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Laws of Power: Discretion, Simulation, and Courtiership

Artful Prudence
February 12, 2021


This essay is a lengthy analysis and breakdown of three high-powered and interconnected laws from the 48 Laws of Power. In opening, I will be exploring ‘Law 19; Do not offend the wrong person‘ and in the succeeding sections, I will expand on ‘Law 21; Play a sucker to catch a sucker, seem dumber than you mark‘ and ‘Law 24: Play the perfect courtier respectively’.

To understand the ins and outs of these laws, I suggest you inquire while you read, and write down your own thoughts, diligently and in your own words. Reflective and deliberate, furthermore, how you could apply particular principles in your own life in a calculated and cautious manner. Critical thinking demands that you give consideration and think about this material before proceeding with the application. To understand said principles, mere inquiry is not adequate, execution and education go hand in hand and thus neither should be disregarded for the other.

To lay out some terminology, ‘discretion‘ refers to the deliberate quality of conducting yourself in such a way that neither causes offence nor uncovers secrecy. Furthermore, ‘simulation’ refers to the act of pretending or imitating, a deception that is misleading and convincing. Lastly, ‘courtiership’ is the magical art of the courtier that was established in royal courts. It demanded a heightened level of proficiency in cunning, cautiousness, judgement, manner and style, masters of appearance and external manipulation. Courtiers augment the ruler’s presence while adapting their own accordingly.

Discretion – Avoid causing offence to the wrong person

Law 19 – Know who you’re dealing with, do not offend the Wrong Person


As you climb the ladder of power, you will stumble across a vast range of characters who will demand different courses of action to wrestle with, thus, one of the most indispensable skills to develop is your ability to distinguish between different temperaments with good precision. If you are precise in your estimations, you will not require too much effort to constrain people to your side. For being able to identify a particular character and have the capacity to act in accordance with it so as to avoid opposition and hostility, is all-important. We are surrounded by an abundance of diverse characters, and thus do not be naive to presume that different people will respond to your stratagem in the same way. Consequently, be cautious when choosing your targets and absolutely do not displease and upset the mistaken character.

I am about to lay out common character types that you will stumble across often, and have in all likelihood dealt with in the past. These types are rough approximations to give you an adequate overview of their key characteristics to look out for.

The Snobbish and Vain

As the name implies, an oversensitive arrogance makes this man threatening and insecure. The tiniest error will compel him to seek revenge as a consequence of his terrible hostility. This man lacks a sense of rationality or equilibrium, he is regulated by his aggressiveness, he overreacts when he gets the opportunity and asserts his antagonism upon those who have a grave dealing with him. Avoid such a person at all cost if you are confronted with his thin-skinned nature and certainly do not waste time attempting to work out his insanity, for it will all be in vain. Such a person is hard to trust, his lack of stability makes him terrible in social affairs and his insecurity invariably makes people have contempt towards him.

The Dejected and Timid

Similar to the previous type, this man is as brittle as you can imagine, he is hesitant and timid and not taxing to deceive. When he is betrayed or deceived, his sense of distress will pour out and it will be evident in his gesture. Such types will keep besetting you if you caused the injury in any possible way. Stay away from them for a long while if you caused them pain, for they will be your source of continual dreadful nuisance.

The Dubious Skeptic

The dubious character sees what he permits himself to see, he’s a pessimist by nature and identifies the imperfections and faults in people, which are often projections of his own insufficiency. His excessive sense of self-worth compels him to believe people are pursuing him, a blend of narcissism and insecurity. This type is easily deceived as he lacks the rationality to reason well and he is one of the least threatening of the types. If you want to capitalise on his obnoxious conduct, leverage his distrustful nature to be in opposition with others.

The Sly Man

The prominent qualities of this type are their proficiency in deception and foresight. This man will not exhibit weakness out in the open, he plays the waiting game and strikes back when the time is right. His callous astuteness allows him to inflict a potent vengeance when he has the upper-hand and calculated heedfully. If you have a bad dealing with such a man, you must either annihilate him or evade him at all cost and head for the hills, for he will not forgive a grave injury and will make you pay the price.

