The will is a beast of burden. If God mounts it, it wishes and goes as God wills; if Satan mounts it, it wishes and goes as Satan wills. Nor can it choose its rider . . . the riders contend for its possession.
MACHIAVELLI’s influence on subsequent political thought was profound. His candid appreciation of the realities of power provided new ways to talk about politics, whether offered as guidance to those prepared to be flexible and adaptable—as he advocated—or taken to the extremes personified in the sinister and amoral stage villain Machiavel. One striking illustration of his influence on discussions of political conduct is found in the writings of John Milton. In his epic poem Paradise Lost, published in 1667, Milton’s Satan is the embodiment of Machiavellianism. Evaluating Satan’s strategy allows us to consider the limits and possibilities of the attributes associated with Machiavelli, as well as the continuing constraints imposed on strategic freedom by the presence of God.
Milton’s core project was to address the most perplexing of theological issues about free will as first introduced by the story of Adam and Eve. If everything was preordained, Adam and Eve had no choice in the matter. Their original sin was not their fault. If it was their fault, God still needed to have some reason to allow it to happen. If the choice was between good and evil, then God must have created evil. If human beings could be tempted in this way, then they must have been created imperfect. Yet if this was a consequence of the original design, did they deserve to be punished? If there was no flaw, then how were they able to sin, and from where did they find a concept of sin? How could there be two falls, as Eve was the only one actually tempted by the serpent before she went on to persuade Adam. What was the serpent’s motive?
In Paradise Lost, John Milton tried to make sense of all of this. At one level, his story was about a rebellion within a kingdom, the defeat of the rebels, and the consequences of the rebels’ attempts to reverse their defeat. At another level, it was—as Milton put it in his introduction—about how to “justify the ways of God to man,” particularly how to reconcile God’s omnipotence with man’s free will. And at yet another level, it was about earthly relationships between kings and men. Milton wrote during the restoration of the monarchy following a civil war in which he had been a devoted republican. It was a time of suppression of dissenters; at one point, Milton himself was close to being executed for treason.
The concept of free will raises questions about God’s role in human affairs. If God does not intervene, then what is the purpose of prayer and repentance? If he does intervene, then why do bad things happen to good people? Contemporary theologians may have come up with formulations to answer these questions, but in seventeenth-century Europe when Milton was writing, they were hot topics—politically as well as religiously.
The century began under the influence of a rigorous Calvinism preaching a God of such power that little could be done to thwart his will. Divine grace had been allocated in advance. Everything was set in motion by the original grand design. “God orders and ordains all things,” observed Augustine of Hippo. He worked in the “hearts of men to incline their wills withersoever He wills.” He “freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass,” echoed the Calvinists. Nothing could happen that reflected any will other than his. Humankind was just playing out a drama according to a script set down by God at the moment of creation, with no later need for improvisation. It was beyond the comprehension of mere men. This view went even beyond omnipotence, which merely presumed that God could intervene in human society if and when he wished to do so, and assumed that history was set on an unalterable course. If all events were predetermined, and choice was merely an illusion, then the only response was fatalism. Any attempt to change the course of history was pointless.
Against the Calvinists, the followers of Jacobus Arminius argued that humans are able to make their own histories through the exercise of free will and that God’s strength was manifest in acts of love in response to humans’ obedience and repentance for their sins. The God of the Calvinists was arbitrary and beyond explanation. The God of the Arminians would allow no arbitrary exclusion from his grace and insisted on the human ability to distinguish good from evil, in order to demonstrate their obedience to God.
By the time of Paradise Lost, and after an early Calvinism, Milton was with the Arminians. His view was that “God made no absolute decrees about anything which he left in the power of men, for men have freedom of action.” To hold the opposite position would be absurd and unfair. If God turned “man to moral good or evil just as he likes, and then rewards the good and punishes the wicked, it will cause an outcry against divine justice from all sides.”1 The best answer to the conundrum posed by Genesis was that without evil there would be no way to test the faith of humans and allow them to realize their potential for goodness. Milton has God explain that he made man, “just and right/ Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.”2
One way to think about evil was as a function of human weakness, a constant readiness to be tempted and knowingly disobey God’s word. Another way, common by Milton’s time, was to consider evil as a living, active force, deliberately trying to subvert God and tempt man. Evil acquired the personality of Satan, and the serpent in Genesis was therefore really Satan in disguise, although there was no basis in Genesis for this notion. In a number of ancient civilizations, serpents have signified evil, but also fertility. Satan did not appear until late in the Bible and then not in opposition to God but as a loyal angel. Satan had an adversarial role and took a harsh line in disputations before God in heaven, but he was always loyal in the end. The best-known example of this is in the book of Job, when he is introduced as returning “from going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.”3 His role was one of challenging men in their sinfulness. It was Satan who urged God to test Job, and when God agreed, Satan was sent to make Job’s life miserable. Nonetheless, Satan did this not as a rebel but as a member of the heavenly court.
