Notes politics

Law 26: Keep Your Hands Clean (The 48 Laws of Power)

Law 26: Keep Your Hands Clean

Folly consists not in committing Folly, but in being incapable of concealing it. All men make mistakes, but the wise conceal the blunders they have made, while fools make them public. Reputation more on what is hidden than on what is seen. If you can’t be good, be careful.

Baltasar Gracián

Never allow your reputation to suffer, use a scapegoat for your mistakes, and if you choose to attack your enemy, do not dirty your hands but use a cat’s paw instead. Keep your hands clean at all costs.

Cesare Borgia left Venice under the rule of the Spaniard Ramiro de Orco. For a couple of year, de Orco managed to rid the city of corruption and criminality but did so with brutal force. Eventually, the citizens of Romagna came to resent their ruler. In 1502, Cesare made it clear that he had not approved of de Orco’s cruel behavior. He imprisoned de Orco and on the day after Christmas, the townspeople awoke to a strange spectacle. They saw de Orco’s headless body in the middle of the piazza. Machiavelli commented that the people were stunned yet satisfied by this event.

I would rather betray the whole world than let the world betray me.

General Ts‘ao Ts’ao

Cesare Borgia was a cunning politician. He always planned several moves ahead and for this reason, he was the model king according to Machiavelli. Cesare knew that Romagna needed brutal justice if order was to be created. But Cesare knew that the citizens would resent him if he was the face of such brutal reform, he used a scapegoat, de Orco. Once the dirty work had been done, the Spaniard was the scapegoat Cesare has chosen. Cesare accomplished his mission without facing any negative repercussions personally.

Naturally, people like to project guilt outwards. The spectacle that was created by Borgia was unanimously accepted by the citizens of Romagna. Instead of questioning the original cause of the brutality they experienced, or looking inwards for answers, they were satisfied with the blame that was aimed at de Orco. Once they saw his head on a pike, their previous resentment and anger were put to rest. They felt that they had been redeemed.

A civil war broke out in China in the late 1920’s between the Communists and the Nationalists. Chiang Kai-shek was determined to kill every single communist and nearly accomplished his task until he was betrayed by his own soldiers in 1936. But Mao didn’t kill Chiang. Instead, the Communist leader suggested that they unite against the Japanese and Chiang obliged.

A wise man, walking alone, Was being bothered by a fool throwing stones at his head. Turning to face him, he said: “My dear chap, well thrown! Please accept these few francs. You’ve worked hard enough to get more than mere thanks. Every effort deserves its reward. But see that man over there? He can afford More than I can. Present him with some of your stones: they’ll earn a good wage.” Lured by the bait, the stupid man Ran off to repeat the outrage On the other worthy citizen. This time he wasn’t paid in money for his stones. Up rushed serving-men, And seized him and thrashed him and broke all his bones. In the courts of kings there are pests like this. devoid of sense: They’ll make their master laugh at your expense. To silence their cackle, should you hand out rough Punishment? Maybe you’re not strong enough. Better persuade them to attack Somebody else, who can more than pay them back.


The Communists fought a guerrilla style war while the Nationalists fought traditionally. Of course, the Nationalists were much easier targets and became significantly weaker after the Chinese had succeeded in evicting the Japanese forces. The Communists in the meantime had managed to recover their strength, and after the war with Japan, they beat the Nationalists into submission. Mao had used both the Japanese and the Communists, his two enemies as cat paws against each other, while his army recovered their strength.

Do everything pleasant yourself, everything unpleasant through third parties. By adopting the first course you win favor, by taking the second you deflect ill will. Important affairs often require rewards and punishments. Let only the good come from you and the evil from others.

Baltasar Gracián

Read The 48 Laws of Power

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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