Overview of Law #15: Crush Your Enemy Totally
Crush your enemy totally. Don’t go halfway with them or give them any options whatsoever. If you leave even one ember smoldering, it will eventually ignite. You can’t afford to be lenient.
Principles of Law 15
History is replete with examples of leaders who defeated their enemies but left them alive out of mercy. Of course, the opponent always bided his time, becoming ever more resentful and determined, until he was strong enough to seek revenge.
Your enemies feel nothing but animosity for you, and want to eliminate you. According to Law 15 of the 48 Laws of Power, the only way to have security and peace is to do to them what they would do to you. When you get the upper hand, don’t hesitate to deliver the final blow. This doesn’t necessarily mean killing them, but at minimum neutralizing them by totally eliminating their ability to fight back. In the old days, banishment often worked.
For instance, in the 1930s, Chiang Kai-shek had almost decimated Mao Tse-tung‘s Communists, so he turned his attention to the invading Japanese instead. But over ten years, the Communists recovered and eventually routed Chiang’s army, forcing him to flee to Taiwan. He didn’t learn to follow Law 15: Crush Your Enemy Totally, and it cost him his power.
You need to crush your enemy totally — don’t go halfway with them or give them any options whatsoever. Don’t negotiate — negotiation will undercut your victory. For your security, you must crush them.
Putting Law 15 to Work
Here’s an example of how to apply Law 15 of the 48 Laws of Power: Empress Wu of China enjoyed a forty-year reign, one of the longest in Chinese history, because she ruthlessly crushed every rival without exception.
Starting with her rise to power as a concubine of the emperor, she smothered her own child to cast suspicion on another concubine, so that woman was executed. She poisoned a niece and a son, and had another son exiled. She had a son declared unfit to serve when the emperor died, leaving only her youngest son, whom she controlled, to become emperor. Every time there was a coup attempt, she had everybody executed.
She claimed to be a divine descendant of Buddha and eventually had herself named divine emperor. By the time she got the job, there was no one left in the dynasty. She ruled capably until age 80, when finally forced to abdicate. Empress Wu knew to crush your enemy totally.
Exceptions to Law 15
Are there exceptions to Law 15 of the 48 Laws of Power? Should you ever not crush your enemy totally? On rare occasions, when you have your opponents on the ropes it may make sense to let them self-destruct rather than crushing them. Defeat and humiliation may be so demoralizing that there’s no possibility of recovery, or they may have permanently damaged or exhausted themselves.
However, leniency can embitter or even embolden an enemy, so you’re almost always better off crushing your enemy totally.
———End of Preview———
Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of "The 48 Laws of Power" at Shortform. Learn the book's critical concepts in 20 minutes or less.
Here's what you'll find in our full The 48 Laws of Power summary:
- Why you should never outshine your boss
- How to appear like a friend but behave like a spy
- The 6 rules you absolutely must not violate, if you want to be successful