transgression of the law


In the early fourteenth century, a young man named Castruccio Castracani
rose from the rank of common soldier to become lord of the great city of
Lucca, Italy. One of the most powerful families in the city, the Poggios,
had been instrumental in his climb (which succeeded through treachery
and bloodshed), but after he came to power, they came to feel he had forgotten them. His ambition outweighed any gratitude he feh. In 1325, while
Castruccio was away fighting Lucca's main rival, Florence, the Poggios
conspired with other noble families in the city to rid themselves of this
troublesome and ambitious prince.
Mounting an insurrection, the plotters attacked and murdered the govemor whom Castruccio had left behind to rule the city. Riots broke out,
and the Castruccio supporters and the Poggio supporters were poised to do
battle. At the height of the tension, however, Stefano di Poggio, the oldest
member of the family, intervened, and made both sides lay down their
A peaceful man, Stefano had not taken part in the conspiracy. He had
told his family it would end in a useless bloodbath.

 Now he insisted he
should intercede on the family's behalf and persuade Castruccio to listen to
their complaints and satisfy their demands. Stefano was the oldest and wisest member of the clan, and his family agreed to put their trust in his diplomacy rather than in their weapons.

 When news of the rebellion reached Castruccio, he hurried back to
Lucca. By the time he arrived, however, the fighting had ceased, through
Stefano's agency, and he was surprised by the city's calm and peace. Stefano di Poggio had imagined that Castruccio would be grateful to him for
his part in quelling the rebellion, so he paid the prince a visit. He explained
how he had brought peace, then begged for Castruccio's mercy. He said
that the rebels in his family were young and impetuous, hungry for power
yet inexperienced; he recalled his farnily's past generosity to Castruccio.
For an these reasons, he said, the great prince should pardon the Poggios
and listen to their complaints. This, he said, was the only just thing to do,
since the family had willingly laid down their arms and had always supported him.
Castruccio listened patiently. He seemed not the slightest bit angry or
resentful. Instead, he told Stefano to rest assured that justice would prevail,
and he asked him to bring his entire family to the palace to talk over their
grievances and come to an agreement. As they took leave of one another,
Castruccio said he thanked God for the chance he had been given to show
his clemency and kindness. That evening the entire Poggio family came to
the palace. Castruccio immediately had them imprisoned and a few days
later all were executed, including Stefano.
Stefano di Poggio is the embodiment of all those who believe that the justice and nobility of their cause will prevail. Certainly appeals to justice and
gratitude have occasionally succeeded in the past, but more often than not
they have had dire consequences, especially in dealings with the Castruccios of the world. Stefano knew that the prince had risen to power through
treachery and ruthlessness. This was a man, after all, who had put a elose
and devoted friend to death. When Castruccio was told that it had been a
terrible wrong to kill such an old friend, he replied that he had executed
not an old friend but a new enemy.
A man like Castruccio knows only force and self-interest. When the rebellion began, to end it and place oneself at his mercy was the most dangerous possible move. Even once Stefano di Poggio had made that fatal
mistake, however, he still had options: He could have offered money to

 could have made promises for the future, could have pointed
out what the Poggios could still contribute to Castruccio's power-their influence with the most influential families of Rome, for example, and the
great marriage they could have brokered.
Instead Stefano brought up the past, and debts that carried no obligation. Not only is a man not obliged to be grateful, gratitude is often a terrible burden that he gladly discards. And in this case Castruccio rid himself
ofhis obligations to the Poggios by eliminating the Poggios.
In 433 B.C., just before the Peloponnesian War, the island of Corcyra (later
called Corfu) and the Greek city-state of Corinth stood on the brink of conflict. Both parties sent ambassadors to Athens to try to win over the Athenians to their side. The stakes were high, since whoever had Athens on his
side was sure to win. 

And whoever won the war would certainly give the
defeated side no mercy.
Corcyra spoke first. Its ambassador began by admitting that the island
had never helped Athens before, and in fact had allied itself with Athens's
enemies. There were no ties of friendship or gratitude between Corcyra
and Athens. Yes, the ambassador admitted, he had come to Athens now
out of fear and concern for Corcyra's safety. The only thing he could offer
was an alliance of mutual interests. Corcyra had a navy only surpassed in
size and strength by Athens's own; an alliance between the two states
would create a formidable force, one that could intimidate the riyal state of
Sparta. That, unfortunately, was all Corcyra had to offer.
The representative from Corinth then gave a brilliant, passionate
speech, in sharp contrast to the dry, colorless approach of the Corcyran.
He talked of everything Corinth had done for Athens in the past. He asked
how it would look to Athens's other allies if the city put an agreement with
a former enemy over one with a present friend, one that had served
Athens's interest loyally: Perhaps those allies would break their agreements
with Athens if they saw that their loyalty was not valued. He referred to
Hellenic law, and the need to repay Corinth for all its good deeds. He finally went on to list the many services Corinth had performed for Athens,
and the importance of showing gratitude to one's friends.
After the speech, the Athenians debated the issue in an assembly.

Most men are so thor·
oughly subjective that
nothing real/y interests
them but themselves.
They always think of
their own case as soon
as ever any remark is
made, and their whole
attention is engrossed
and absorbed by the
merest chance reference to anything which
affects them persona/ly,
be it never so remote.
LAW 13 97
98 LAW 13
the second round, they voted overwhelmingly to ally with Corcyra and
drop Corinth.
History has remembered the Athenians nobly, 

but they were the preeminent realists of classical Greece. With them, all the rhetoric, all the emotional appeals in the world, could not match a good pragmatic argument,
especially one that added to their power.
What the Corinthian ambassador did not realize was that his references to Corinth's past generosity to Athens only irritated the Athenians,
subtly asking them to feel guilty and putting them under obligation. The
Athenians couldn't care less about past favors and friendly feelings. At the
same time, they knew that if their other allies thought them ungrateful for
abandoning Corinth, these city-states would still be unlikely to break their
ties to Athens, the preeminent power in Greece. Athens ruled its empire by
force, and would simply compel any rebellious ally to return to the fold.
When people choose between talk about the past and talk about the
future, a pragmatic person will always opt for the future and forget the past.

 As the Corcyrans realized, it is always best to speak pragmatically to a
pragmatic person. And in the end, most people are in fact pragmatic-they
will rarely act against their own self-interest.
It has always been a ruZe that the weak should be subject to the strong;
and besides, we consider that we are worthy of our power.

 Up tilZ the
present moment you, too, used to think that we were; but now, after
calculating your own interest, you are beginning to talk in terms of right
and wrong. Considerations of this kind have never yet turned people aside
from the opportunities of aggrandizement offered by superior strength.
A thenian representative to Sparta,
quoted in The Peloponnesian War, 

Thucydides, c. 465-395 B. r;.
In your quest for power, you will constantly find yourself in the position of
asking for help from those more powerful than you. There is an art to asking for help, an art that depends on your ability to understand the person
you are dealing with, and to not confuse your needs with theirs.
Most people never succeed at this, because they are completely
trapped in their own wants and desires. They start from the assumption
that the people they are appealing to have a selfless interest in helping
them. They talk as if their needs mattered to these people--who probably
couldn't care less. Sometimes they refer to larger issues: a great cause, or
grand emotions such as love and gratitude. They go for the big picture
when simple, everyday realities would have much more appeal. What they
do not realize is that even the most powerful person is locked inside needs
of his own, and that if you make no appeal to his self-interest, he merely
sees you as desperate or, at best, a waste of time.

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