How Use The 48 Laws of Power (In The 21st Century)

laws of power by thepowermoves

We all loved the Machiavellian48 Laws of Power“.

So much so, that we updated its content for the digital age.

The 48 Laws of Power, based on centuries-old micro-examples, do not always adapt to modernity.

Sure, people have stayed largely the same.
But the environment has changed so much that it makes sense to adjust the laws, too.

This article will teach you how to apply The 48 Laws of Power to your contemporary situation.

Law #1: Learn All You Can From Your Master – Then Move Past Him 

 Law 1: Never outshine the master. 
Law 1: Make your master feel good until you have learned everything from him, then focus on acquiring more power, and move past him

Law of Power N.1 Explanation

This law worked better in the ancient world.

In Greene’s beloved courts, the king was the ultimate power, until his death.
In a world that lacked mobility, “never outshining the master” was a better rule of thumb.

But today there is more mobility, few offices confer power until death, and you can always replace anyone.
CEOs included.

And if you aim high, you should probably aim to do that.

Focusing on “never outshining the master” might easily turn you into the “good boy employee”, the perfect housebroken dog
That’s particularly dangerous if you have an average boss, and most bosses cluster around the average.

Rising stars have a different mindset. 
They don’t look at their immediate boss and worry about “not outshining him”.

As a matter of fact, the rule of thumb for rising stars is this:

The more meteoric the rise to the top, the more likely it is that some average boss got outshone

Scarface is a dramatic -and dramatized- example of a man constantly outshining his boss:

Imagine if Scarface had “never outshined the master”.

Law of Power #1 Proper Application

Don’t get me wrong:

This is not to say you should go out of your way to outshine your boss.

Before you even think about outshining your boss:

  1. Learn all there is to learn from your boss (thinking of power before learning the trade is the definition of crash and burn)
  2. Make sure you have enough power when you attempt overtaking (the bigger the power differential, the riskier a collision course becomes)

And even then, potential overruns must be executed shrewdly.

How to Outshine The Master

There are three ways to outshine the master:

  1. Professionally neutral: Position all your outshining moments as “for the good of the company”. Here, you keep a professional relationship with your boss, counting on the fact that he can’t sack you because you bring great results that other leaders are noticing
  2. Slow burn murder with a smile: Outshine your master while being extra friendly and obsequious. That will make it impossible for the master to strike back without looking vengeful and spiteful 
  3. Swift takeover: For when there is only a place for one man at the top and he doesn’t want to move. Stay friendly and unthreatening… Until he’s weak and you’re ready to pounce. Then pounce.

Example: Killing The Masters Softly

How do you kill your masters with a smile?

Like Marquez did.

In 2003 Marc Marquez was an upcoming young gun who had just joined MotoGP, the premier class of motorbike racing.

The first year in MotoGP is largely considered an “apprenticeship” because nobody has ever won in their first year.

That meant that expectations were low for Marquez and high for the older guns.

Among the older guns was Marquez teammate, Daniel Pedrosa.
Pedrosa was a proven race winner, an experienced driver, and a title contender. 
Pedrosa was #1. on the team and Marquez was expected to learn a lot from him.

But Marquez didn’t just learn.
Marquez came in and started going fast.
So fast that he was beating all the established players, including his teammate Pedrosa. 
Tensions were simmering in the paddock.

And how did Marquez handle it?

Marquez went out of his way with his public declarations of love.

How fast the older guys were, how much he was learning from them, and just when he was topping the chart, he went as far as to say that his teammate and main rival Pedrosa was “N.1 in the team”.

This article sums it up well:

law of power number 1 example

Marquez “greasing up” approach made it impossible for the old guard to attack him without looking like a vengeful pack moving out of spite.

Example 2: The Swift Takeover

The swift takeover is quick and bloodless.

And it’s perfect for when there is only one spot at the top.

The game is simple: you stay friendly and play the subordinate… Until you have enough power to overtake the master.

This is what Matteo Renzi did within the Democratic Party in Italy. 

