“Many receive advice, only the wise profit from it.” – Harper Lee
1.) The Birth of a Machiavellian
1a.) Machiavellian Scale
2.) The Socialised Machiavellian – “The Advisor”
3.) Stages of Influence
4.) An Untamed Psychopath – “The King”
5.) Master Machiavellian – “The General”
6.) Relevant Reading
1.) The Birth of a Machiavellian:
Some demonstrate manipulative tendency from a young age, be it a pronounced desire to manipulate, a natural aptitude for it, or in exceptional cases, both. For the sake of classification, I characterise individuals who convey both behaviours as “naturals”.
The naturals fall into what I distinguish as two subgroups: kings and generals, with the remainder of Machiavellians designated advisers. Advisers consciously learn to become Machiavellian due to trauma or hardship, but for all intent and purpose were not naturally predisposed to Machiavellian thinking. These people are socialised Machiavellians, the Machiavellians of struggle and necessity, and it is they who make up the final archetype which completes my trifecta of theorised Machiavellian subtypes.
Like most things learned in childhood and to a lesser extent, adolescence, there is a certain intuitive competence acquired from one’s early life experiences. With all the impressionableness and raw aptitude embodied by the cognitive fluidity of youth, the ferocity of necessity clashes with the adaptiveness of trial to give rise to Machiavellian prowess.
This is a universal premise which applies to all crafts, hobbies and arts. The younger the person, the more pronounced the effect of their exposure to an idea; for the young are infinitely more malleable than the old, and unlike the old, need not deprogram and reprogram to learn; the young are tabula rasa, a clean slate. Machiavellianism is in this regard, by no means different from any other field, art or influence. The younger an individual adopts Machiavellian as a philosophy and a vocation, the more likely the art is to seem instinctual rather than abstract.
The development of Machiavellianism often coincides with the redevelopment of “the self.” In childhood, adolescence and early adulthood this process is rather simply “the development of the self.” For older folks, the formation of personality is preceded by deprogramming (unlearning previously learned behaviours and beliefs) which are then supplanted by mental models one believes conducive to their environment.
The strategic framework that takes hold in the mind of a budding Machiavellian causes something of a personality shift. This shift occurs as part of the internalisation of a new and rapidly evolving mental schema, and thus it is upon the back of an internalised Machiavellian framework that social competencies like profound incisive analysis and charismatic persuasion manifest as authentic proficiencies. These are not skills learned for their own sake, but rather, are symptomatic products of one honing their Machiavellianism.
Of course what is being described here is the birth of cunning in all its natural glory, a Machiavellian in the truest sense of the word was always manipulative, however typically it is only with age and experience that one’s rhetoric, sophistry, insight and planning becomes elaborate, nuanced and effective. Machiavellians are in a sense, everything the majority of psychologists fail to be – architects of the mind.
1a.) Machiavellian Scale:
For self-aware Machiavellians, the development of their manipulatory prowess is not just a lifestyle choice, but likewise a hobby. To strategise and manipulate is an expression of their creativity, and they enjoy this craft, refining it as the level they play on inevitably rises.
For example, getting a sibling to go to the shop for you is at the bottom of the scale, getting a tired girlfriend to fellate you is a little higher, securing a 6 or 8 figure business contract is even higher, yet even that casts no shadow on what’s in play when the Russian and American presidents sit down to discuss each other’s foreign policy.
A Machiavellian that can cajole people into performing simple errands or making a purchase is not necessarily competent enough to compete at the highest levels, for average people are easily dealt with when one puts even a mild amount of effort into developing their wit. The real test begins when one’s competition is neither average nor gullible, but where battle is with those who are just as, if not more shrewd than they.
Not everybody is “a natural Machiavellian”. Everybody is, to some extent, subconsciously manipulative to one degree or another, capable of disparate Machiavellian gambits such as a guilt trip here or a ploy for sympathy there. However, to behave manipulatively is not the same as being Machiavellian, just as selling an old item of clothing on Ebay hardly makes one an elite salesman.
The difference between the Machiavellian and the average person’s manipulation is the average person’s manipulations are manifestations of innate desire that are primitive, unrefined and predictable in nature. They do not purposely set out to scheme, deceive, dissimulate or ascertain power, they simply act underhandedly reactively and out of instinct.
A Machiavellian on the other hand is consciously tactical in nature. A Machiavellian enjoys manipulating, the development of their lives, business deals and relationships is based on the philosophies of salesmanship, charm, controlling the flow of information and personal self-awareness. Socially acquired Machiavellianism is referred to by academia as a “maladaptive coping mechanism” but in truth is no more than shrewdness.
