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Law 2: Never Put too Much Trust in Friends, Learn How to Use Enemies (The 48 Laws of Power)

Law 2: Never Put Too Much Trust in Friends, Learn How to Use Enemies

Pinochet Kissinger Reunion
Pinochet Kissinger Reunion

Don’t trust friends, they are likely to betray you because they are predisposed to envy. Hire a former enemy, and he will be more loyal than a friend – he has more to prove.

In the 9th century A.D, Michael III, a young man assumed the throne of the Byzantine empire. He mother was Empress Theodora, she was banished to a nunnery. Her lover, Theoctisus, was killed. Bardas, Michael’s uncle, was behind the conspiracy to get rid of Theodora, and give power to Michael. A young, inexperienced ruler, Michael was given a difficult task, he was surrounded by murderers and profligates. He needed someone he could trust as an advisor. He turned to Basilius, his best friend. Basilius was the head of the royal stables, had no experience in politics or government, but earned the trust of his friend.

To have a good enemy, choose a friend: He knows where to strike. – Diane De Poitierss

Basilius saved Michael’s life a few years before a wild horse that got loose. Michael was impressed by Basilius’s strength and bravery – he raised Basilius from horse trainer to head of the stables. He gave his friend gifts and favors. They became inseparable. Bassilius was sent to the best school in Bizantium; he became a cultured and sophisticated courtier.

Every time I bestow a vacant office I make a hundred discontented persons and one ingrate. – Louis XIV

Michael was now emperor. He had no one better to trust than Basilius. More qualified candidates than Bardas existed, but Michael chose his friend. Basilius was a quick learner, his advice was sought for all matters relating to the state. But Basilius never had enough. He experienced the splendor of Byzantine court life, and became more ambitious for power. Michael tripled his salary, ennobled him, and gave his own mistress, Eudoxia Ingerina, to marry. He was ready to keep his friend happy at all costs.

Michael’s uncle Bardas became the head of the army. Basilius warned Michael that Bardas was hungry for power – he poured poison in his friend’s ears, and convinced him that Bardas was conspiring to dethrone him, until Michael agreed to have his uncle murdered. Basilius carried out the kill himself during a great horse race. He stabbed Bardas to death in the middle of a crowd, he then asked for control of the army to quell the rebellion, and his wish was granted.

Thus for my own part l have more than once been deceived by the person I loved most and of whose love, above everyone else’s, I have been most confident. So that I believe that u may be right to love and serve one person above all others. according to merit and worth, but never to trust so much in this tempting trap of friendship as to have cause to repent of it later on.- Baldassare Castiglione

Basilius’s influence grew. A few years later. Michael, who was in financial straits because of lavish spending habits. asked Basilius to pay back some of the money he had owed him over the years. But Basilius refused, with a dark, impudent look – that unmistakably was a bad omen for Michael. The latter was killed a few weeks later, after a night of heavy drinking. Basilius made himself emperor and rode the streets of Byzantium with his best friend’s head on the end of a pike.

There are many who think therefore that a wise prince ought, when he has the chance, to foment astutely some enmity, so that by suppressing It he will augment his greatness. Princes, and especially new ones, have found more faith and more usefulness in those men, whom at the beginning of their power they regarded with suspicion, than in those they at first confided in. Pandolfo Petrucci, prince of Siena, governed his state more by those whom he suspected than by others. – Niccolo Machiavelli 

Michael III depended on his friend’s gratitude to save him. He thought that there was no way Basilius would betray him after everything he had done for him. But when he saw that smile on Basilius’ face weeks before he was killed, he realized the predicament he was in. He caused his own downfall. He showed his friend the attractions of power, and expected him to act against human nature. Yet Michael could have saved his own life, when he realized the position he was in, but couldn’t believe his friend would kill him.

Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit, because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure. – Tacitus 

As Lincoln said, you destroy an enemy when you make a friend of him. In 1971, during the Vietnam War, Henry Kissinger was the target of an unsuccessful kidnapping attempt, a conspiracy involving, among others, the renowned antiwar activist priests the Berrigan brothers, four more Catholic priests, and four nuns. In private, without informing the Secret Service or the Justice Department, Kissinger arranged a Saturday-morning meeting with three of the alleged kidnappers.

Explaining to his guests that he would have most American soldiers out of Vietnam by mid-1972, he completely charmed them. They gave him some “Kidnap Kissinger” buttons and one of them remained a friend of his for years, visiting him on several occasions. This was not just a onetime ploy: Kissinger made a policy of working with those who disagreed with him. Colleagues commented that he seemed to get along better with his enemies than with his friends.

Lord, protect me from my friends; I can take care of my enemies.- Voltaire

Without enemies around us, we grow lazy. An enemy at our heels sharpens our wits, keeping us focused and alert. It is sometimes better, then, to use enemies as enemies rather than transforming them into friends or allies.

Mao Tse-tung saw conflict as key in his approach to power. In 1937 the Japanese invaded China, interrupting the civil war between Mao’s Communists and their enemy, the Nationalists.Fearing that the Japanese would wipe them out, some Communist leaders advocated leaving the Nationalists to fight the Japanese, and using the time to recuperate. Mao disagreed: The Japanese could not possibly defeat and occupy a vast country like China for long. Once they left, the Communists would have grown rusty if they had been out of combat for several years, and would be ill prepared to reopen their struggle with the Nationalists. To fight a formidable foe like the Japanese, in fact, would be the perfect training for the Communists’ ragtag army. Mao’s plan was adopted, and it worked: By the time the Japanese finally retreated, the Communists had gained the fighting experience that helped them defeat the Nationalists.

Years later, a Japanese visitor tried to apologize to Mao for his country’s invasion of China. Mao interrupted, “Should I not thank you instead?” Without a worthy opponent, he explained, a man or group cannot grow stronger.

Mao’s strategy of constant conflict has several key components. First, be certain that in the long run you will emerge victorious. Never pick a fight with someone you are not sure you can defeat, as Mao knew the Japanese would be defeated in time. Second, if you have no apparent enemies, you must sometimes set up a convenient target, even turning a friend into an enemy. Mao used this tactic time and again in politics. Third, use such enemies to define your cause more clearly to the public, even framing it as a struggle of good against evil. Mao actually encouraged China’s disagreements with the Soviet Union and the United States; without clear-cut enemies, he believed, his people would lose any sense of what Chinese Communism meant. A sharply defined enemy is a far stronger argument for your side than all the words you could possibly put together.

Never let the presence of enemies upset or distress you—you are far better off with a declared opponent or two than not knowing where your real enemies lie. The man of power welcomes conflict, using enemies to enhance his reputation as a surefooted fighter who can be relied upon in times of uncertainty.

Know how to use enemies for your own profit. You must learn to grab a sword not by its blade, which would cut you, but by the handle, which allows you to defend yourself. The wise man profits more from his enemies, than a fool from his friends. – Baltasar Gracián

Read The 48 Laws of Power

"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian

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