Enrico Letta was prime minister for the Democratic Party, but Renzi was the up-and-coming young gun.

A positive and energetic politician with the gift of gab, Renzi positioned himself as the man of change (similar to Obama, who would indeed later gift Renzi with his last state dinner in full honors).

As Renzi’s political clout increased, there was just one final master above him: the prime minister.
The media smelled blood and hunted for signs of war.

But Renzi always played down any possible battle with Letta.
This was Letta’s government, and he had no personal ambition, he said.

And he kept saying it.

Culminating with a famous olive branch he gave Letta on live TV, which has since become famous in Italy:

Renzi: Enrico, you can stay serene

A few weeks later, when Letta faltered and looked weak, Renzi made his move.
Renzi played the friend while he waited for the propitious moment to pounce.

Enrico Letta was so stunned by the blow that he left Italy altogether.
They stopped being friends. 
But Renzi couldn’t care less: Letta was history, and Renzi was in power.

Further reading

If your boss is a POS read here:

Bosses should learn who they can trust and who they can’t.

You can only move to the top when you eventually outshine your master.
-The Power Moves

Law #2: Make Many Friends, So You’re Not Dependent On Anyone

✘  Law 2: Never put too much trust in friends, learn to use enemies. 
Law 2: Power is shaky when you depend too much on any individual but do make friends

Law of Power #2. Explanation

This law is a very good analysis of power dynamics.

And it still applies to modernity. 

It’s when you take it to an extreme that it becomes silly.

Because sure, you can’t 100% count on anyone, and friends can turn
But on average, you’re still better off with a friendly cast around you.

Even our primate cousins prefer friends.
Most alpha male chimps are not the strongest. 
But they have the most elaborate political skills and the largest web of friends and alliances (Ridley, 1996)

And that’s all the more true for people.

As Lincoln said:

i destroy my enemies when i make them friends abraham lincoln quote

Law #3: Profess Noble Intentions, & The Hordes of Gullibles Will Follow

 Law 3: Conceal your intentions. 
Law 3: Make your intentions sound noble, dupe yourself into believing them, then advertise your world-saving goals, and the hordes of the gullible will follow you

Law of Power #3. Explained

Concealing your intentions is very basic manipulation.

And unless you’re a great actor, people will sniff the fakeness out of you.

The higher level of concealment is to truly mix pro-social efforts with self-interest and only promote the pro-social side.

And the highest level, of manipulation is not to conceal anything, but to really believe in your plan.
Then you will sound all the more credible and charismatic.

Example: Oprah Winfrey

Self-duping is what the most successful self-help guru is doing.

They crave power, success, and an audience to support their narcissistic needs.
But they hide their real motives beyond the guise of “helping people”.
Most of them buy into, or seek to buy into their own PR, so it sounds more natural.

You can see the difference: Tai Lopez seems like a slimy snake oil salesman because he’s concealing his intentions.

Compare it to people like Napoleon Hill, Joe Dispenza, Oprah, and the endless “law of attraction” quacks.
Rabid fans defend the work of these gurus because they seem to really buy into the most controversial -and best-selling- aspects of their work.

napoleon hill criticism

That’s a quote from the biggest-selling self-help book ever. In the face of Hill’s unwavering conviction, nobody ever bothered to say “wait a second… “.

Example: Visionary Entrepreneurs

This will be quick, but it’s crucial.

The 21st century most successful way of acquiring power with Law #3 is to come up with missions to “chance the world”, “disrupt this or that industry”, or “help a billion people”.

If you want to go overboard, you might even go for “saving the human race”, like Elon Musk is doing.

And I’m not saying that there is nothing true in there.
Entrepreneurship is the engine of progress and new technologies empower us.

But there is also a major dose of concealment and manipulation.
Entrepreneurs’ missions are far overblown and far more idealistic than reality.
Because the reality is a bunch of corporations doing similar things and battling each other out for dominance.
And when one wins, it’s the “visionary entrepreneur” who wins the most, not the human race.