The Ignorant Man

The uneducated man is a tempting victim, nonetheless, he’s not as easy to deceive as you may presume. To fall for a ploy requires an adequate level of intellect and some insight that will supply you with a sense of possibility. Conversely, this man lacks the imagination to consider the likelihood of recompense and thus often disregard a stratagem all together. Such a man will not seek retribution yet will unquestionably squander your productive time and vitality in your attempt to exploit him.

The Subtle Art of Discretion

Everyone has vulnerabilities and anyone who says otherwise is obviously engaging in self-denial or being evasive. Many a time, the ideal way to swindle a person is to make use of his insecurities carefully. Degrees are significant in the domain of power and the degree to which a man is more unguarded than the mediocre introduces menace and possibility. To have sufficient ability in meticulously evaluating people and understanding the other person’s temperament is the most indispensable expertise in accumulating power and preserving it. If you lack this capability, you are quite literally sightless because you will have no grounds as to who you are dealing with and you will proceed with rash action, select the mistaken people and engage in inappropriate conduct with the wrong people.

Remember: Before plotting any potential initiative, be absolutely certain that you have a definite calculation of who your opponent is. Avoid moving forward unless you know the other person’s character as your probability for disaster is significantly higher and the price you could pay for it is indefinite; that is threatening both your life and your reputation. You know this already, there are certain people who are upset even over the minor offence and they will willingly transform it into a dispute and perhaps, an armed conflict. A fragile ego breaks easily and when it does, the person opposing it will have to cope with it in the heat of the moment. Thus, it is wiser to avoid such a conflict altogether and err on the side of caution and calculation.

Do not depend on your natural tendency when inferring a verdict about your adversary. There is no superior successor for accumulating useful knowledge and to lay your trust on such erroneous measures will only result in a rash error. Furthermore, do not be unsophisticated in relying on appearances, people are competent in concealing their shortcomings and vices. Know how to precisely uncover their lack of congruence and facades that they utilise to conceal their nature. A cunning man can be pretentious with his warmth and kindliness, in the same way, a fool can be pretentious with his veil of bullying and threat. You must, as it were, have the ability to dig beneath the surface and make an accurate assessment of their authentic character through body language, tonality, facial gesture and others.

Insecurity and Courtesy

Moreover, do not make that hasty supposition that your adversary may be puny and unimportant in comparison, especially if you’re not well informed about his essential qualities. Different men react to offence in different fashions, for instance, there are men who are unhurried and long-drawn-out in taking offence which may prompt a miscalculation on your part and a rude remark which would have otherwise been refrained. Nonetheless, you ought to understand that there are certain people whose vanity and integrity are so tenuous that any slight offence caused to them will motivate forceful savagery and it will seem unexpected and radical when you consider their prolonged response. Be cautious and discreet with rejections, courtesy goes a long way when dealing with people, it is always more respectable to sidestep an insult when declining an offer, even if it is an insolent and shameless proposition. Do not be of the belief that you ought to treat people the same way they treat you, for if you stumble across an impolitic fool, it is completely foolish to cheapen your position at his expense. That being said, avoid insulting refusals with people you don’t know adequately.

An unduly insecure person will make it evident in his conduct that he was insulted, but a confident person will have a good laugh at your remarks. Insecure men could seem like advocates of fair-mindedness and sincerity, but that is merely their way to shelter their lack of confidence in vague values that they most likely do not justify in their character. Such men, when fooled or deceived, have a flood of doubt and are shattered internally. They are, as a result, in desperation to mend their fragile ego and reinstate their inadequacy. Truth be told, most men welcome embarrassment of being duped with a sense of compliance. Their credulity and rapacity hinder their contemplative element because they imagine themselves harmless sufferers of circumstance.

What do you gain from an insult? It is better to bear the impulse to affront someone even if they hold a debilitated position. You never know whether one of these days they will be in a more powerful position to seek retribution, keep that in mind. The sense of gratification you get from a wilful insult is trivial compared to the prospect of the peril of future punishment. A negligible person today can be a powerful person tomorrow.

