The Futility of Counseling Kings

Sir Thomas More wrote Utopia about 1515.  It seems that our president “prince”  pays as little heed to his nation as “princes” of the past and has the same lust for war.  In the excerpt below Hythloday describes our president “prince” perfectly.   

More: I perceive, Raphael, that you neither desire wealth nor greatness; and indeed I value and admire such a man much more than I do any of the great men in the world. Yet I think what would well become so generous and philosophical a soul as yours would be to apply your time and thoughts to public affairs. You might find it a little hard on yourself and no great personal advantage if you entered into the counsel of some powerful prince; but you could steer him to noble and worthy actions. I know you would do this if you were in such a position, for the source of both good and evil flow from the prince, over a whole nation, as from a running fountain. 

Hythloday: You are doubly mistaken, Mr. More, both in your opinion of me, and in the judgment you make of the affairs of government. I do not have that capacity that you fancy I have. Even if I did, the public would not be one jot the better if I sacrificed my peace and quiet to serve it. This is because rather than apply themselves to the useful arts of peace, most princes prefer to apply themselves to military affairs. In these I neither have any knowledge nor do I much desire it. Princes are generally more set on acquiring new kingdoms, rightly or wrongly, than on governing well those they possess. And among the ministers of princes, there are none that are not so wise that they need no assistance. Or at least they think themselves so wise that they imagine they need no assistance. And if they do seek any advice, it is only from the prince’s personal favorites, on whom they fawn and flatter as a way of promoting their own interests. . .

    Now if in such a court—made up of persons who envy all others and only admire themselves—a person should go so far as to propose anything that he had either read in history or observed in his travels, the rest of the court would think that their reputation for wisdom would sink and that their interest would suffer if they could not disparage it. If all other things failed, they would urge that as such-and-such things pleased our ancestors, what was good enough for them is good enough for us. They would stake their case on such an answer, as a sufficient confutation of anything that could be said—as if it were a great misfortune that any should be found wiser than his ancestors. Though they ignore all good things from former ages, yet if better things are proposed they cover themselves obstinately with this excuse of reverence for the past. I have met with these proud, morose, and absurd arguments in many places, once even in England.

Source: Humanistic Texts – Sir Thomas More 

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