Choosing good ministers is vital, because a ruler shows his intelligence in his choice of the men around him. If a man cannot have good ideas himself, he must be smart enough to distinguish his minister's good ideas from his bad ones. The minister must think always of the prince, not of himself. The prince should honor and reward his minister, so that the minister will be dependent on the prince.
Unless rulers are shrewd about choosing their advisors, they will find themselves surrounded by flatterers. The only way to guard against flattery is to show that you are not offended by the truth. But if anyone can speak their mind to you, you will not be respected. A wise prince will pick intelligent advisors and allow only them to speak frankly, and only when he asks for their opinions. He should listen carefully, but make his own decisions and stick to them.
A prince who is not wise can never get good counsel, unless he puts himself completely in the hands of a wise man; but such a man will soon take over his state. An ignorant prince who takes advice from several counselors will never be able to reconcile their conflicting opinions, for each minister will think of his own interests. Men will always be disloyal unless a prince forces them to be faithful.
These two brief chapters deal with the advisors and ministers whom a prince chooses to aid him. Machiavelli's discussion of the topic is direct and yet contradictory. A prudent ruler, even if he is not unusually intelligent, may choose a brilliant advisor, and so be thought wise. Then again, a ruler who is not wise can never get good advice, because he cannot evaluate it properly. A good minister will be dedicated to the state and think of nothing but the prince's interests; but ministers will always forward their own interests unless a prince compels them to be loyal to him. Machiavelli's typically dark view of human nature runs up against his view that good ministers are indispensable to a prince. Because Machiavelli himself had been a "good minister" in the Florentine republic and genuinely hoped to get that position back, it is not surprising that he emphasizes the value of a minister who is truly devoted to the affairs of state.
As in Chapter 21, Machiavelli states that a prince should display decisiveness, directness, and dignity. Princes must value—and even insist on—complete candor from their advisors. Then again, if they allow too much freedom of opinion, they compromise their dignity by making themselves too approachable. The warning against flatterers was a standard caution in Renaissance advice books.
Antonio da Venafro Antonio Giordani was a lawyer employed as a minister by Pandolfo Petrucci, ruler of Siena.
Maximilian Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519), ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. Father Luca Raimondi was one of his advisors. Machiavelli had an opportunity to observe Maximillian when Machiavelli visited Maximillian's court on a diplomatic mission from 1507 to 1508.