Essentially, those who are not naturally duplicitous become so in order to thrive in a world where blanket honesty and dishonesty are mutually expensive, whilst masterful executions of both are profitable.
2.) The Socialised Machiavellian – “The Advisor”:
Advisers are more defensive, indirect and tempered rather than aggressive or violent in their schemes. Advisers tend to use aggressive gambits as defensive measures, typically when a king or general calls the bluff of an advisor having noted in analysis of the advisor a lack of psychopathy. Natural Machiavellians fitness test socialised ones to see what mettle lies behind all those well-placed words, well met glances and astute deductions.
The advisor Machiavellian archetype is characterised by those such as myself and the infamous Robert Greene. The advisor, unlike the brutish king or cold general is not a coloniser, but rather a complementer of minds. Advisers are sought out for their strategic cunning, incisive psychological insight, powers of deduction and understanding of the mechanisms of power. They do not lead and they do not conquer, they attract and infect for self-preservation, profit and self-gain.
One could say in the absence of brotherly loyalty an advisor is a Machiavellian mercenary, a strategist for sale. Invaluable as they are, this is why they are often in the employ of those more psychopathic in their grasp of power, the kings and the generals; for it is better to have an advisor whispering into your ear rather than your enemies. Likewise being learned, a conscious practitioner and well read on matters of strategy, an advisor’s ability to articulate nuance and explains the mechanisms of power are typically greater than that of the natural.
Kings and generals must form transactional yet emotionally substantive friendships with advisers to ensure loyalty and prevent defection. Advisers are high value assets that provide continuous value to kings and generals if treated accordingly. If a friendship can blossom between any two such Machiavellians, the advisor becomes more than a mental mercenary but instead a trusted friend. Of course trust is delicate and such relations are rare, however I would rate the likelihood of such things as improbable rather than impossible.
Advisers are usually granted a lofty position, considered family, and closely protected, partially out of affinity/respect and partially due to the value of the secrets they possess. Advisers are the most passive of the Machiavellian subtypes due to their lack of direct aggression and absence in executing the elaborately crafted strategies they devise.
The advisor is not a natural Machiavellian, the advisor is a self-taught product of their environment, oft motivated by dire social circumstances eliciting pain and powerlessness. Whilst personal turmoil may cause the amplification and refinement of Machiavellian tendency within naturals, in the case of the advisor it is fundamentally responsible for the emergence of such behaviour to begin with. Where Machiavellianism is not natural, but rather, socialised: the laws of individualised necessity clash with the trial and error of pragmatism to form a new framework for the basis of personality.
Although Machiavellianism doesn’t completely define personality in matters of preference, it largely governs perception and behavioural pattern. Machiavellianism fixates on the transactionality of interaction, thus eliciting awareness of one’s self-interest whilst simultaneously acting as an antenna toward the tastes and needs of others.
When you understand what makes people tick, you can manipulate them, when you understand what makes you tick, you know how you can be manipulated. Machiavellianism is both sword and shield, it can be a reflexively improvised defence, or the core mechanism on which meticulously elaborate schemes are devised. There is not a single war nor battle that escapes the purview of Machiavellianism, for the relevance of Machiavellianism is omnipresent.
The average person is largely unaware of the underlying subtextual dynamics present in their environment, which is why the power-hungry king appreciates the sleeping pawn. Heightened powers of observation are deemed threatening despite being inherently passive in nature. You may not wish to threaten another’s interests, but if the other is aware of your grand observational power they are hard pressed to trust you, fearful in the paranoia your skill could somehow expose them.
It is in light of this that the conscious Machiavellian quickly learns to downplay, disguise and conceal not only their power plays, but likewise their mere capacity for analysis. This is one of many reasons the ability to appear unintelligent is useful and necessary, for it serves as a most effectual form of concealment.
Highly-trained powers of deduction quickly arouse suspicion, eliciting nought but fear and paranoia. And so unless it is your intent to instil such things, one’s analytical capacities should operate invisibly rather than visibly. To employ a metaphor, much like the modern CCTV camera becomes increasingly innocuous, smaller in size with the lens concealed inside a dome, your mind’s eye must likewise conceal its lens by operating hidden in plain sight.
In the transitionary phase of development from average to Machiavellian, a budding Machiavellian is coming to grips with the nature of the game they have unwittingly played but been blind to for their entire lives. They experiment with, and refine methodologies that strengthen their capacity to psychoanalyse and hold social influence, whilst discarding inefficient methodologies. Even within this process of reflection and adaptation, a budding Machiavellian becomes intimately acquainted with the utility of pragmatism.