But it works great.
People flock to buy from and be hired by those successful “visionaries”.

Also read:

Law #4: Hire Others to Say Good Things For You

 Law 4: Always say less than necessary. 
Law 4: Don’t tout your own horn, but manipulate others to say good things about you

Law of Power #4. Explanation

Robert Greene says that powerful men dominate and inculcate fear through silence.

That’s in part true (see The Godfather analysis), but it’s not a “law”.

There are many ways of being powerful, including extroversion and even flamboyance (see “The Archetypes of Dominance“).

Indeed, in this day and age of advertisement overload, you do need some powerful PR to get your name out.

How to Say Less Than Necessary

Avoid making the pitch yourself, but have others do it for you.

One possible way of doing it in the 21st century is to leverage the media.


Exception of Law of Power #4: Ben Shapiro

As we’ve mentioned, the laws are not generalizable.

Plenty of people gained success and power by talking more than necessary.

Some of them incarnate certain values or beliefs, turn themselves into cult figures, or spearhead a movement.
Ben Shapiro, who talked more than necessary, became a leading figure among young conservatives.

Law #5: Get A great Online Reputation, Then Be A Jerk In Real Life

✘  Law 5: So much depends on reputation. Guard it with your life. 
 Law 5: Focus on your reputation selectively. Some people and situations are not worthy of upholding your reputation

Law Of Power #5. Explanation

Law #5 applies today even more so than in the past.

But with a big caveat: you cannot think of reputation as something you need to constantly uphold in person. 

It’s a waste of life to continually defend your reputation.


Because your reputation will start at 0 at any time you change groups or meet someone new.

Curate your online reputation instead, and then do whatever the f*ck you want in your private life.

Read more:

Example: Yours Truly & Her Neighbor

As I type, my neighbor is ringing at my door.

Twice today already and 4-5 times in the past few days.

And I’m not opening.

One because at home I’m always in underwear and can’t be bothered.
Two because I’m enacting a plan (more in the advanced forum).
And three, because, for several reasons, my neighbor doesn’t deserve my time.

I’m losing my “neighborly” reputation with my neighbor, but I deemed her as undeserving of my best behavior, so she doesn’t get to mess with my priorities just so I can uphold some finicky “reputation”.

Example 2: Keanu Reeves & The Heart of Gold

As far as I know, Keanu Reeves is a great guy.

And the world is better off if he helps people, no matter why he does it.

It might also be true that he wanted to help secretly, but sure, such a public statement makes me wonder:

law of power example from keanu reeves
Sounds a bit fishy if your name is attached to it through different channels, though

Reeves “secret” was so secret that it was all over my LinkedIn feed:

law of power number 5
Imagine if he wanted to make it public…

That’s proper 21st-century reputation management.
Manage at the macro level, and do whatever you want at the micro level.

Law #6: Attention Is Costly – Cure Your Narcissism

 Law 6: Court attention at all costs. 
Law 6: Attention comes with strings attached. Unless you’re an influencer, make yourself into someone who doesn’t need the spotlight: it’s much more freeing

Law of Power #6 Explained

Too much attention in the 21st century can make for a truly uncomfortable life.

Together with the good attention, you also get stalkers, paparazzi, “selfie fans” all over the place, and maybe… The taxman as well.

It can get annoying.
You can ask Briney Spears about it.

Unless attention is your only ticket to success, you’re probably better off making yourself into a man who does not need attention.
It’s freeing, really.
And freedom is power.

Law #7: Appeal to Prosocial Ideals – Then Reap All The Benefits

✘  Law 7: Let others do the work for you, but always take credit
Law 7: Make people feel their work is for the team and for the world while you position yourself to be the real beneficiary.

Law of Power #7. Explanation

Another rule that worked more in the past than today.

If back then the master was going to gloat on his servant’s idea… Tough luck.
When your king steals your idea, tough luck again.

But as masters’ coercive power has waned, the costs for credit takers have increased.

