The pitfalls of power and how to escape them

This is a splendid summary of the fools’ licence to speak truth to power.

As every CEO or President knows, power can bring hordes of toadies seeking personal advancement or lobbying for special interests. If you find yourself similarly ‘lumbered with flatterers’, then consider infiltrating a few fools into your entourage. They can be foolish enough to tell you the truth and to make you laugh in the process. 

You may find yourself more receptive to even painful truths, more in touch with reality, and mercifully relieved of any urge to have heads lopped off. 

‘Rulers, for all the advantages they enjoy, seem to me in one respect most disadvantaged: they’ve nobody from whom they can hear the truth; in place of friends they’re lumbered with flatterers … 


Yes, that’s the way it is: monarchs do hate truthfulness.  But the splendid thing about my simpletons is always that people accept not only the truth from them, but even criticism openly and loudly expressed.  A remark uttered by an intellectual might earn the death penalty, but the same remark uttered by a buffoon will give extraordinary pleasure.  Truthfulness, if there’s nothing offensive added, has an inherent power to please – but it’s a gift that the gods have given to simpletons alone.’  


Source: Desiderius Erasmus (1469-1536), Praise of Folly, trans. Roger Clarke (Richmond: Oneworld Classics, 2008 (1511)), pp. 45-46

Image credit: Wellcome Collection, King drinking at a table surrounded by revelling courtiers, engraving after Jacob Jordaens (c. 1640). The original painting is titled Twelfth Night.  


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