Eventually Satan, acting not merely as a harsh angel but also as one who had fallen, came to be blamed for all forms of division and misery. The early Church had attempted to challenge the influence of Manichaeism (another eastern religion which explained matters in terms of the contrast between the forces of good and evil), but its insistence that evil was not constituted as a live being failed to convince. The idea of a demonic force constantly seeking to lure humankind away from obeying God took hold. The main difference for Manicheans was that in the end this had to be an unequal struggle. Hell could be no sanctuary where Satan reigned supreme. God was always superior.
Evil could therefore imperil the world but also be sufficiently containable and vulnerable to defeat.4 The Bible closes with the book of Revelation, in which Satan represents the forces of evil. An extraordinary scene is described, a war in heaven between Michael and “the dragon,” each with their own cohort of angels. “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”5 Biblical scholars consider this to refer to a vision of a tremendous upheaval at the end of time. Milton was not alone, however, in taking this to refer to the start of time. It was Satan’s rebellion against God that led to his exile to earth where he became a troublemaker, gaining his first victory as the serpent persuading Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge.
Milton’s narrative gained force not only because of his mastery of language and sense of drama but also because of his intense commitment to the notion of free will. To square the circle of faith, he sought to demonstrate that the true exercise of free will leads to a decision to obey God completely and without reservation. So while God allows free will, he knows how individuals will decide. Milton also distinguished between a challenge to the authority of a secular king—a good thing—and a challenge to the heavenly king— a bad thing. Indeed, the secular king’s authority needed to be challenged because it was tantamount to a challenge to God’s authority. The arguments that might be used to justify disobedience in one context should not work at all in another. Yet rhetorically this did not quite work, as the arguments against both types of kings sounded very similar. As many commentators have observed, when Satan makes the case against blind obedience to God, Milton gives him the best lines. William Blake observed that Milton was “of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”6 Milton’s portrayal of Satan as a leader matched a Machiavellian prince. Satan had the appropriate character—a blend of the courageous and cunning—was able to adapt to changing circumstances, had the confidence to take risks, and was aware of the respective merits of force and guile (“Our better part remains/ To work in close design, by fraud or guile/ What force effected not”).7
The narrative structure humanizes the main characters, with the effect of diminishing God and elevating Satan. Milton undermined God’s aura and left him appearing defensive and pedantic. As we have seen in Exodus, God could be deceptive and manipulative as part of his mysterious ways, but his approach in Paradise Lost was less subtle. Satan comes across as a much more rounded character, altogether more interesting.8 Though at times he appeared regretful of his fallen status, he still followed his chosen path. His ambivalent character and claims meant that he was not always so easy to resist. For Milton, Satan was Machiavel, using fraudulent rhetoric and force to manipulate the fallen angels while also attempting to attribute exactly these corrosive tendencies to God.8 Satan adopted the republican claims of free choice, merit, and consent in describing his rule, while asserting that God depends on coercion and fraud.
There are many themes and ideas developed in Paradise Lost, of which the most important is the link between the events at the start of time and the eventual crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. My focus is solely on the conflict between God and Satan and what this might tell us about their respective strategic calculations. There are two key episodes in this story. In Paradise Lost, they do not appear in chronological order, but here they do. The first is the story of the great battle in heaven, which is told by Rafael, one of God’s loyal angels, to Adam to warn him about the nature of Satan and his potential for evil. Unfortunately, by the time this story has been told, Eve has already been tempted. The second episode, the opening scene of the book, depicts the deliberations among Satan’s followers as they work out how to respond to their defeat in the first battle.
