enrage prince and people? Yes, he is. Pay him enough and he will not risk his beneficence for corrupt gain. The Godfather says that every man has his price. He is wrong. Every honest man or so-so man has his price. Pay it and he will not take a bribe even if offered the world. Anyway, Godfather, who would believe that you would actually make good on delivering the world? You do not have it, own it, and if you did, would not give it lest you leave yourself with nothing. He will not take the bribe.
Conversely, loyalty can never be bought at any price. Do not pay the police to buy their loyalty; pay them to do their duty that requires loyalty to office, oath and honor. What you want to avoid are scoundrels who pay people with power over people with petty wages for offices that have great power to hurt or to help. People who see others in private duties making great wealth while they live on a pittance become resentful. If very poorly paid, they feel obligated to family to steal to make ends meet, justifying this with the adage: everyone is corrupt and we must look after number one. Alternatively, society is cheating me my due. They owe me.
Where to get the money to pay? Keep the people fully employed, keeping the tax rate lower in consequence. Make sure the rich pay a reasonable proportion to uphold the state that protects their assets. Encourage them to keep the people employed and productive by offering tax cuts to those who use their wealth wisely. Did you ever read the parable of the talents in the gospels? Jesus rewards the productive rich with more riches, penalizes the slothful by taking what riches they have from them. Prosperous workers pay taxes. More production produces more revenue from sales taxes. The overall rate of taxation is kept bearable by this, while the treasury pulls in more revenue after each more productive year. Your well paid honest police will enforce these laws and regulations at peril of losing their honestly earned, honorable and well paid positions.
Even a dictator should consider loyalty. If a rich man offers loyalty in exchange for the protection of his wealth and utilization of that wealth on behalf of the dictator, he is bribing the new prince. Better to confiscate and/or kill the plutocrat and give his money to a loyal lieutenant from the old neighborhood who was your friend before you came into power and wealth. You make the loyal – rich for their loyalty, not allow the rich to offer help and riches in maintaining their wealth for loyalty in return that will never be given. Moreover, a prince’s true wealth is always the tax base and a productive economy with people content to work for prosperity. Do not go chasing Swiss Bank Accounts. Better to let the scoundrels leave the country and spend their ill-gotten gains abroad than deal with plots at home that might be difficult to suppress. Rob one rich man, and all rich men are threatened, and the middle class and the poor in the end. Nobody trusts a thief. There is no honor among thieves. If you launched a coup, justify it by improving the government, claiming you threw out thieves and murderers, and you probably did, otherwise your coup would have failed; do not be what you overthrew.
: Hide your intentions to keep potential targets of your wrath off guard. This is deception to destroy the enemy.
: There are strategic objectives in war and tactical objectives. I view things from a military point of view, not the point of view of spies, gangsters, traitors and other such filth. It is pointless to hide strategic objectives from the government, soldiers and people. If this means informing the enemy, so what. If they are not half-wits they can divine these themselves. If they are half-wits, do not waste your time lying to them; they will be easy to defeat by a well trained, motivated and well led army. Tactical deception is invariably momentary. No one condemns a man whose house is invaded by thieving, murdering scum when he misinforms them of the whereabouts of the rest of his family. If he did not attempt this, he would be despicable and evil. The general who cloaks his movements, lies through spies and false information about his military assets is doing his duty. Now, if we spread slanderous lies about our enemy, like skewering babies and such to incite third parties to enter the war or enrage our citizenry, we commit a sin. What if our lies, being lies, are found out? Our name stinks in neutral capitals and foreign opinion. If we enrage our citizens, how much more the rank and file of the enemy army that knows the charges are false? Their determination to crush your armed forces increases. Since such heinous crimes merit severe retribution, they fight to save their country from kangaroo court justice. They will fight like tigers. This kind of deception is both immoral and ill-advised. Mr. Greene supposes people admire wily scoundrels. In fact, even scoundrels despise them but feign admiration to disguise their own vices.
Now the whole secret of leadership is to convince the people that the personal glory, grandeur and honor of the prince are coincident with the glory, grandeur and honor of the country he administers. The people and state will back him to the hilt. And how can a prince’s glory, grandeur and honor be other than the state that pays for his government and army? Success of his country is his success, even if by default. It will be under his watch, though lieutenants and private citizens make it happen. Encourage the bureaucracy and people to do so. Otherwise, the prince does not know his business. Better to take a good pension for yourself; shift some money into overseas bank assets that are hard to embezzle, hand over the reigns of power and retire. Otherwise, you risk an ignoble death and overturning of state power.
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A preface notes the others who have attacked these laws on both moral and veracity grounds. The general purpose is pointed out. Chapter 1 paraphrases the laws. Each law is followed by a comment, generally critical, though occasionally finding some merit in a few of them. Sarcasm and some irony are fairly common in the commentary. We note some examples from history relating to the topics. Chapter 2 comments on the nature of the authors' character and purpose as relates to this work, wonders whether this critic should expect ruthless retaliation for criticisms of said laws, as prescribed by the laws.