Why ‘48 Laws of Power’ is a guidebook for dictators

Why ‘48 Laws of Power’ is a guidebook for dictators
48 Laws of Power [PHOTO:COURTESY]

48 Laws of Power has been viewed by many as a must read for those who aspire to occupy political positions, making it the most quoted book in political discourses. It has also been recommended for those keen on surmounting hurdles in their workplace to earn a seamless meteoric rise in rank to the top. But it is the attempt by some literary enthusiasts to pass it as a book worthy of literary attention that disappointed me. Indeed, its simplicity and chronological enumeration of 48 laws makes the book easy to read even to laziest of readers. But that is how far it goes. The bumper sticker messages highlighted in this book are high on fantasies but low or zero on solid moral values.

In his book ‘The Republic’, Plato in his formulation of what he called utopian society, used the analogy of human soul to describe what the society needs and which role each one of us can play in advancing the good of everyone in a state. According to Plato, human body has three parts: bodily desires, spiritual needs and knowledge.

Robert Greene appears to have preoccupied himself with bodily desires. According to what is prescribed in ‘48 Laws of Power,’ and drawing on the analogy of Plato, it is evident that this book is wired to produce malnourished individuals with no spiritual senses and knowledge. This kind of an individual poses great danger to himself and to others. A society therefore that has men and women with unchecked appetite for accumulating wealthy and power cannot escape the moral decadence that has become commonplace in our society.

For starters the ‘48 Laws of Power’ are chiefly derived from the Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli and other books whose main theme is amassing power selfishly at the expense of others. In essence ‘48 Laws of Power’ is a book that tramples on every moral and ethical tenet that ought to guide how a just society is to be governed. Further, the book is stuck in the past when leaders solely depended on the military, chariots and warships to solve disputes. Today leaders and nations are embracing diplomacy.

That is why I was taken aback when someone recommended the book to some university students. In a society that is already choked on myriad of social and economic malaise, such a poisonous book should be the last to be recommended to anyone especially our youths in this country.

What can be gained from a book, which according to me, is nothing but a guidebook for oppressors with clear footnotes on how to fulfill unbridled bodily desires and appetites?

Critics have often accused Robert Greene of insincerity. This insincerity, according to these critics, stems from the fact that he has contradicted himself from the first chapter to the last. This accusation is not fully unfounded. Reading through his book, I was able to single out some of these contractions. For instance, the law of power number five states that "So much depends on reputation, guard it with your life" while number seven he states that "Let others do the work but take the credit" The issue here is that you cannot build any reputation by living off other people's sweat. The only justification that may let him off the hook on the accusation of contraction is if he meant fraudulently guarding reputation which then a gain takes away the meaning of word 'reputation'

Robert Greene uses law three to advice his readers to conceal their intentions yet through law number six he advices the same readers to court attention at all costs. The catchphrase here being that it is not practical to court attention without divulging some of your secrets and intentions to the public.

The above contradictions give credence to the argument that Robert Greene's nuggets are not based on any research but wild canal imaginations to gratify personal egoistic needs.

During his time, Socrates was disappointed with the selfishness of his fellow citizens. He derided their raw appetite for power and riches. As a result, he embarked on a lonely pursuit to implore on Athenians to disregard a life of pursuing worldly things and instead pursue wisdom .It is this pursuit that saw him pose this question to Athenians: "What is the point of investing in battleships and city walls, unless the people building them and protected by them are happy?."

Yet Socrates was not the only prominent figure to sneer at the primitive acquisition of material things. Jesus on his sermon to a young rich man wondered what could profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his own soul.

Samuel Johnson a renowned literary critic and poet in his book titled "Vanity of Human Desires” took a dim view of power wielded by kings. According to him, the destiny of tyrants and great military rulers will always end in ruins.

True to his word, history is replete with stories of how strongmen and dictators have been hauled out of offices. Some have endured the embarrassment of being smoked out of holes and bunkers where they had sought refuge. It is only then that these leaders realize what they had read were 48 laws of vanity.


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