In the beginning, according to Milton, Satan—then known as Lucifer— was one of the great angels among the heavenly host. The crisis came when God proclaimed his Son to be his equal. Satan was greatly affronted. He had been given no warning of this development and now felt that his position in the hierarchy was undermined. Satan urged the other angels to join him in rebellion: “Will ye submit your necks and choose to bend/ The supple knee?” He then provided a powerful case for political rights:
Who can in reason then or right assume/ Monarchie over such as live by right/ His equals, if in power and splendor less/ In freedome equal? or can introduce/ Law and Edict on us, who without law/ Erre not, much less for this to be our Lord,/And look for adoration to th’ abuse/ Of those Imperial Titles which assert/ Our being ordain’d to govern, not to serve?10
A third of the angels rallied to Satan’s side, and heaven was attacked. But heaven was ready. Curiously, rather than a place dedicated to peace, beauty, and tranquility, heaven was already geared up for battle and organized on martial lines. Milton had been an admirer of Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army, with its organization and discipline. This seems to have given him the idea for a New Model Heaven.11 This struggle was more than hand-to-hand combat. The rebels were pushed back on the first day, but they countered on the second day with cannon, only to be countered in turn by having hills and mountains hurled at them. The rebels’ resort to gunpowder, a material linked to treason in the Catholic plot of 1605, is not without significance. At the time, it was often described as the devil’s invention, calculated to remove honor and glory from war.
God watched this chaos and at last intervened on the third day. Why did he let it continue? The reasoning was consistent with that used to interpret the basic message of the Hebrew Bible. He was creating the conditions in which his glory and wonder would be appreciated. In this case, it was the Son whose decisive role had to be noticed. He explained to the Son that this was in order “that the Glory may be thine/ Of ending this great war, since none but Thou/ Can end it.” He commanded him to lead out all the heavenly forces and drive the rebel angels down to hell. The Son accepted the command willingly, again demonstrating a clear contrast between his obedience and Satan’s rebellion. For the Son, “to obey is happiness entire.” Satan’s forces also regrouped, “hope conceiving from despair.” They made themselves ready for a battle they knew must be final. The Son told his forces to stand aside for this was his battle: “Against me is all their rage.”12
Leaving aside the odd ideas of a civil war in heaven, the use of artillery (somehow mountains as projectiles are more fitting), or even the earthly tendency to stop fighting for the night, there was an added twist that resulted from the immortality of the angels on both sides. No wound was ever fatal, although they did cause pain. Despite his admiration for martial virtues, Milton was also demonstrating that some matters could never be truly solved by battle. Perhaps he was also reflecting on his experience of victory for the parliamentary side in the civil war followed by the return of the monarchy. Even in this particular contest, it was the special strength of the Son rather than weight of numbers that made all the difference.
When the enemy is able to recover from initial blows, it is difficult to inflict a decisive defeat. Immortal combatants gave an added twist to this classic dilemma. As Paradise Lost opened, the fallen angels were meeting to regroup and consider their next steps in their new home. Despite being expelled from heaven, Satan was undaunted. He remained a dedicated opponent of “the tyranny of Heav’n.” “Here at last,” he proclaimed from hell, “We shall be free. [ . . . ] Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven!”
A strategic debate then took place in hell among the leaders of the fallen angels—Moloch, Belial, Mammon, Beelzebub, and Satan himself. The setting was a special place called Pandemonium (literally a house of devils), where the rebels gather to consider their next steps. God presumably had the option of preventing them ever causing trouble again, but he still allowed them to decide their own course of action. Satan was determined to raise his comrades out of their miserable sense of weakness and work to oppose everything that God was trying to do. “To do aught good never will be our task, But ever to do ill our sole delight.” He used a parade, with accompanying brass band, to raise the spirits of his followers and demonstrate that they were still a force of great strength, greater “than the forces on both sides in the Trojan War, greater than any forces King Arthur or Charlemagne could command.” While this may have raised the morale of his followers against God, it could not serve as the basis of a credible strategy.13
A set of options was described that might have been put to any group trying to respond to a major setback. Anthony Jay noted that “in every important respect the situation is that of a corporation trying to formulate a new policy after taking a terrific beating from its chief competitor and being driven out of the market it had previously depended on.”14 Satan, who knew what he wanted, nonetheless followed good practice and opened proceedings by asking for proposals.
