Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Primer on Power

A few days ago I watched parts of an episode of The First Churchills (a series I recommend), and rewatched a scene that is a very good primer on how to be powerful:

Skip to 15:33. King William III meets Lord Marlborough. Some years earlier, Marlborough had raised the specter of public dissatisfaction with the King, who seemed to favor Dutchmen over Englishmen even in the English service. For this, Marlborough was dismissed from all his offices and reached the nadir of his fortunes. Now, the prospect of a return to favor dangles before Marlborough's face.

He remains somewhat stoic, giving a light compliment as part of a joke. William then begins to explore Marlborough's thoughts regarding the Peace of Ryswick. William wishes to know if Marlborough is "capable of looking one hour beyond tomorrow." He probes Marlborough's thoughts regarding the Spanish Succession, and Marlborough answers to his satisfaction, revealing that he has kept a pulse on matters of importance despite his dismissal from court.

In a good sign that he has indeed answered to the King's satisfaction, Marlborough is offered a drink by William. In an even better sign, William tells Marlborough of a still-secret treaty he has made with Louis XIV regarding the Spanish Succession.

William then gets to the point of the meeting: after stating that his and Marlborough's "interests grow closer every day" earlier, he offers to the latter the appointment of being the Duke of Gloucester's governor. This was a very important position, as Prince William, Duke of Gloucester was expected to become King in the future. Marlborough was thus restored to his position on the Privy Council and his rank in the army. He was also told that he would be one of the Lords Justices acting as regent while William was overseas.

Marlborough still expresses a gratitude to the King despite his having asked for none, and further reveals his thoughts on the future. Notice also that Marlborough mirrors William's earlier language when he mentions the words "past infamies," which causes the King to smile. Regarding the future, Marlborough said that he hoped the King's efforts for peace would succeed, but he feared Louis' ambition, and that he would very possibly opportunistically break a treaty when it suited him, and that the King knew this perhaps even better than he.

Marlborough states that the struggle may begin again, and that the King was honorably afraid he would not be up to the task. To help him along in that end, he would pick a delegate to take control in emergency, but was albeit powerless to act without his direct command. Marlborough compliments him again, calling the King a "prudent general."

"Do I read your mind correctly sir?" Marlborough asks.

King William answers in the affirmative by offering Marlborough a tour of the rebuilt palace.

There were a lot of subtleties regarding the wielding of power in this scene. Firstly, Marlborough kept a firm finger on the pulse of things despite his disadvantage. If he had not maintained his awareness, he would not have succeeded here.

Secondly, Marlborough mixes some light compliments with a push, saying that the King was honorably afraid. Flattery is part of being the perfect courtier.

Thirdly, Marlborough knew what William wanted to hear and said it to him. He knew that William's entire life was spent opposing Louis XIV's France, and offered him some comfort that he would be able to continue his life's work. He reflected William's thoughts back at him.

Most importantly, Marlborough demonstrated that he would be able to serve the King's self-interest.

I really should rewatch this largely accurate series after having read The 48 Laws of Power. I'm sure there's a lot of subtleties that I may pick up on now that I may have missed before. Marlborough really knew how to play the game - both political and military, and that's why he's one of the Twenty Men I seek to associate with and emulate.

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