Downplay your Understanding

Law 21 – Play a sucker to catch a sucker, seem dumber than your mark.

The Conceit of Intellectual Superiority

A man can be absolutely modest in his manners yet rarely compel people to fail to notice his offence of being intellectually superior to them. Being shrugged off is a considerable good deed for your courtesy and if people discern it, it is a consequence of their judgement of it as an element of insolence and bad manners. Or, something to which the person in question has no rightful entitlement for and delights in it out of vanity and not genuine humbleness. In vengeance upon his behaviour, people will attempt to embarrass and mortify him behind his back in some way and their forbearance with doing so is only a consequence of their careful calculation.

The perception that someone could be more brilliant than you becomes intolerable, this holds even more relevance for those with extravagant egos who are extremely fragile. As a result, you start to naturally give grounds for his intelligence in myriad different manners to find a sense of ease and consolation in your shattered ego. As a matter of fact, there is nothing a man is more puffed up and arrogant about than his intellectual superiority. In this beastly world, you live in, you like to believe it is your intellect that offers you a place of authority and control, and there is a good reason for that. Nonetheless, it is an impetuous error to allow others to perceive that you are distinctly brighter, the various passions of disdain, envy, hostility and threat are inevitably not worth the foolish posturing.

The Simulation of Intelligence and Perception

Simply consider and observe how people uphold their intellectual ability to their self-conceit and then be sure to avoid disparaging this faculty. If you want to soften people’s guard, the evident faculty to downplay is intelligence, but the other two facets to downplay are judgement and experience as both draw up close to intellect on the hierarchy of conceit. Make them feel superior to you in these faculties, and you will have them at the tip of your fingers. It is the ideal camouflage to seem less clever than you are and at times, somewhat of an idiot to confound people. The sense of intellectual superiority you can induce in people by means of cognitive reassurance through indirect modes will lay down their doubt and suppositions and will be coerced easier to your side. Do not communicate this implication through direct means, though, utilise concealed and roundabout methods as these are more subtle and potent. A gesture of admiration at their intellectual ability, for instance, can go a long way.

There is an archaic hunting approach called “Masquerading as a swine to kill the tiger”, in which the huntsman disguises himself in the skin and muzzle of a pig and then imitates its grunting to enforce the pretence that subsides the pig’s guard. The camouflaged man patiently waits for a pig to approach his proximity close enough and then attacks suddenly. This method can be translated into real-life plots. For instance, if someone is conceited and cocksure, you can convey to them the impression that you are a docile target. When they resolve to make an ulterior move on you, you can at once tip over the script on them. This element of unpredictability from your end will totally frighten them, stirring menace and threat. This course of action is also productive if you are an eager and pioneering character who finds himself at the bottom end of the social order.

To sum up, compel people to be convinced that they are more intelligent and superior to you in matters of taste, intellect, and experience. For you will win them over to your side through your deliberate modesty and discretion, making them feel validated and in solace around you. The longer you are in their presence, furthermore, the more prospect for favourable outcomes for you to exploit them, should you desire to. Remember: It will not serve you to divulge and show off your intelligence, especially if you are incalculably superior, make it habitual to denigrate your intelligence continually. When you have power, do not make it evident, instead, feign a lesser position to not rouse passions. On the other hand, you can’t carry yourself in a half-witted manner, especially if you have people above you who are superiors, you must make it apparent, through your eloquence and articulation, that you are brighter than your rivalries. As you are more established, though, you must carefully lessen your genius to keep people on your side.

Lastly, if people discover the truth underlying your modesty and humbleness, they will not resent you for it. Instead, they will admire your capacity for discretion rather than exhibiting your great intellect among everyone. There is but one exception, of course, where it will serve your benefit to oppose this rule. There will be conditions where masking a deception will demand a display of brainpower, in such circumstances, do not conceal it but encompass it. Impressions are powerful and an audacious and well-spoken voice will persuade and assure many.

The Magical Art of Courtiership

Law 24 – Play the perfect courtier.

