Today I bring you a very qualified endorsement for a very popular book – The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. Greene is basically a modern-day Machiavelli, and his book is about how to acquire and hold onto power, by any means available. I nearly put the book down after reading the preface, with its sinister defense of deception, mistrust and treachery and cynical condemnation of apparently honesty and goodness as either foolish or manipulative.
But then I started into the book, and found that there is actually some value in it. Some of the laws are simple social graces, such as not being to flagrant in outshining your masters, and, when change is needed, to introduce it gradually and not reform too much at once. Some are basic social wisdom as you might find in biblical proverbs, such as not speaking too freely and persuading people with your actions rather than your arguments. Some are excellent self-development principles, such as acting decisively and constantly re-creating yourself. But some of the laws are simply evil, such as keeping people in a state of fearful terror and taking credit for the work of others.
I still think the book useful, however. Spiritually-minded people, especially very committed ones, have a reputation for being gullible and lacking in social knowledge. This was true even back in the days of Jesus, who observed that “the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light” (Luke 16:8).
Religions, spiritual systems and the ranks of spiritual teachers down through the ages have been full of clever men using God and enlightenment as tools to acquire power. In fact, one of Greene’s laws (#27) is to play upon people’s need to believe to create a cult-like following. If nothing else, Greene’s book is an excellent education for the spiritual seeker in the methods of manipulation that unscrupulous teachers and organizations may try to use. For that reason alone, it’s worth a read.
And it’s a very entertaining read. For each law, Greene provides fascinating illustrations from the pages of history, from Otto Von Bismark to Nikola Tesla. Some stories illustrate the laws being followed, and others illustrate those laws being ignored, often with disastrous consequences. Just remember that you’re dealing with an author who is openly praising deceit and misdirection. Learn from his book, but use your higher judgment.
Below is a video of the author discussing this book.