Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Machiavelli on shunning flattery

Happy new year. A few people have been dolling out advice and life tips (my favourite so far: Caitlin Moran's drunken advice to women from last night), which reminded me of the following. It doesn't just apply to princes. I reckon it's rather good for writers.
“… there is no way to guard against flattery but by letting it be seen that you take no offense in hearing the truth: but when every one is free to tell you the truth respect falls short. Wherefore a prudent Prince should follow a middle course, by choosing certain discreet men from among his subjects, and allowing them alone free leave to speak their minds on any matter on which he asks their opinion, and on none other. But he ought to ask their opinion on everything, and after hearing what they have to say, should reflect and judge for himself. And with these counsellors collectively, and with each of them separately, his bearing should be such, that each and all of them may know that the more freely they declare their thoughts the better they will be liked. Besides these, the Prince should hearken to no others, but should follow the course determined on, and afterwards adhere firmly to his resolves. Whoever acts otherwise is either undone by flatterers, or from continually vacillating as opinions vary, comes to be held in light esteem …

Hence it follows that good counsels, whencesoever they come, have their origin in the prudence of the Prince, and not the prudence of the Prince in wise counsels.”
Machiavelli, The Prince (1514), XXIII. That Flatterers Should Be Shunned.

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