General Depiction of a Courtier

Courtiers are like wizards, they illusively manipulate their appearance and only letting those among them perceive what they desire. With such an abundance of underlying artifice and dexterity taking place, it is crucial that they are not discerned and remain as subtle as possible. The courtier is a maestro of his demeanour and facial gesture, his character wise and impervious. His genius allows him to dissemble poor affairs, regulate his passions, grin at his adversaries, contradict his soul and act in opposition to his emotions.

Courtiers are feared for their power, they are masters of their appearance with the knowledge that people largely judge others based on exterior impression. Courtiers are elegant, courteous and well mannered, for their sense of hostility and belligerence is continually concealed and channelled through indirect means. Furthermore, they are bright at pleasing people neither by embarrassing themselves nor making a display of overstated flattery. People naturally delight in their presence as a consequence of their allure. Courtiers are articulate and well-read, they are concise and bold, not saying more than required to convey the message. In addition, courtiers understand how to take advantage of both a commendation or an abusive remark. The art of indirection is one of the master tools of the courtier, he submits his authority to his superiors, asserts his influence in a dignified, elegant and implicit manner and expresses commendation in a deliberate fashion. The ideal courtier prospers in a sphere where the whole lot centres around diplomatic and influential shrewdness and skill.

Applying the Demeanour of a Courtier

The court mostly revolves around the ruler, a continual striving to make him happy and keeping him entertained, stiffening the pecking order of the allegiance and aristocracy to retain the secondaries adjacent to the sovereign so he could look out for them. It is a known truism that the construction of a society in court is founded on power and command. Accordingly, a competent courtier was rigorous and cautious, delighting in moderation and not in excess, adhering to rule and setting himself apart from his equals, but never to the extent of rousing insecurity in the leader. (Law 01: Never Outshine the Master) Nowadays, even though a courtier is not requested to engage in antiquated masquerades like the worn days, the fundamental principles that reign over politics in court are ageless and classic and thus are as prevalent today as back then.

The courtier can’t call too much notice and recognition towards his behaviour or character, it is simply not wise to become a chatterbox of self-importance. Furthermore, it brings rise to unneeded misgiving and wariness. Modesty is more desirable, narcissistic talkativeness is fruitless to the courtier and will in due course awaken adequate covetousness to bring about disloyalty and betrayal. As a rule of thumb, then, learn to talk more about others than about yourself to avoid adverse reactions. A great deal of the risks and concerns for the courtier is associated with the ruler, nonetheless, it is not solely the ruler who will dictate and decide your providence since your equals and subsidiaries too are conductive to it. With great power comes an expansive composite of terror, jealousy, bitterness and indignation. Thus, you must learn to pacify and soothe others who can cause you injury at some point in the future, diverting and bouncing their displeasure and antagonism onto others.

A court is a place of reciprocal reliance, it is the whole of senior politicians and diplomats as well as the reporters who are obsequious towards them. Therefore, it is ill-advised to displease the experience and culture of the people around you, irrespective of whether they are superiors or inferiors. In court, there is a strange contradiction, for you must get yourself the adequate recognition you deserve yet you mustn’t exhibit or parade yourself too shamelessly. This graceful balance requires sufficient skill in the art of indirect adulation; subduing and restraining your offerings to make your ruler look stronger than he is. What’s more, when you modestly flatter people on their impressive feats, you are, by implication, enticing attention to your good name. The delivery with regards to a compliment is crucial if you have the capacity to convey a sense of genuine awe and surprise at other peoples’ success, you possess an exceptional aptitude that will certainly serve you. In general, do your best to stay away from cracking jokes related to two of the most delicate spheres; appearance and taste, neither among them nor elsewhere.

The 3 Faculties; Style, Manner and Image

Courtiers disguise their efforts in matters of vocation, making their work seem effortless to the point of being interpreted as a genius. Their aptitude is adaptable and natural, moving in harmony with the changeable nature of things. You ought to learn to imitate the ethos of the times, the courtier’s ethos and reasoning ought to keep abreast with the present moment, indifferent to your finer feelings. The courtier is a reflection, as it were, exercising his wits to perceive himself in the same way others perceive him. This is a sound method to regulate your appearance. Become observant with yourself, then, to circumvent a fiasco from unfolding. Your physical appearance is crucial, you must find an aspect with which you can cultivate a characteristic and distinguishing flair that sets you apart from your rivalries. The distinctive style is subtle, it is understated and not obvious. Delicacy heightens significance, captivating those around you and emanating an aura of graceful charm. Cultivate these three faculties; style, manner and image, for they will significantly serve your influence.

