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Power Over People by Dennis Dalton: 8.5/10

I think this book deserves its own article.

But I'm too deep into PU upgrade now and still tweaking the website and sales page (the company I hired was great with the migration, but very slow with the post-customization).

It listens like a series of lectures reviewing in part political theory and in part the acquisition of power via political means.

The Hindu Approach

Power must begin with the self.

With self-mastery, self-knowledge, and self-control.

The Greek Approach

The author provides an overview of several Greek thinkers and philosophers.

Interesting, but I'm not too big into philosophy.

Some of these thinkers struck me as idealistic and not in touch with humans' nature.

It's good to aspire for "higher" forms of society and for transcendence, but ONLY after you've learned -and ideally mastered- the more pragmatical aspect of human psychology and power dynamics.

The Machiavellian Realpolitik Approach

A good overview of Machiavelli.

A good takeaway:

The Prince should be loved and feared.
If he can't be both, he should make himself feared.
Feared, but not hated.

This is something people miss when they think of the Machiavellian prince.
The Prince still seeks to avoid making unnecessary enemies.

Fear does not equal hate.

As a matter of fact, every high-power individual leverages at least an element of fear.

To not be hated, the Prince doesn't confiscate his subjects' property, and does not take their women.

Basically, Machiavelli says: keep them in fear, and they'll stay put.
But don't push them too far to the point where they can't eat or have a woman, because then they'll have nothing to lose and rebel.


Marx wanted to change the world.
He wanted a revolution.

To me that was the most important takeaway, and it comes by reading between the lines.

Striking for the most famous thinker who wanted everyone to be the same. Deep down, it seems like he actually wanted to be different, more "impactful" (= more powerful) than anyone else.

How un-surprising.


This is where it gets really interesting.

For Machiavelli violence is expedient.

For Hitler, it's a value and a creed.

There are two keys to Hitler's power:

  • Freudian angle: tapping on the unconscious dark side

He tapped the collective unconscious of the German psyche.
It was a nation that was yearning for security, self-respect, and an aggressive recovery of its power.

Hitler also evokes people's dark side: what everyone thinks, but nobody wanted to admit publicly. This is the "Freudian's read" on Hitler's power.

  • Economic angle: Germany was suffering, needed a strong man to rally behind

Germany was suffering under heavy reparations after WWI.
Hitler stopped paying reparation, and the economy improved (also thanks to military spending).

The "power" overlaps both in terms of military, racial superiority, as well as economical power.

  • Political angle: "racism was in the air"

The author adds a third reason: the political one.

The harder-to stomach truth (at least for today's PC climate) is that antisemitism wasn't Hitler's invention.

Antisemitism pre-dated Hitler.
And it was popular even among scholars and in the universities.

Power University explains why (or at least, provides a credible and logical interpretation).

It's hard not to see political parallels between Hitler and Trump.

Then the author goes into Hitler's glorification of violence.
A fanatical commitment to violence as a purging force of rebirth.

I also had to reflect that for all of Hitler's glorification of violence, he was sending others to die.
That made me think TPM should eventually write an article on "army / soldiers manipulation".

I'm not sure if the author included Hitler's approach to communication in his "political angle", but it certainly was a part of Hitler's initial success.
And so did Hitler's understanding of mass psychology.

Mass Manipulation

It's funny:

Masses adored Hitler.

But Hitler had a very low opinion of the masses.

And of women :).

He says:

The psyche of the masses is not receptive to anything that is half-hearted and weak.

Like a woman, whose psychic state is determined less by abstract reason than by emotional longing for a force which will complement her nature and dominate her.

She would rather bow to a strong man than to dominate a weakling. 

Likewise, the masses love the commander.

I'm not too convinced about the woman's parallel.

And not necessarily because women are so rational.
But because most men aren't either.
Hitler's own experience shows as much.

And still, this passage was genius.
Hitler was onto something. And his understanding and mastery of mass psychology shows in the results he got (luckily for democracy he wasn't nearly as good in military strategy).


Hitler framed violence as a creed.

Gandhi frames non-violence as a value and a creed.

Gandhi was immovable in his commitment to total non-violent rebellion and independence.

The interesting parallel is that both Gandhi and Hitler acquired power through grassroots movements of supportive and adoring masses.

They obtained power in a similar fashion, while professing opposite values.

The author says that mass movements then don't necessarily lead to totalitarianism.
However, I'd be careful here not to take it one step further and conclude that some values aren't more conducive to political power than others. Change, rebellion, an external enemy, anger, patriotism... These all seem to me to provide an easier route for totalitarism.

However, I see a potential weakness in Gandhi's approach.
Says the author:

And it's no question that the British deserve a lot of credit. They never once thought of shooting Gandhi. While I have no doubt that with Hitler, that would have been his first thought.

The problem is that if a man with a gun wants to silence the man without a gun, you must bet on his goodwill.

Or, at least, find some different sources of power and leverage.

In the case of Gandhi and the British, I suspect the author misread the power dynamics.
Gandhi did have a gun. It just didn't happen to be a literal gun with gunpowder. He had his followers, his fame, his world-stage reputation. Killing Gandhi might have been easy. But the consequences might have been severe.

Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?