Notes politics Psychology

Law 11: Learn to Keep People Dependent on You (The 48 Laws of Power)

Law 11: Learn to Keep People Dependent on You

The more you are needed by people, the more freedom and independence you have.

In the Middle Ages, a mercenary soldier (condottiere) save the Italian town Siena from a foreign enemy. The citizens of Siena wanted to honor the soldier but could not think of an appropriate way. They thought of making him the ruler of the city, but even that wouldn’t be enough. Finally, one of the citizens appeared before the assembly and said, “Let us kill him and then worship him as our patron saint.” And so they did.


Two horses were carrying two loads. The front Horse went well, but the rear Horse was lazy. The men began to pile the rear Horse’s load on the front Horse; when they had transferred it all, the rear Horse found it easy going, and he said to the front Horse: “Toil and sraeat! The more you try, the more you have to suffer.” When they reached the tavern, the owner said; “Why should I fodder two horses when I carry all on one? I had better give the one all the food it wants, and cut the throat of the other; at least I shall have the hide.” And so he did.


Many have suffered similar fate to the patron saint. This wasn’t because of ingratitude, but because they were replaceable. If you don’t make others dependent on you, then you will become dispensable.

Otto von Bismarck was thirty-two, he became a deputy in the Prussian parliament in 1847. He had no allies, and surveyed the field for potential relationships. He settled on an odd choice, king Frederick William IV. The king was an indecisive, spineless man, who was the opposite of Bismarck . The liberals manipulated him at will. But Bismark stood by him, siding with the king when he was attacked by other deputies.

It paid off. In 1851, Bismarck was promoted to minister in the king’s cabinet. In this position, he forced the king’s hand, pressuring him to build up the military and to stand up to the liberals. Bismarck worked on Frederick’s insecurity about his manliness, telling him that he should rule more confidently and without compromise.

The monarchy, under Bismarck’s influence, was the most powerful force in Prussia once again. Frederick died in 1861 and his brother William took his place. His brother hated Bismarck and wanted to get rid of him. But he was in a perilous situation, with many enemies around him. He even considered abdicating power, fearing the situation he was in.

Bismarck took advantage of this, he stood by the king and gave him strength. William, like his brother, grew dependent on Bismarck’s advice to stave of enemies. Despite his hatred of him, William made Bismarck the prime minister. While the head of the throne was one of the two brothers, the man behind the curtain was always Bismarck.

When he started his career, Bismarck might have chosen a more powerful ally, but he knew that the powerful would swallow you up if you joined them. The powerful don’t need you, they won’t depend on you, and thus you can’t have leverage over them. Frederick was the perfect target because he was king, and he had a weak character. He needed someone powerful by his side, and Bismarck fit that role perfectly.

Make people depend on you. More is to be gained from such dependence than courtesy. He who has slaked his thirst, immediately turns his back on the well, no longer needing it. When dependence disappears, so does civility and decency, and then respect. The first lesson which experience should teach you is to keep hope alive but never satisfied, keeping even a royal patron ever in need of you. – Baltasar Gracián

The reversal to this rule is that by making others dependent on you, you become dependent on them. The alternative is standing alone and depending on no one – like J.P Morgan and John D. Rockefeller who were monopolists, had full control, and played the game alone. But this strategy is difficult to sustain and you will make many enemies.

Read The 48 Laws of Power

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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