When you have power over these faculties, you have the potentiality to adapt them according to each individual. If you fail to adjust your temperament and maintain a sense of pliability, you will inevitably awaken much unwanted feelings; disdain, scorn, snobbishness etc. Those among you may not grant it openly, but its latent presence is eventually sure to happen. In addition, do not ever be the belief that your basis for manner and discernment are omnipresent and general. The truth is they are not, and you should learn to refine accordingly if you want to sustain a crisp good name. You must hone your acting skills, then, and simulate your act effectively to flow with each person. The art of pretence is a gift from beyond, it is an extremely useful skill for social and political concerns. It is no smooth road, you will contend with your shortcomings and there will be conditions where it will be necessary to fabricate, exploit and swindle. It is demanded of you to be sharp in both camouflaging your annoyance and simulate your pleasure and assent. People, if truth be told, do not exactly want to see your struggles and tears as it seems like some other manifestation of pretension and showiness.

Additional Notions on Courting the Master

Law 1: Never Outshine the Master.

Your master does not want a friend, he wants a subsidiary. Do not approach him under the presumption that you are on ideal terms, do not act friendly as if he’s one of your close friends, maintain an element of distance between you and the master that enforces your appropriate roles in the pecking order. The master doesn’t want to hear your criticisms of him, you don’t hold a standing that grants you the ability to condemn him. If you decide to condemn him, you will pay a price for it, and it will be a grave one, at that. It is irrelevant how pertinent your criticism is, the master discerns the messenger, not the reproval you are communicating. You must refine your courtesy and prudence so your condemnations and suggestions are as allusive and subtle as possible. The source of condemnation should not be associated with any person, make the counselling neutral and aloof yet compelling the importance of the affairs to motivate necessary action. As well, propose favours as infrequently as possible and know your boundaries well. In addition, never ask for good turns in the interests of another person, this is crucial.

Note: Make it a point that you do not become a messenger of disappointment, this is critical, for in the long term, this can only injure your repute and make those around you regard you with contempt.

Having to turn down a person’s appeal is irritating to the master. Never unduly appeal for too much, for it is a master’s entitlement to bestow offerings and to be able to do so without initial reminders or cues by his subordinates. Therefore, do not present the master with the chance to refuse your proposals. What would be more beneficial is to secure his esteem by being worthy of your recompense and thus being offered the benefits without having to appeal to them. The rule is, then, do not overplay yourself, diligently do what is appointed to you and stop there. A surfeit of work, under the assumption that it will reap more benefits, is a fault. You will seem to be working arduously as if you are making up for insufficiency and in turn, you stir up undesirable suspicion and obstruct your effortless demeanour.

Time and again, it will be a strain to please your master, but if you have the ability to please a pair of authorities in one feat demands a higher genius of an absolute courtier. Expertise and aptitude are very significant, nonetheless, if you possess brilliance, a great ability that you know you can do better than most, you can take advantage of it to surpass your equals, connecting your genius with the master. Let the master take the credibility, it is merely momentary praise but will be your stepping stone and opportunity to exhibit your flair. In due course, it will release you from subjugation. Do not occupy much time educating yourself, then, that you disregard your social competence.

Further Reading

  1. 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene
  2. The Art of Power, AP
  3. The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli
  4. The Art of Wordly Wisdom, Baltasar Gracian
  5. The Book of the Courtier

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Title Laws of Power: Discretion, Simulation, and Courtiership
Author Artful Prudence
Date February 12, 2021 2:04 PM UTC (2 years ago)
Blog Artful Prudence
Archive Link https://theredarchive.com/blog/Artful-Prudence/laws-of-power-discretion-simulation-and.44765
Original Link https://artfulprudence.com/laws-of-power-discretion-simulation-and-courtiership/
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