Moloch was the first to step forward, recommending “open war.” His appeal was based on emotion and drive, aggression and fatalism, while contemptuous of attempts to use wiles: “Let us rather choose/ arm’d with hell flames and fury, all at once/ O’er Heaven’s high towers to force resistless way.” He could not, he admitted, promise victory, but at least a form of revenge.
Compared with Moloch’s unsubtle aggression, Belial offered more realism, but the effect was defeatist: “ignoble ease and peaceful sloth.” He doubted they could achieve even revenge. “The tow’rs of heaven are filled/ With armed watch, that renders all access/ Impregnable.” He made a fundamental point about the impossibility of both “force and guile” that his fellow devils seemed ready to ignore. God saw “all things at one view” and so saw and derided the devil’s council even while it was in progress. Belial’s alternative was therefore to wait until God relented. “This is now/ Our doom, which if we can sustain and bear,/ Our supreme foe in time may much remit/ His anger.”
Mammon ridiculed both of the previous options. He had little taste for war or expectations of God’s forgiveness: “With what eyes could we/ Stand in his presence humble, and receive/ Strict laws imposed, to celebrate his throne/ With warbled hymns, and to his Godhead sing/ Force hallelujahs, while he lordly sits/ Our envied Sov’reign.” His idea was to develop the possibilities of hell: “This desert soil/ Wants not her hidden lustre, gems and gold: Nor want we skill or art, from whence to raise/ Magnificence: and what can heav’n show more?” So he urged the fallen angels “to found this nether empire, which might rise/ By policy and long process of time/ In emulation opposite to heav’n.” As he had helped construct Pandemonium, Mammon’s ideas had some credibility. For the first time the audience saw something they liked. Mammon “scarce had finished when such murmur filled/ The assembly, as when hollow rocks retain/ The sound of blustering winds.”
But like any clever chairman, Satan had worked out his preferred outcome before the debate had begun. Everything had been structured to produce the desired conclusion. His second-in-command, Beelzebub, “Pleaded his devilish counsel, first devised/ By Satan and in part prospered.” First, he undermined Mammon by warning that God would not allow hell to become equivalent to heaven. Beelzebub proposed taking an initiative but not the direct strategy of Moloch. Satan spoke of a “place/ (If ancient and prophetic fame in heaven/ err not) another world, the happy seat/ Of some new race called Man.” This new race was supposedly equal to angels, perhaps created to fill the gap left by the exiled rebels. This was a way of getting at God without the futility of a direct assault. Perhaps men might be tricked into joining the rebellion. As a strategist Satan had identified one possible explanation for the defeat in heaven. It was simply a lack of numbers. There were twice as many loyal angels as rebels. Instead of trying to reverse the outcome of battle through a direct assault, which would be futile, why not trick men into joining the rebellion? After Satan praised Beelzebub’s plan, it was adopted. Having come up with the strategy, Satan set off to implement it. First he needed good intelligence. “Thither let us bend all our thoughts, to learn/ What creatures there inhabit. Of what mould/ Or substance, how endued, and what their power,/ And where their weakness, how attempted best,/ By force or subtlety.”15
He journeyed seven times around the earth to avoid the vigilance of the angels guarding Paradise. He tricked his way into Eden, appearing to the guard as a cherub. His aim was to conquer Eden and then colonize it with his fallen angels. But, coming upon Eve in Eden, he was enraptured by her beauty and for a while was “stupidly good, of enmity disarmed,/ Of guile, of hate, of envy, of revenge,” until he pulled himself together and reminded himself that he was about “hate, not love.” He considered Adam and Eve now more cynically as he recalls his aim of malign coalition: “League with you I seek,/ and mutual amitie so streight, so close,/ That I with you must dwell, or you with me,/ Henceforth.”
