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The Three Pillars of the 48 Laws of Power By Robert Greene

The Three Pillars of the 48 Laws of Power By Robert Greene

Robert Greene, an American classics scholar and writer, is no doubt one of the most admirable writers of our generation. His ‘’48 Laws of Power’’ is arguably the most commercially successful of his works. The 48 laws of powers is an exposition of a set of forty-eight laws that anyone who seeks to have and/or retain power should adhere to.

Robert Greene begins by identifying one of the things that evoke a sense of self in us — the feeling that derives from our ability to control events or influence people to do our bidding. This feeling brings to bear our hidden cravings for power. Thus, the inability to have control over events and people is described as strongly undesirable; it evokes a feeling of powerlessness. Powerlessness does not only make one feel miserable and inferior to others; it also constitutes a great obstacle in maximizing one’s potential and fulfilling one’s destiny.

Man is ‘’zoon politicon’’ argues Plato, the father of classical Philosophy. Zoon politicon translates to political animal. What Plato meant by this coinage is that man is naturally disposed to power play whether he is conscious of this or not. The struggle for power is the underlying factor behind every action of man or social relation.

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Robert Greene probably had the foregoing Platonic worldview in mind when he conceived his 48 laws of power. Greene’s proposition is that power should be seen by man not only as a necessity for him to adapt in society but also as an inevitable force that shapes his social reality. There is no point avoiding the game of power when the world is a giant scheming court. However, in the course of attaining power, one must be careful not to be overt or eccentric. Standards must be set below and above which one must avoid. This is the rule of golden mean by Aristotle.

The following are the three pillars of the 48 laws of power:

 Self Mastery/Emotional Intelligence

One reason we need to master ourselves is because we have emotions. Emotions are not necessarily bad things about us; they are signals that alert us when we are up against a threat in our environment. However, we usually overestimate external threats. This leads to overreaction from us and could cause irreparable damage to both ourselves and the object of our emotional reaction.

There is a common saying that the master of his own emotion is the master of all. Feelings such as love, anger, hatred, passion, and dejection are some elements of our emotional life.  However one cannot repress these feelings and you should not endeavour to repress or avoid them when they surface. What you should avoid instead is making judgments based on those feelings. An emotional reaction to a situation does not only impair reasoning, it is prejudicial to sound judgment. It is like…..

When you are angered it is better to suspend your judgment than to make an irrational decision on the spot. More so, your love for someone or people should not prevent you from seeing them as human beings and by nature political animals.

Critical Reasoning

You want to consider all the possible contexts connected to the matter at hand. Critical reasoning helps you to not only identify a problem or threat but also help you to unravel opportunities within the identified problem. Distance yourself from the present moment and think objectively about the past and the future.  You should see the moment as the connecting point of the past and the future. Focus not only on what you have at the moment but on how you could use it to correct the past, learning from both your personal experience and the experiences of those above you.

The mistake that you have made and learned from may turn out to be your greatest advantage.

In Robert Grenees’ words, one must assume the image of Janus, the double-faced Greek god who secures all the gates and doorways. Hence, you must possess a double face, one to reflect on the past and the other to peek into the future concurrently. Also, while thinking about the future you must not be consumed in fantasy or illusion. That is you must not focus solely on the happy ending of your dreams. You must anticipate challenges and problems and prepare a defense against them.


According to Robert Greene, one adept at power play is able to assume different forms or shapes, cashing on the narrow and rigid mindset of the unsuspecting enemy. You must be able to put your critical thinking to use to devise more subtle means of navigating your obstacles. A master at power is not predictable. Sometimes he is a crook and other times he is a saint. He is whatever he wishes to be or whatever is required of him according to context or situation. This reflects the height of self-mastery and the basis of power. Thus, the powerful man always has an ace up his sleeve and he is one step ahead of the enemy.

By his idea of flexibility, Robert Greene invites us to be water just as the famous Chinese martial artist, Bruce Lee, would say, ‘’Be water, my friend’’. Water is a recurring metaphor in Lee’s philosophy. Water is perceived as a powerful adaptive element due to its ability to take different forms or shapes.

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