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THE NOVEL - SUMMARY AND NOTES
CHAPTERS 22 AND 23
Chapters 22 and 23 are important for the suggestions Machiavelli makes regarding the ways a prince should select his advisers.
If a prince's advisers are competent and faithful, the prince will be judged wise, because he knew how to discern their capacity and how to secure their fidelity. But if they prove otherwise, the opinion formed of a prince will be unfavorable, because he lacked good judgment in making the selection. In suggesting the types of advisers to choose, Machiavelli distinguishes between three kinds of intellect. The first intellect understands things by its own quickness of perception; it is this intellect that a prince should look for in selecting advisers. The second intellect understands things when they are explained by someone else; this intellect is also good. The third understands things neither by itself nor through the explanation of others; this intellect is useless.
Whenever the prince sees that the adviser thinks more of himself than of the prince and that he seeks his own advantage more than that of the state, the prince may be sure that his adviser is not to be trusted. For a man who has the administration of the state in his hands should never think of himself, but only of the prince, and should never bring anything to his ruler's notice that does not relate to the interest of the government.
On the other hand, the prince may secure the devotion of his advisers by binding himself to them with obligations. The prince should bestow riches and share honors and tasks, so that the abundance of honors and riches conferred by the prince will keep the adviser from desiring either from any other source. When the relations between a prince and his adviser are set up that way, says Machiavelli, the two will be able to rely on each other. If the relations between them are otherwise, then one or the other will surely come to a bad end.
In The Prince, Machiavelli takes great pains to spell out the differences
between friends and flatterers, and warns of the dangers of placing personal
friends in positions of influence. Do you think his description of trusted
advisers is accurate? Do you think he gained his own position as head
of the second chancery by personal influence or by ability?
To test your own interpretation of Machiavelli's view, think of recent examples of "trusted advisers" whose appointment to high positions in government because of political favoritism or reward later resulted in embarrassment or censure for their leader. On the other hand, can you think of notable examples of trusted advisers whose appointment to public office has resulted in remarkable achievements in diplomacy, negotiations, or legislation? Is there a lesson to be learned here? What is it?
In Chapter 23, Machiavelli describes how a prince learns to avoid flatterers. He begins by saying men are generally so pleased with themselves that it's with difficulty they escape from flatterers. In their efforts to avoid them, moreover, princes expose themselves to the risk of being scorned.
There is, unfortunately, no way to guard against flattery other than to make people understand that they won't offend a prince by speaking the truth. But when all people feel free to speak the truth to a prince, they'll be apt to lack respect for him. A prudent prince, therefore, should follow a middle course, choosing for his close advisers only wise men, to whom he gives full power to tell him the truth. They should only be allowed to give him those opinions that he asks for, and no other. The prince should listen to his advisers' opinions, reflect upon them, and then form his own resolutions. He should also treat his advisers in such a manner that each is encouraged to always speak freely to him.
Machiavelli cites a contemporary example to reinforce his analysis. Emperor Maximilian takes counsel with no one and yet never does anything in his own way, either. He never communicates his secrets nor takes advice. But when he attempts to carry out his plans and they become known, they are quickly opposed by those whom he has around him. Being easily influenced, the emperor is then diverted from his own resolves. Thus, Maximilian undoes one day what he has done the day before, and no one ever knows what he wants or plans to do from day to day.
Maximilian's problem leads Machiavelli to propose that a prince should always take counsel-but only when he wants it, not when others wish to thrust it upon him. In fact, he says, a prince should discourage persons from offering him unsolicited advice. And he should show his anger if anyone should, for some reason, not tell him the truth.
Those who imagine that a prince's wisdom is the result of the good counsel of those who surround him, rather than of his own natural gifts of wisdom, also deceive themselves. A prince who is not naturally wise cannot be well advised (unless he places himself entirely in the hands of one man who happens to be an adviser of uncommon ability). But even in such a case, Machiavelli warns, a prince might be well directed but would probably not last long before his adviser deprived him of his state. Even if the prince depends completely on a number of advisers, he will have similar problems, because his advisers will think only of their own advantage, and the prince will know neither how to discern nor how to correct their various suggestions.
And things cannot be otherwise, says Machiavelli, because people will always naturally prove bad, unless necessity forces them to be good. Hence, he concludes this chapter with the admonition that good advisers, no matter where they come from, result wholly from the prince's own wisdom. The prince's wisdom, however, never results from good advisers.