In the form of a serpent, which Milton compared to the Trojan Horse, Satan tempted Eve to eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Satan argued that he, a beast, received the gift of speech after eating it and God had not killed him. Eve later explains to Adam that she doubted he would have “discern’d/ Fraud in the Serpent, speaking as he spake.” Even if she had been aware of the possible deceptiveness of appearances, why should she have been suspicious? “No grounds of enmity between us known,/ Why he should mean me ill or seek to harm.”16
After eating the fruit, Eve persuaded Adam to eat some as well. This set up a potential contest for the allegiance of men. Should they give themselves over to Satan, the balance of power might tilt in his direction. For Adam and Eve, this was the moment of decision. No longer innocent, they must choose. Satan’s cause was defeated when Adam and Eve made their choice; they repented and aligned themselves with God. Michael’s prophecy was “so shall the World goe on,/ To good malignant, to bad men benigne,/ Under her own waight groaning” until Christ’s second coming. The lesson, as Adam came to understand, was that even the few must oppose the unjust and the wicked, for “suffering for truth’s sake/ Is fortitude to highest victorie.” God’s accomplishments would not always be the obvious route. They came “by things deem’d weak/ Subverting wordly strong.”17
By that time, a less-confident Satan, away from his home ground and supporters, had his own “troubl’d thoughts,” acknowledging the omnipotence of God and the error of his revolt, as well as the evil within him. His pride would not allow him to contemplate submission. The problem was not with the strategy Milton attributed to Satan. With all involved enjoying immortality, brute force was never going to be decisive. Satan’s best hope was to turn humans so that they joined the ranks of the fallen. In this effort deception was essential, and initially Satan was successful in removing Adam and Eve as allies of the angels. What he failed to do was win them over to his cause, for here God had the ultimate weapon in his Son.
Although Milton put sentiments about freedom—in words he might have used against his own king—into the Satanic speeches, he was not necessarily of the devil’s party. Milton’s heaven, while odd in its apparent militarism, was never described in tyrannical terms. The angels obeyed God as a result of his inherent authority rather than fear of punishment, and individual angels were given latitude when acting on God’s behalf. They came together naturally and joyously to defend heaven against the rebels. Moreover, there was every difference between using such republican rhetoric to denounce an earthly king, who had usurped the power of God and claimed to be his agent, and the denunciation of God himself. In 1609, James I spoke to Parliament about how “kings are justly called Gods, for they exercise in a manner or resemblance of Divine power upon earth . . . Kings are not only God’s Lieutenants upon earth, and sit upon God’s throne, but even by God himself they are called Gods.” Milton’s political project from the start was to challenge this presumption and the associated claim that disobedience to a king was tantamount to disobedience to God. Such a presumption was idolatrous. Milton’s hell was a developing monarchy “with royalist politics, perverted language, perverse rhetoric, political manipulation, and demagoguery.” 18 Despite the language Satan employed as a rebel leader, he acted as a supreme king once he got to hell. He appeared as a great sultan and addressed Pandemonium “high on a throne of Royal State.” He took his command for granted. He did not offer the rebels republican self-government but rather servitude to himself, a usurping king. His feigned commitment to political rights was no more to be believed than the vivid description of a serpent’s life he gave Eve while tempting her—or his other imaginative deceptions, for that matter.
The real puzzle is why Satan ever believed he could succeed. The problem was not predestination but God’s omnipotence and omniscience. Not only did God have superior power, but he could not be tricked either. Whatever was being planned, God saw it coming. As a former archangel, Satan should also have seen it coming. This is why, despite appearing to be modeled on Machiavelli’s ideal prince, Milton’s Satan fell short in key respects. In confrontation with God he made elementary mistakes and lacked the prudence Machiavelli advised when dealing with a stronger power. Machiavelli’s prince was “above all a pragmatist.” Machiavelli did not admire “those who oppose insurmountable odds or persist in lost causes.” In Paradise Lost, Satan acknowledged that while in heaven he underestimated God’s strength, and once in hell he made no effort to reconsider the logic of his initial rebellion. He stuck with a strategy that had already brought him failure, in part by claiming that it was almost successful. He learned nothing that could truly make God vulnerable. His boasting that he could do so was, to quote Riebling, “a mockery of strategic wisdom.” He was ready to use force or guile, but not to gain true advantage—only to wage “eternal Warr.” Against an omnipotent foe, this hardly betrayed pragmatism. “Satan may seem to be a free agent, boldly innovating his future,” but “he is instead a slave to his own nature.”19
In Milton’s fiction, Satan’s task was to allow God to make a point. Satan was “cast in a poem with an axiomatically omniscient and omnipotent God.” This meant, according to John Carey, “that every hostile move he makes must be self-defeating. Yet his fictional function is precisely to make hostile moves: he is the fiend, the enemy.”20 If, having seen the possibility of redemption, Satan had taken it, then the plot would no longer work. But that still left the flaw. Milton provided God with a truly evil opponent who was sufficiently clever to develop a challenge substantial enough to demonstrate God’s glory but not so clever that he could conclude that he should surrender to God’s mercy. By exploring the relative merits of force, guile, conciliation, and fatalism, Paradise Lost illuminated strategic debates, but as with all debates in which God was involved, in the end the deliberations were all futile. The players in these dramas could act to serve their own purposes only to the extent that these conformed to God’s overarching plan.