You can’t put your employees to death if they tell everyone what you’ve done, and you can’t silence Glassdoor’s anonymous reviews-.
And they can always move on to someone else, which the best ones will most likely do.
Leaving the sneakiest credit takers stuck with the idiots.

Bad Example: Don Draper

See an example with Don Draper:

Even in the very best-case scenario, your report will still know you’re being a sneaky MOFO

Example: Elizabeth Holmes 

21st-century top manipulators don’t steal credit making others feel cheated.

Today’s top manipulators take credit while making others feel good about it.

Make others think they are doing the work for themselves or, even better, for the world.
Feed them with higher ideals and a small portion of the spoils, and they will be happy about you taking the lion’s share of the pie.

Elizabeth Holmes is one of the most dramatic examples:

sociopath elizabeth holmes lies

Holmes did it for the people (yeah, sure).
And to provide basic health rights (yeah, sure).

At a certain point, she even added “female empowerment” to the mix.
And the gullible ones were happy to toil for her:

This is the 21st-century way of taking credit for others, fellas.

Law #8: Make Others Come To You. Pull Always Beats Push

✘  Law 8: Make other people come to you. Use bait if necessary. 
 Law 8: Make others come to you. When you can’t, learn how to rebalance the relationship.

Law of Power #8. Explanation

There is little to change here.

When you approach, you are perceived as the one asking and taking value.
And you are in the power down.

People who get along well with people learn to re-adjust the relationship, but it’s not always easy.
And, as they say, starting well is half the job.

This is also a heavily underestimated rule of seduction.

While most powerless PUA focus on approaching, the most successful men position themselves as the honey for the bees.

hugh heffner mit girlfriends
|Source=selbst fotografiert. Originally from [ de.wikipedia]

Law #9: Act Unethically, Cover Up With Words

 Law 9: Win through your actions, never through argument
 Law 9: Sync actions and words in a mutually reinforcing cycle

Law of Power #9 Explained

Actions and words are two sides of the same coin.

And there are plenty of situations when you need to win with words, even more so than with actions.

This might be all the more true in the 21st century.
We revere intellect, and we elect politicians, which means they must convince people to give them power… Mostly with words.

Examples: Trump, Peterson

There are many good examples of reaching power with words.
Some of them:

  • Trump: Lies & Word Salad Spectacles

Trump wins more with words than facts.

He can’t stick to things, and chances are that he isn’t even a billionaire. 

But it doesn’t matter what you have done, it only matters what people think you have done (and will do).
And you convey that with your ads, PR, and… Words.

Also, check out: Trump debating techniques part I and part II.

  • Words Legitimizing Wars: Bush Mass Manipulation

Words can pave the way for actions.
And they can even legitimize illegitimate wars.

Think of the Iraq War.
Words allowed for massive action in what turned out to be one of the biggest political cones of our modern world.

Also read: Politicians’ manipulations.

  • Power Debaters: Jordan Peterson

A few modern gurus rose to fame thanks to words.

Think of Shapiro, Tucker Carlson, or, even more so, Jordan Peterson, also the author of the extremely wordy (and best-selling) 12 Rules for Life.

Peterson talks openly about making $80k/month with book royalties alone, and he might be today’s most influential intellectual.
That is power. 

Jordan Peterson’s power is words. Words and actions are not antithetical; they can both support power.

Law #10: Help Strategically: The Lower They Are, The Bigger Your Credit

 Law 10: Infection: Avoid the unhappy and the unlucky. 
 Law 10: Help people strategically, depending on how willing and able they are to pay back

Law of Power #10. Explanation

The original law #10 is more of an exception than a law.

And goes against our own evolutionary programming.


Let’s digress very quickly, and we’ll see why.

Have you ever wondered why humans feel most compelled to help those who are most in need?

Because we’re nice?

Maybe… However, some evolutionary psychologists say we prefer helping those most in need because it provides the biggest bang for the buck (Wright, 1994)

To begin with, helping people at their lowest is easier because even a small handout will make a difference.
And second, when you help someone out of a desperate situation, they will owe you a lot.

