How Flatterers Should Be Avoided
I do not wish to leave out an important branch of this subject, for it is a danger from which princes are with difficulty preserved,
unless they are very careful and discriminating. It is that of flatterers, of whom courts are full, because men are so self-complacent in
their own affairs, and in a way so deceived in them, that they are preserved with difficulty from this pest, and if they wish to defend
themselves they run the danger of falling into contempt. Because there is no other way of guarding oneself from flatterers except
letting men understand that to tell you the truth does not offend you; but when every one may tell you the truth, respect for you
Therefore a wise prince ought to hold a third course by choosing the wise men in his state, and giving to them only the liberty of
speaking the truth to him, and then only of those things of which he inquires, and of none others; but he ought to question them upon
everything, and listen to their opinions, and afterwards form his own conclusions. With these councillors, separately and collectively,
he ought to carry himself in such a way that each of them should know that, the more freely he shall speak, the more he shall be
preferred; outside of these, he should listen to no one, pursue the thing resolved on, and be steadfast in his resolutions. He who does
otherwise is either overthrown by flatterers, or is so often changed by varying opinions that he falls into contempt.
I wish on this subject to adduce a modern example. Fra Luca, the man of affairs to Maximilian, the present emperor, speaking of his
majesty, said: He consulted with no one, yet never got his own way in anything. This arose because of his following a practice the
opposite to the above; for the emperor is a secretive man - he does not communicate his designs to any one, nor does he receive
opinions on them. But as in carrying them into effect they become revealed and known, they are at once obstructed by those men
whom he has around him, and he, being pliant, is diverted from them. Hence it follows that those things he does one day he undoes
the next, and no one ever understands what he wishes or intends to do, and no one can rely on his resolutions.
A prince, therefore, ought always to take counsel, but only when he wishes and not when others wish; he ought rather to discourage
every one from offering advice unless he asks it; but, however, he ought to be a constant inquirer, and afterwards a patient listener
concerning the things of which he inquired; also, on learning that any one, on any consideration, has not told him the truth, he should
let his anger be felt.
And if there are some who think that a prince who conveys an impression of his wisdom is not so through his own ability, but
through the good advisers that he has around him, beyond doubt they are deceived, because this is an axiom which never fails: that a
prince who is not wise himself will never take good advice, unless by chance he has yielded his affairs entirely to one person who
happens to be a very prudent man. In this case indeed he may be well governed, but it would not be for long, because such a governor
would in a short time take away his state from him.
But if a prince who is not experienced should take counsel from more than one he will never get united counsels, nor will he know
how to unite them. Each of the counsellors will think of his own interests, and the prince will not know how to control them or to see
through them. And they are not to be found otherwise, because men will always prove untrue to you unless they are kept honest by
constraint. Therefore it must be inferred that good counsels, whencesoever they come, are born of the wisdom of the prince, and not
the wisdom of the prince from good counsels.
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