The Machiavellian student is in a process of learning to fine-tune their intuition and deduction to the minds around them, realising how to assess the strengths and weaknesses of said minds whilst adapting their presentation to fit or defy what is expected.
As mentioned in a paragraph prior, stealth is key. A Machiavellian must first go under the radar and appear non-threatening to the majority (eg: don’t start-up a blog discussing the dark triad) before escalating to cooption. And so it follows that regardless of the Machiavellian subtype one fits, it is imperative to be perceived innocuously, at least until one is so powerful appearing thornless weakens rather than strengthens their image.
3.) Stages of Influence:
One is never instantaneously worshipped without immense preselection or fame. In the absence of such external forces, one will go through numerous stages of favour. There are two stages which grant no power or favour with an individual; they are the stages of “rejection” and “indifference.” There are then three stages which follow on from this which bestow increasing levels of influence with said individual.
A stranger, a person who does not know of you, is for the most part, indifferent. People who know of you that behave as if they are indifferent are not actually indifferent; they have in fact rejected you. The indifference stage is populated exclusively by strangers. There is little difference between rejection and indifference if rejection is not accompanied by penalty or punishment other than the rejection in and of itself. Where rejection causes another to designate you as a threat and to seek to undermine you, they likewise become your threat. No war is one-sided, just because one has not declared it, it does not mean one is not at it. The rejection stage is populated by one’s enemies: spies, saboteurs, haranguers and haters.
Next there is acceptance, acceptance is an absence of negative sentiment or threat designation, characterised best as genuine civil cooperation. At the acceptance stage your existence is acknowledged and accepted, you do not set any alarms off, but likewise you hold little influence. The acceptance stage is populated by colleagues and acquaintances who you have neither gone to war with, nor won the favour of.
Beyond acceptance we reach cooption, cooption is when one deems you favourably to the extent that they will engage in non-consequential (small) personal sacrifices, grant you small favours and show a beyond “familiar” level of respect and admiration. The cooption stage is populated by friends, and people you may not know who are nevertheless enamoured with your reputation.
Finally, we reach the stage of worshipper: a worshipper may or may not be a sycophant, but they are individuals who see you as an incredibly important and integral character in their lives. They will be willing to make large sacrifices, lie for you, protect you, and are sensitive to your wants and needs. The worshipper stage is populated by dear friends, close family members, passionate lovers and groupies.
So how is one to traverse the sequence of stages from stranger to worshipper? By mirroring or at least complementing people well enough for them to feel at ease when you’re around of course, on this note Dale Carnegie’s “How To Make Friends & Influence People seems relevant.
4.) The King – An Untamed Psychopath:
The king is a great executer and moderate analyst, but comes up short in planning due to his impulsive nature. Kings fail in one of two ways, they either plan but fail to stick to the plan out of impulsivity, or they simply fail to plan at all. I suspect whether planning is even attempted depends on the king in question’s IQ.
Kings are ego dominated psychopaths (narcopaths), the clinical diagnosis being narcissistic personality disorder. This means although not internally emotionally flat like their psychopathic cousins, they appear so externally. A king only feels emotion for anything relevant to him, he is apathetic to anything that doesn’t personally deprive or offend him. I speculate that this again is an IQ dependent variable, with lower IQs being more easily offended, and higher IQs less so, generally speaking, higher IQ individuals exhibit superior impulse control.
The king is the most physically and mentally violent of all the Machiavellian subtypes, he has an intrinsic desire to secure power at all costs and will mercilessly impose his will, brutishly bending people to fit his plans. Kings excel at instilling fear and can even be charming, but are impatient and easily lose their capacity to charm. As such the king is more predisposed to the use of hard power than he is diplomatic soft power.
A king’s charm is built on ridicule, if he wishes to charm somebody and make them feel important, he will ridicule a member of the outgroup whilst refraining from mocking the person he wishes to include. By doing this, an implicit sense of fraternity occurs as mutual mockery of an outgroup target creates a superficial bond. The truth is the king cannot bond, and shallow as it sounds when described so plainly, this is the limit of the king’s charm. Whilst a king is capable of conveying respect where he deems it due, respect and charm are not the same entities.
The king is short on patience, often lacks finesse, and struggles without council to plan elaborately. Kings can think of the long game, but because they’re impulsive and prone to bursts of narcissistic rage they rely far too heavily on improvised short-term strategies. The king is a quick actor and performs excellently when his back is against the wall, but when the adrenaline’s not pumping he’s prone to sloppy egotism and needless perfunctory gaslighting in the pursuit of stimulation.