Example: The Man I’ll Never Forget

Years ago, I was desperate, alone, and lost.

And I will never forget Umar, the man who helped me up.

But here is the funny thing: he didn’t actually do much at all.

Umar listened to me for maybe 20 minutes, asked a few questions, and allowed me to bounce off ideas (a great technique to bond and connect BTW).

But at that time, it meant the world to me.
Many years later, I still think of Umar as a savior (as a matter of fact, as I type, I am getting misty-eyed).

And I would do a lot for Umar.

So the rule here is that if you can help someone who’s going to get back up, then you’re better off helping people who are at their lowest.

Also read:

Reversal Example: Romantic Relationship

Watch out helping people who:

  1. Have higher potential than you have
  2. Are highly ambitious
  3. Are very ungrateful

This can happen sometimes in romantic relationships.

A man or a woman meets someone in distress and helps them back up.
But once the formerly downtrodden partner is back on their feet, they’re going to want a partner whom they feel is closer to their value.

example of 48 laws of power
People partner up around their values. Helping someone above your level might lead them to drop you.

The song “Don’t You Want Me” describes a similar dynamic:

You were workin’ as a waitress in a cocktail bar
When I met you
I picked you out, I shook you up and turned you around
Now five years later on, you’ve got the world at your feet
Don’t, don’t you want me?

Law #11: Make People Want to Submit to You

 Law 11: Learn to keep people dependent on you
Law 11: Make people want to depend on you (pull VS push)

Law of Power #11 Explained

I am ambivalent about this law.

Sure, dependencies confer power, and today is no exception.

But it’s weak to approach life with a mindset of keeping people dependent on you.
It’s often a sign of excessive emotional investment, it’s a defensive mindset and it often leads to toxic relationships.


Because pure dependencies are less common than codependencies.

You can see this most strikingly in romantic relationships, with controlling men and abusive men who seek to keep their women dependent on them.

But if the women eventually become independent, the tables turn.
The men go crazy and turn into stalkers and, in the most extreme cases, killers.

This is more common than you would think.

And today, with options all over the place, high-quality men and high-quality women are unlikely to stay dependent on low-quality controllers.
And, here’s the crux of the matter: most controllers who seek dependencies are not the highest quality individuals.

What’s the solution?
People should want to stick to you.

Which happens almost automatically when you are high quality.

Law #12: Be Unethical By Deed, But Honest by Law

 Law 12: Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim. 
Law 12: Make the laws, lobby for the laws, or pay the best to find ways around the laws

Law of Power #12 Explained

The 48 Laws of Power says the following:

One act of honesty will cover dozen lies

But that’s how small-timer cheats operate.
They ask you to trust them, constantly fib, and lie about small things… And make a reputation for liars.
And they never manage to cheat big.

The bigger-time cheats do the opposite instead.
They are honest a dozen times (or more) to cover the real big-time cheat.

Like Bernand Madoff:

law of power number 12 example

Madoff famously said, “it’s all a big lie”. But to keep that lie alive, he was selectively honest hundreds of times.

Barnie Madoff shelled out $18 billion of honesty to cover one big lie.

But we’re still in the realm of losers here.
That’s the pinnacle of cheating.
Not the pinnacle of power.

Power that works well does not serve prison sentences.

The pinnacle of power is spotlessly clean when it comes to laws.

True power influences the masses to elect the politicians who will enact the laws they want.
Or they will find legal loopholes around the laws.

So true power writes or bends the laws to keep amassing resources legally, without ever having to cheat the way that most powerless men do.

Also read:

Law #13: Appeal to Higher Ideals With Prosocial Hype – Then Capture The Profits

 Law 13: When asking for help, appeal to people’s self-interest, never to their mercy. 
Law 13: Appeal to higher ideals. That’s where the fat margins are

Law of Power #13. Explained

Greene recommends:

Emphasize out of proportions what’s in it for them

However, unless we embrace a much wider definition of “self-interest” this can often backfire today (see the discredited “homo economicus theory“).

