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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
How a Prince Ought to Avoid Flatterers
By Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527)
 
From ‘The Prince

I MUST not forget to mention one evil against which princes should ever be upon their guard, and which they cannot avoid except by the greatest prudence; and this evil is the flattery which reigns in every court. Men have so much self-love, and so good an opinion of themselves, that it is very difficult to steer clear of such contagion; and besides, in endeavoring to avoid it, they run the risk of being despised.  1
  For princes have no other way of expelling flatterers than by showing that the truth will not offend. Yet if every one had the privilege of uttering his sentiments with impunity, what would become of the respect due to the majesty of the sovereign? A prudent prince should take a middle course, and make choice of some discreet men in his State, to whom alone he may give the liberty of telling him the truth on such subjects as he shall request information upon from them. He ought undoubtedly to interrogate them and hear their opinions upon every subject of importance, and determine afterwards according to his own judgment; conducting himself at all times in such a manner as to convince every one that the more freely they speak the more acceptable they will be. After which he should listen to nobody else, but proceed firmly and steadily in the execution of what he has determined.  2
  A prince who acts otherwise is either bewildered by the adulation of flatterers, or loses all respect and consideration by the uncertain and wavering conduct he is obliged to pursue. This doctrine can be supported by an instance from the history of our own times. Father Luke said of the Emperor Maximilian, his master, now on the throne, that “he never took counsel of any person, and notwithstanding he never acted from an opinion of his own”; and in this he adopted a method diametrically opposite to that which I have proposed. For as this prince never intrusted his designs to any of his ministers, their suggestions were not made till the very moment when they should be executed; so that, pressed by the exigencies of the moment, and overwhelmed with obstacles and unforeseen difficulties, he was obliged to yield to whatever opinions his ministers might offer. Hence it happens, that what he does one day he is obliged to cancel the next; and thus nobody can depend on his decisions, for it is impossible to know what will be his ultimate determination.  3
  A prince ought to take the opinions of others in everything, but only at such times as it pleases himself, and not whenever they are obtruded upon him; so that no one shall presume to give him advice when he does not request it. He ought to be inquisitive, and listen with attention; and when he sees any one hesitate to tell him the full truth, he ought to evince the utmost displeasure at such conduct.  4
  Those are much mistaken who imagine that a prince who listens to the counsel of others will be but little esteemed, and thought incapable of acting on his own judgment. It is an infallible rule that a prince who does not possess an intelligent mind of his own can never be well advised, unless he is entirely governed by the advice of an able minister, on whom he may repose the whole cares of government; but in this case he runs a great risk of being stripped of his authority by the very person to whom he has so indiscreetly confided his power. And if instead of one counselor he has several, how can he, ignorant and uninformed as he is, conciliate the various and opposite opinions of those ministers,—who are probably more intent on their own interests than those of the State, and that without his suspecting it?  5
  Besides, men who are naturally wicked incline to good only when they are compelled to it; whence we may conclude that good counsel, come from what quarter it may, is owing entirely to the wisdom of the prince, and the wisdom of the prince does not arise from the goodness of the counsel.  6
 
 
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