The Case for Kissing Ass
The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene is one of the most controversial books I’ve had the pleasure of owning. Upon hearing of several prisons banning the book in fear of prisoners employing the topics within, my interest was piqued. I headed straight to Amazon, and saw a vivid contrast of reviews. People seem to either love or hate this book.
As you can see, there are people who believe there are takeaways in this book that will improve their lives, and others think it’s a book of pure evil. Either way, it is clear this book has a strong effect on people, and I plan to analyze each chapter in full.
If there is a way to grow positively from this book, I will find it.
With that said, here is my take on the first chapter–
The First Law of Power: Never Outshine the Master
The first law of power starts with this excerpt:
Always make those above you feel comfortably superior.
In your desire to please and impress them, do not go too
far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish
the opposite– inspire fear and insecurity. Make your
masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will
attain the heights of power.
The chapter opens with a story of a man who went against this law, and a story of a man who followed it. Fouquet, financial minister to King Louis XIV, teaches the reader a lesson on what happens when you outdo the “master”– or whomever has the upper hand in your life. He throws a party greater than any of the King’s, and despite the party being FOR the king, winds up in exile.
The famous Galileo is an example for following the law. He wishes to have the funding for his astronomical advances, and by flattering the richest of Italian families, the Medicis, he gains all the power he needs to pursue his science. The Medicis surely didn’t know anything about the stars, but Galileo told them their dynasty marked the discovery of Jupiter’s moons and they went crazy for it. The flattery of being told they were so great as to cause a cosmic event landed Galileo a sweet gig as court philosopher and mathematician.
The takeaway here is to kiss some serious ass, but not to do it in such a way that makes your superior feel small. You should remember that those above you are, in fact, human, and thus not untouchable. Everyone has insecurities, and the last thing you want to do is miss out on a good position because you highlighted them in the person with power.
This chapter also points out two more lessons:
- Be careful not to outshine the master inadvertently and
- Never imagine that just because the master loves you, you can do whatever you want
This second one rings true with anyone who takes advantage of a friendship with their boss to slack on the job. We all know somebody.
My favorite quote in this chapter, nearing the end is this:
“Never take your position for granted and never let any favors you receive go to your head.”Robert Greene
This sentence is one that I’d argue isn’t evil at all, but rather calls on you to remember who helped you rise to power. This may even be a practice of gratitude.
The chapter ends with a disclaimer that if the master already is falling out of power, there’s no longer a need to avoid outshining him. Therefore, this chapter only applies when interacting with someone who is strongly set in their role.
So far, do I see the evil in this book?
At this point, I am thinking that this could be used in two ways. It could be used with the intention to tear someone else down from a position you want, or simply to understand how social situations play out. It really could be used for good if you only wish to avoid conflict in the workplace, for example. Getting along with your boss does, in fact, make it much easier to go to work. However, I’d argue it’s immoral to plot to overtake their position without very good reason.
Of course, a book cannot be evil. It’s words, on paper, forming ideas. It is up to the reader to interpret the ideas themselves.
In all, I think the first law is pretty legit, and could go either way in terms of morality.