Notes politics Psychology

Law 45: Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform Too Much at Once (The 48 Laws of Power)

Law 45: Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform Too Much at Once

Change is necessary, but if you want to implement it, in must be gradual. If you change the status quo too quickly, people will revolt. Whether you are a politician or introducing a new product to the market, don’t deviate too much from the familiar.

Mao Tse-tung knew how unlikely a communist victory in China would be due to their lack of resources. The communists were poor and not well armed. They needed the populace to stand any chance of success. But the Chinese peasantry were rooted to tradition. Confucianism was as relevant in the 1920’s as it always has been. Mao knew he had to disguise the revolution in the clothing of the past.

His first move was using a popular Chinese novel The Water Margin in his propaganda, which described the fight of a Chinese Robin Hood and his robber band against a corrupt monarch. The novel resonated with the Chinese people. He presented his army as an extension of the robber band. He continued to associate his party with the past, and eventually presented himself as a modern Chuko Liang, who was not just a general, but a poet and a philosopher.

Mao’s speeches and writings contained many elements from the past. He finally positioned himself as the antithesis to the conservative teachings of Confucianism, by rooting himself to an ancient philosophical movement called Legalism. The Legalists hated Confucian ethics and believed that violence was necessary to create a new order. Mao chose not to struggle with he past, but to incorporate it into his strategy. This made it possible for the Chinese peasantry to accept his ideas.

The lesson is to not ignore the past. Use the legitimacy of what has come before to further your own case.

It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.

Niccolò Machiavelli

Even though people know that change is necessary, they paradoxically reject anything that threatens their habits and routines. It is a peculiarity of human psychology that requires some effort to transcend. Every revolution has a powerful reaction against it. After being seduced by the new possibilities of the revolution, eventually the void that is created inevitably lead people to yearn for the structure and order of the past.

He who desires or attempts to reform the government of a state, and wishes to have it accepted, must at least retain the semblance of the old forms; so that it may seem to the people that there has been no change in the institutions, even though in fact they are entirely different from the old ones. For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities.

Niccolò Machiavelli

Greene makes an interesting point about technology, telling us that while it is tempting to jump on the latest technological trends and innovate the newest products if you are an entrepreneur, it is always an uphill battle. There will always be others who are more innovative than you, and your own products will eventually pale in comparison to someone younger and hungrier.

You will always be playing catch up. But when you play with the past, in the same way Greene has with this book, you are engaging with something far more durable. It is wise to never cut yourself off from the past, but to embrace it, and to make use of it.

Read The 48 Laws of Power

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

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