This is a psychopath who does not meet his potential because he does not optimise his behaviour or time, and so long as he believes he is elite and in control of the people in his life he has no incentive to escape his self-imposed ego-feeding mediocrity and become better.
Kings don’t like getting their hands dirty and often believe certain conversations or actions are beneath them, and thus delegate undesirable tasks to their groupies and pawns as they spectate and demand to be kept apprised.
By nature of their ego, the king has something of a penchant for wasting time by playing with people’s feelings and pointlessly disrupting people’s alliances rather than working towards an objective.
Fucking with people is not something the king causes inadvertently via collateral damage, no, the king indulges in fucking with people purely to create chaos and feel superior in the midst of other’s distress. Kings can be characterised as having a sadistic disposition, for schadenfreude feeds into their already gargantuan egos. From this it becomes clear just how dominant ego is within the king, and how sadism acts as a mechanism of narcissistic supply for the sustenance of self-majesty.
The king is eager to control, but actively resists the control of others. The king is capable of devising strategy, however due to limited emotional intelligence and abstraction his plans oft fall short versus those of the advisor and general.
5.) The General – Master Machiavellian:
A general dirties his hands where necessary, appearing moral and upright as and when required. Unlike the king who is too grandiose and self-important to demean himself to “the tasks of servants,” a general will do what needs to be done in order to achieve the objective at hand.
No matter how undesirable or distasteful such an action may be, a general knows in matters of necessity he is not above the game, and that should it prove more effective for him to personally dirty his hands, he shall. A general knows when he can trust somebody’s loyalty and competency enough to delegate them a task. Generals are excellent at gauging people’s value, astute in assessment of one’s expertise, reliability and sensitivity.
Generals combine the king’s ability to perform with the advisers rational astuteness, for general’s are the culmination of the other two subtypes personified. Generals are at the very epitome of Machiavellian ability and tend to occupy the apex of power, eg: Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.
The majority of Machiavellians tend to be the neurotic king subtype or passive advisers. The general is the rarest subtype, a Machiavellian who possesses the capacity to combine the reason and cunning of planning, with the act of charming and intimidating in execution.
Although generals do not require advisers as kings do, they possess a full appreciation for intimately analysing issues deserving of their attention, thus seeking out alternative perspectives by debating with advisers to aid in the construction and refinement of their battle strategy.
A general is the uncommon natural progression of a king who has become aware of his fallibilities, and become successful in mitigating them. A king lacks the training, self-control, experience and expertise of a general. A general is a king who has learned to shed his ego in order to deploy effective strategies, a king of higher IQ who can discipline himself enough to cease indulging his sadistic whims.
Unlike the king who indulges his ego as a matter of self-identity, the general does not see himself as his ego, but has come to realise it as an effective weapon to be selectively applied as a situation calls for it. A general adapts to his environment and slowly changes it to suit him in much the way an advisor does, whilst a king expects his environment to adapt to him, the crude obviousness of this increasing the resistance of those around him.
The general has conditioned himself to be egotistical only when necessary. In a nutshell, a general has enough IQ to discipline and thus better control the behaviours that could expose his nature to wider society. This is why academic studies of psychopathy always tend to fixate on blue-collar crime, but scarcely on white-collar. The difference between blue and white-collar psychopathy is merely a matter of IQ and thus methodology, whilst the lower IQs rob, burgle and use physical violence, the higher IQs, defraud, bribe and use mental violence.
One could characterise a general as not only a king of more disciplined ego, but likewise a more mature and learned king. A king in his 20’s, with some self-awareness, experience and the counsel of an advisor or two could flourish into a general by the time he hits his 30’s or 40’s.
Generals do not have to evolve out of kings, although from my observation it appears this is how they most frequently manifest. Aside high IQ men with NPD, I speculate high IQ men with ASPD (near emotionless psychopaths who are less egocentric) are natural generals in the sense there is no evolutionary process of channelling the ego as one matures for them, but rather they have always simply been emotionally flat.
If the ability to control one’s ego and strategise well is present from a young age, then as unlearned as that Machiavellian may be, he is a young general. If said man cannot strategise as well as an advisor, then he is not a general, but a king in need of an advisor. A general in all simplicity is a fully dark triad man who has learned to curb his lust for sadism as well as mitigate ineffectual narcissism in order to get results. He prioritises the mechanics of the game above his own quirks, he is the ultimate pragmatist, a disciplined hand of amoral efficiency.
6.) Relevant Reading: