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Article :: Supporting Evidence

Machiavailli Reconsidered


The Prince

by Nicolo Machiavelli


CHAPTER XXIII

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 arc 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 abates.[1][2]

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.[3]

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.[4]


    Synopsis: NEEDS WORK

    [1] Machiavailli implies, but does not provide a precise definition of "flatterer". A flatterer is one whom attacks you through the weakness of your false perceptions of yourself and / or false advice regarding how you can increase positive perceptions of yourself, lying to you, evoking a false "feel good" sensation from you so you will keep them around and reward them for the service of providing false self-esteem. Also known as sycophant, those who "tell you what you want to hear". Flatterers manipulate your perspectives to trick you into false choice and rewarding them for this disservice.

    [2] Rulers, to maintain rule, must, in addition to real accomplishments, maintain a positive perception of all of the values previously enumerated, plus infallibility. Thus accomplising real goals requires rulers to be aware of the truth of matters, to make correct choices. Flatterers pose these difficulties and dangers:
    • They lie to you while providing the perception of honoring you. This display of being publicly honored is useful since it increases perceived support and, any enemies watching may be misdirected regarding your intent by what the flatterers advise. However, a ruler needs truth, not flattery. Flatterers vex you, waste your time and pose a risk with their lies. Since flatters, on the surface honor you, you cannot smite them for their lies, since this would provide the perception of smiting supporters, appear very unjust and discourage real supporters.
    • Although a ruler, above all needs truth from those surrounding him, to encourage everyone to tell truth, because of perceptual differences results in real and perceived dissent with ruler opinions / decrees. This detracts from the neccessary perception of ruler infallability, being in control and tolerating "no dissent". It also, in public perspective, highlights past mistakes, reducing obedience. Mistakes will surely occur, but, they must be cast as "neccessary" to achieve something else important in a manner that mere fools cannot comprehend.

    [3] Clearly, a ruler needs truth to be effective in achieving real goals and to understand / control the public perspective of his nature / deeds. This must be done without being tricked by flatterers or providing the perception of dissent (weakness) within ruling circles. A wise ruler should chart this course:
    • Seek out and retain the best and brightest advisers from within all displines / skills pertaining to rule, including management, war, peace, economics, justice, perception management.
    • Grant these advisers the liberty of dissentiung opinions and speaking truth to you in private.
    • Be curious and question advisers on every matter, restricting the scope of their advice to answering your questions.
    • Ponder this advice well, resolve contradictions between interests according to your goals and appraisal of risks / rewards, propose a course of action. Confirm this course of action with your advisers and make any necessary corrections. Stay in this feedback loop until the optimal plan is in hand.
    • Implement the plan and stay resolute, despite all opposition unless unintended consequences manifest, in which case refinements should be sought from advisers and adaptations made.
    • Failure to follow this course risks falling for the wiles of flatters or engaging in many course (opinion) changes because of dissent, appearing fickle and weak, a loss of power and invitation for your enemies to strike.

    [4] The question of whether a wise regieme is a consequence of a wise ruler, wise advisers or a combination of the two needs to be addressed:
    • A wise ruler in the absence of wise advisers is only wise in matters that the ruler has experience with and / or information from the wise such as books he has access to. The case of a wise ruler with corrupt or ignorant advisers is not real, since a wise ruler is able to see through such advisors whom invariably will adopt the pose of flatterers.
    • The case of a ruler lacking in wisdom with wise advisors is such that either the ruler ignores the wisdom of his advisors (to self-deluded idiots regarding their own intelligence, wisdom is defined as agreeing with them) or, choses to cede control to wise advisers, in which case, the ruler will be perceived as redundent and the advisers will sieze rule in actual fact or perception, keeping the ruler as an impotent symbol and lightening rod for blame / dissent (patsy).
    • The effectiveness of a wise ruler with wise advisers and how advisers should be managed has been discussed above.
    • It can only be concluded that a wise regieme requires BOTH a wise ruler (final chooser) and wise advisers to assist in understanding the choice opportunities. perils and consequences. This is no surprise, since success in any large goal is a matter of division of labor among the intelligent.



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