The Limits Of Guile
Although the regular references to deception in the Bible are by no means always disapproving, the serpent’s cunning, which gets humankind off to such a poor start, did not set an encouraging precedent. Milton further confirmed the link between cunning and wickedness by identifying the serpent as Satan in disguise. When Milton referred to “guile,” he connoted fraud, cunning, and trickery. From a strategic perspective, these still could seem preferable to violence—and certainly to defeat—but such methods were underhanded, certainly lacking in nobility and bravery. Those who won by such guile would forever have a stain on their character. Even now, it is complimentary to describe a person as being “without guile.” What such a person says can be taken at face value; there is no need to search for hidden meanings. Or else we speak of a victim “beguiled” by a seductive personality or idea as one detached from normal composure and rationality. A comparable word is wiles, which the philosopher Hobbes employed as an alternative “to master the persons of all men he can.”21 The Oxford Dictionary definition conveys the distasteful flavor of wiles: “a crafty, cunning, or deceitful trick; a sly, insidious, or underhand artifice; a stratagem, ruse. Formerly sometimes in somewhat wider sense: A piece of deception, a deceit, a delusion.”
Stratagems, as described by Frontinus, involved deceit, surprise, contrivance, obfuscation, and general trickery. A stratagem is still defined as an “artifice or trick designed to outwit or surprise the enemy.” There were examples in Shakespeare in which resorting to stratagem appeared as less than wholesome, a way of gaining an unfair advantage by surprising the enemy. The mad Lear’s suggestion of a “delicate stratagem” to “shoe a troop of horse with felt” was not to be taken seriously. The preference for acting without trickery was made most clear in Henry V, in which the king boasted of a victory achieved “without stratagem” but rather “in plain shock and even play of battle.”22
The word plot also acquired negative connotations during the seventeenth century. Its association with dangerous mischief or malevolent scheming was sealed once the failed attempt by Catholic conspirators (including Guy Fawkes) to blow up the House of Commons while King James visited on November 5, 1605, became known as the Gunpowder Plot. Plot has thereafter implied treachery and conspiracy—a perverted plan, hatched by a few, dependent on secrecy, geared to overthrowing the established order. Yet, the etymology of plot resembles that of plan. Both originally referred to a flat area of ground, then to a drawing of an area of land or a building, then to a drawing to guide the construction of a building, and eventually to a set of measures adopted to accomplish something. A plan became a detailed proposal setting out how a goal would be attained. The military had their “plan of attack” or “plan of campaign,” and these moved from their literal meanings to become metaphors for going on the offensive or embarking on a challenging mission in any context. When matters progress smoothly, they were going “according to plan.” Eventually, a plan implied much more than a sensible way of thinking through how to complete some difficult or complicated task. Plot morphed into something similar but less wholesome. The fine distinction between the two was found in Dr. Johnson’s 1755 dictionary. A plan was a “scheme,” while a plot was also a “scheme” but a “conspiracy, stratagem, contrivance” as well.23
There was always a double standard when it came to cunning, trickery, deception, and stratagem. Against your own people—with whom deception should be much easier because you understood them and they were more likely to trust you—it was generally reprehensible, but against enemies, it could be acceptable and even admirable if the trick was a good one. The closer the social bond, the more distasteful were attempts to exploit the bond through deception; the weaker the bond, the more difficult it was to deceive successfully. Either way, reliance on cunning was subject to a law of diminishing returns. Once the reputation was acquired, then others would be watching out for tricks. Such tricks were therefore vulnerable to problems in execution or exposure when an opponent had good intelligence. For all these reasons, the influence of cunning and trickery tended to be most evident when small scale and personal. It was possible to trick governments and armies, but this was always a gamble and might not gain more than a temporary and limited advantage. Once warfare moved to mass armies with complex organizations, there would be limits to what could be achieved by means of guile. The emphasis would be on force.