As a matter of fact, social psychologists have proven that deep engagement and teamwork happen when people do not think of what’s in it for them (see Haslam, 2011).

On top of it, add our culture or idealism and value-signaling.

A large percentage of the population in the rich countries feels “guilty” for being self-interested and will give you give lots of time and money to relieve themselves of that pain.

Also read:

  • How to be a leader (for how leaders must leverage identity and pro-social drives)
  • Drive (for intrinsic VS extrinsic motivation)
  • Misbehaving (for how psychology unseated the “rational man” theories)

Example: Teslas’ Virtue-Signaling 

The 21st century most successful manipulators don’t appeal to the basest interests.

In a world where most basic drives are already met, aiming at higher needs in the Maslow Hierarchy pays well.

The 21st century highest profiting businesses ask for more money to make people feel like they are less self-interested.


Think of Limousine Liberals who feel guilty for the environment, for the penguins, for the poor Africans, for the toxic masculinity… Or whatever it’s fashion to feel guilty for.

These people play a hefty premium for two reasons: to escape their sense of guilt and, of course, for virtue-signaling.

revised law of power 13
Profits are large when you help rich people feel better about themselves

Again, let’s not over-generalize: not all appeals of pro-social products are scams.

But most of them charge far higher than the contributions to the social cause they claim to support would warrant.

More examples?

Also read:

Law #14: Make Friends, But Learn to Peek Behind Their Mask

 Law 14: Pose as a friend, and work as a spy. 
Law 14: Make friends, but don’t let the “friendship” fool you: learn to peek behind the mask

Law of Power #14. Explained

Writes Greene:

Better yet, pose as a spy yourself

The real powerful men though don’t spy themselves.
They send the spies.

If we intend “spying” as in learning about people though, that can never be wrong.

Also read:

Law #15: Make Your Wars Swift

✘  Law 15: Crush your enemy totally. 
Law 15: Crush your enemy totally, or show crushing strength. Most of all, avoid leaving a wounded man with enough power to plot revenge and strike back

Law of Power #15 Explained

This one applies to modernity as well.

With a caveat though: crushing enemies totally can be a costly business, while an overwhelming display of force can save time and resources.

Example: Nuclear Warnings

In life, crushing your opponents totally often comes at high costs and risks.

In real life, even stronger opponents often end up paying heavy prices for war.

Take the US in WWII for example.
The US was eventually going to crush Japan totally, but it was going to be a dirty business against such a dogged fighter.

Enter, the overwhelming display of force.

The power display of the nuclear bombs might have ultimately spared lives and resources on both sides (just too bad it had to drop on an actual city… Twice :S).

Law #16: Create Scarcity & Exclusivity 

 Law 16: Use absence to increase respect and honor. 
Law 16: Don’t just use the principle of scarcity, but be scarce for everything and everyone you have not chosen to focus on

Law of Power #16 Explained

I wouldn’t make “absence” into a law.

I’d focus more on building a life where you really have little time for distractions.

So you can be honest and scarce.

And for whatever you care, focus more on adding value with your presence than with your absence.

Focusing on absence is, again, a defensive mindset.

Example: Romancing The Power Moves Coaching Business

Sometimes people reach out to me asking for coaching.

Coaching is a service I removed from the products list some time ago, albeit I’m not against it in principle.
As long as I like the person and it’s not a request for ongoing commitment, though.

And I make sure people know that, if we agree, it’s a special offer:

law of power 16 in action
Scarcity + exclusivity get people chasing

Cheap hoes are always available on the side street. You be busier and scarcer


This is the first part of a series of posts.

Why did “The 48 Laws of Power” need revision?

Well, think about the (in part valid) criticism of Greene’s Work:

  1. No empirical evidence
  2. Micro approach, no overarching theory of power
  3. Laws are highly circumstantial
  4. All examples are from the ancient world

And that’s what we did.
We put the laws in perspective and adapted them to fit the modern world.

Follow-up articles:

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