Divide and rule

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Divide and rule policy (Latin: divide et impera), or divide and conquer, is a technique used to gain and maintain power divisively. It typically involves creating or encouraging divisions among subjects to prevent alliances that could challenge the current leadership. Historically, this strategy has been used in many different ways by empires seeking to expand their territories.


  • Man, I think most white people and Black people are great people. I really believe that in my heart, but I think our system is set up where our politicians, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, are designed to make us not like each other so they can keep their grasp of money and power. They divide and conquer... Whether they’re Republicans or Democrats...their only job is, ‘Hey, let’s make these people not like each other. We don’t live in their neighborhoods, we all got money, let’s make the whites and Blacks not like each other, let’s make rich people and poor people not like each other, let’s scramble the middle class.
    • Charles Barkley as quoted in Charles Barkley slams politicians: They ‘divide and conquer’ to keep power, by Dominick Mastrangelo, The Hill, (htm) (5 April 2021)
  • Today there is a divide that we must acknowledge, and we must know who is deepening it. Perhaps it is colonialism—the enemy of Islam, the enemy of the Arabs, the enemy of the Persians—that is deepening it.… They have divided Islam into two Islams, and there came to be Shi'ite Islam and Sunni Islam. This is a bid'a [heresy]… When did Muhammad say: "I have brought you Shi'ite Islam and Sunni Islam?"… they have now begun to group the Arabs against Iran and Iran against the Arabs, and then Shi'ites against Sunnis and Sunnis against Shi'ites.… Are we Muslims, or are we Shi'ites and Sunnis?! For whose benefit is this? It is for the benefit of the "other" that we are speaking about, for the benefit of the enemy, for the benefit of colonialism.
    • Muammar Gaddafi quoted in MEMRI Special Dispatch Series No. 1535 In Overture to Iran, Qaddafi Declares North Africa Shi'ite and Calls for Establishment of New Fatimid State, (htm), (6 April 2007)
  • Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last 500 years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule, you see. Why should we change now when it's worked so well?
    • Sir Humphrey (character in Yes, Minister, Episode Five: The Writing on the Wall, by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lyn (1980)
  • The best way to conquer or control a group of people is by encouraging them to fight among themselves rather than allowing them to unite in opposition to the ruling authority.
  • In politics, the concept refers to a strategy that breaks up existing power structures, and especially prevents smaller power groups from linking up, causing rivalries and fomenting discord among the people to prevent a rebellion against the elites or the people implementing the strategy. The goal is either to pit the lower classes against themselves to prevent a revolution, or to provide a desired solution to the growing discord that strengthens the power of the elites. It was heavily used by British Empire in India and elsewhere. (Ilia Xypolia. ‘Divide et Impera: Vertical and Horizontal Dimensions of British Imperialism’. Critique: journal of socialist theory, vol 44, no. 3, pp. 221-231, 2016. P. 221.)
    • “Divide et Impera”: A History of “Divide and Rule”, by Matthew A. McIntosh, Brewminate (htm) (22 July 2019)
  • Clive R. Boddy found that “divide and conquer” was a common strategy by corporate psychopaths used as a smokescreen to help consolidate and advance their grip on power in the corporate hierarchy. (C.R. Boddy, Corporate Psychopaths: Organizational Destroyers 2011)
    • Divide et Impera: A History of Divide and Rule, by Matthew A. McIntosh, Brewminate (22 July 2019)
  • Unfolding the Future of the Long War, a 2008 RAND Corporation report, was sponsored by the US Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Army Capability Integration Centre. It set out US government policy options for prosecuting what it described as “the long war” against “adversaries” in “the Muslim world,” who are “bent on forming a unified Islamic world to supplant Western dominance” ... Among the strategies explored by the US Army-sponsored report is “Divide and Rule,” which calls for “exploiting fault lines between the various SJ [Salafi-jihadist] groups to turn them against each other and dissipate their energy on internal conflicts,”...
    • The Pentagon plan to ‘divide and rule’ the Muslim world, Nafeez Ahmed, The Middle East Eye (htm) (3 April 2015)
  • The oligarchy understands that a “divide-and-conquer” strategy gives them more room to get what they want without opposition... oligarchies cannot hold on to power forever... When a vast majority of people come to view an oligarchy as illegitimate and an obstacle to their wellbeing, oligarchies become vulnerable. As bad as it looks right now, the great strength of this country is our resilience. We bounce back. We have before. We will again. In order for real change to occur – in order to reverse the vicious cycle in which we now find ourselves – the locus of power in the system will have to change. The challenge we face is large and complex, but we are well suited for the fight ahead. Together, we will dismantle the oligarchy. Together, we will fix the system.
    • Robert Reich, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, Alternet, (htm) 24 March 2020
  • Racism is used by those with wealth and power to divide those with neither, so they won’t see where all the wealth and power have gone.
  • The world is nearly all parcelled out, and what there is left of it is being divided up, conquered and colonised.
    • Cecil Rhodes, The Last Will and Testament of Cecil John Rhodes (1902) by William T. Stead (a compilation of Rhodes' legal will and other biographical material)
  • Like ruling classes throughout history, Nader argues, our contemporary Republican and Democratic parties use a divide-and-conquer strategy to “deliberately undermine organic solidarities” across lines of race, gender, and class.
    • Nader Calls for a Different 1 Percent, by Andy Lee Roth, Yes Magazine, (htm), (13 January 2017)
  • Racism and ethnic differences allow the power structure to exploit the masses of workers in this country, because that's the key by which they maintain their control. To divide the people and conquer them is the objective of the power structure. It's the ruling class, the very small minority, the few avaricious, demagogic hogs and rats who control and infest the government. The ruling class and their running dogs, their lackeys, their bootlickers, their Toms and their black racists, their cultural nationalists - they're all the running dogs of the ruling class. These are the ones who help to maintain and aid the power structure by perpetuating their racist attitudes and using racism as a means to divide the people. But it's really the small, minority ruling class that is dominating, exploiting, and oppressing the working and laboring people.
  • The greatest weapon that the colonial powers have used in the past against our people has always been divide-and-conquer. America is a colonial power. She has colonized 22 million Afro-Americans by depriving us of first-class citizenship, by depriving us of civil rights, actually by depriving us of human rights. She has not only deprived us of the right to be a citizen, she has deprived us of the right to be a human being, the right to be recognized and respected as men and women.
    • Malcolm X, The Black Revolution, Militant Labor Forum (8 April 1964)
  • Divide and rule... 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. The concept refers to a strategy that breaks up existing power structures, and especially prevents smaller power groups from linking up, causing rivalries and fomenting discord among the people.

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