Divide and rule

Divide and rule (Latin: divide et impera), or divide and conquer, in politics and sociology is gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into pieces that individually have less power than the one implementing the strategy.[citation needed]

Tradition attributes the origin of the motto to Philip II of Macedon: Greek: διαίρει καὶ βασίλευε diaírei kài basíleue, in Ancient Greek, meaning "divide and rule"

The use of this technique is meant to empower the sovereign to control subjects, populations, or factions of different interests, who collectively might be able to oppose its rule. Niccolò Machiavelli identifies a similar application to military strategy, advising in Book VI of The Art of War (1521)[1] (L'arte della guerra):[2] a Captain should endeavor with every act to divide the forces of the enemy. Machiavelli advises that this act should be achieved either by making him suspicious of his men in whom he trusted, or by giving him cause that he has to separate his forces, and, because of this, become weaker.

The maxim divide et impera has been attributed to Philip II of Macedon.[citation needed] It was utilised by the Roman ruler Julius Caesar and the French emperor Napoleon (together with the maxim divide ut regnes).

The strategy, but not the phrase, applies in many ancient cases: the example of Aulus Gabinius exists, parting the Jewish nation into five conventions, reported by Flavius Josephus in Book I, 169–170 of The Jewish War (De bello Judaico).[3] Strabo also reports in Geographica, 8.7.3[4] that the Achaean League was gradually dissolved when it became part of the Roman province of Macedonia, as the Romans treated the various states differently, wishing to preserve some and to destroy others.[citation needed]

The strategy of division and rule has been attributed to sovereigns, ranging from Louis XI of France to the House of Habsburg. Edward Coke denounces it in Chapter I of the Fourth Part of the Institutes of the Lawes of England, reporting that when it was demanded by the Lords and Commons what might be a principal motive for them to have good success in Parliament, it was answered: "Eritis insuperabiles, si fueritis inseparabiles. Explosum est illud diverbium: Divide, & impera, cum radix & vertex imperii in obedientium consensu rata sunt." [You would be invincible if you were inseparable. This proverb, Divide and rule, has been rejected, since the root and the summit of authority are confirmed by the consent of the subjects.] In a minor variation, Sir Francis Bacon wrote the phrase "separa et impera" in a letter to James I of 15 February 1615. James Madison made this recommendation in a letter to Thomas Jefferson of 24 October 1787,[5] which summarized the thesis of The Federalist#10:[6] "Divide et impera, the reprobated axiom of tyranny, is under certain (some) qualifications, the only policy, by which a republic can be administered on just principles." In Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch by Immanuel Kant (1795), Appendix one, Divide et impera is the third of three political maxims, the others being Fac et excusa (Act now, and make excuses later) and Si fecisti, nega (If you commit a crime, deny it).[7]

Elements of this technique involve:

  • creating or encouraging divisions among the subjects to prevent alliances that could challenge the sovereign and distributing forces that they overpower the other.
  • aiding and promoting those who are willing to cooperate with the sovereign
  • fostering distrust and enmity between local rulers
  • encouraging meaningless expenditures that reduce the capability for political and military spending

Historically, this strategy was used in many different ways by empires seeking to expand their territories.

Immanuel Kant was an advocate of this tactic, noting that "the problem of setting up a state can be solved even by a nation of devils" so long as they possess an appropriate constitution which pits opposing factions against each other with a system of checks and balances.[8]

The concept is also mentioned as a strategy for market action in economics to get the most out of the players in a competitive market.