Law 26: Keep Your Hands Clean


You must seem a paragon of civility and efficiency: Your hands are never soiled by mistakes and nasty deeds. Maintain such a spotless appearance by using others as scapegoats and cat's-paws to disguise your involvement.

1. Conceal Your Mistakes-Have a Scapegoat Around To Take The Blame

Our good name and reputation depend more on what we conceal than on what we reveal. Everyone makes mistakes, but those who are truly clever manage to hide them, and to make sure someone else is blamed. A convenient scapegoat should always be kept around for such moments.

Understanding the workings of power and the importance of appearances Shop around for the most convenient head and have it served up immediately.

Occasional mistakes are inevitable-Handle Them

People of power, however, are undone not by the mistakes they make, but by the way they deal with them. The mistake does not vanish with an apology; it deepens and festers. Better to cut it off instantly, distract attention from yourself, and focus attention on a convenient scapegoat. Do not give people time to ponder your responsibility or your possible incompetence.

The bloody sacrifice of the scapegoat seems a barbaric relic of the past, but the practice lives on to this day, if indirectly and symbolically; since power depends on appearances, and those in power must seem never to make mistakes, the use of scapegoats is as popular as ever. Besides conveniently shifting blame, a scapegoat can serve as a warning to others.

In fact it is often wise to choose the most innocent victim possible as a sacrificial goat. Such people will not be powerful enough to fight you, and their naive protests may be seen as protesting too much—may be seen, in other words, as a sign of their guilt. Be careful, however, not to create a martyr. It is important that you remain the victim, the poor leader betrayed by the incompetence of those around you.

History has time and again shown the value of using a close associate as a scapegoat. In ancient times, this was known as the "fall of the favorite."

Choosing a close associate as a scapegoat has the same value as the "fall of the favorite." You may lose a friend or aide, but in the long-term scheme of things, it is more important to hide your mistakes than to hold on to someone who one day will probably turn against you.

2. Make Use Of the Cat's-Paw

In the fable, the Monkey grabs the paw of his friend, the Cat, and uses it to fish chestnuts out of the fire, thus getting the nuts he craves, without hurting himself.

If there is something unpleasant or unpopular that needs to be done, it is far too risky for you to do the work yourself. You need a cat's-paw— someone who does the dirty, dangerous work for you. The cat's-paw grabs what you need, hurts whom you need hurt, and keeps people from noticing that you are the one responsible. Let someone else be the executioner, or the bearer of bad news, while you bring only joy and glad tidings.

Who Are the Cat’s Paw People?

There will always be people who will do your dirty little tasks to keep you on the throne. This will usually be a person from outside your immediate circle, who will therefore be unlikely to realize how he or she is being used. You will find these dupes everywhere—people who enjoy doing you favors, especially if you throw them a minimal bone or two in exchange.

But as they accomplish tasks that may seem to them innocent enough, or at least completely justified, they are actually clearing the field for you, spreading the information you feed them, undermining people they do not realize are your rivals, inadvertently furthering your cause, dirtying their hands while yours remain spotless.

Two uses of the cat's-paw:
1. To save appearances, as Cleopatra did, and
2. To save energy and effort.

The latter case in particular demands that you plan several moves in advance, realizing that a temporary move backward can lead to a giant leap forward. If you are temporarily weakened and need time to recover, it will often serve you well to use those around you both as a screen to hide your intentions and as a cat's-paw to do your work for you.

Look for a powerful third party who shares an enemy with you (if for different reasons), then take advantage of their superior power to deal blows which would have cost you much more energy, since you are weaker. You can even gently guide them into hostilities. Always search out the overly aggressive as potential cat's-paws—they are often more than willing to get into a fight, and you can choose just the right fight for your purposes.

The Key Strategies - Never Do Work that a Cat’s Paw can Do

Have the ability to think far ahead, to imagine ways in which other people can be baited into doing the job for you. Disguise your goal, shrouding it in mystery, like the strange enemy boats appearing dimly in the mist. When your rivals cannot be sure what you are after, they will react in ways that often work against them in the long run. In fact they will become your cat's-paws. If you disguise your intentions, it is much easier to guide them into moves that accomplish exactly what you want done, but prefer not to do yourself. This may require planning several moves in advance, like a billiard ball that bounces off the sides a few times before heading into the right pocket.The cat's-paw establishes your credibility and shields you from the unsavory appearance of being too pushy.The easiest and most effective way to use a cat's-paw is often to plant information with him that he will then spread to your primary target.

Finally, you may well find cases in which deliberately offering yourself as the cat's-paw will ultimately gain you great power. This is the ruse of the perfect courtier. Its symbol is Sir Walter Raleigh, who once placed his own cloak on the muddy ground so that Queen Elizabeth would not sully her shoes. As the instrument that protects a master or peer from unpleasantness or danger, you gain immense respect, which sooner or later will pay dividends. And remember: If you can make your assistance subtle and gracious rather than boastful and burdensome, your recompense will be that much the more satisfying and powerful.


The cat's-paw and the scapegoat must be used with extreme caution and delicacy. They are like screens that hide your own involvement in dirty work from the public; if at any moment the screen is lifted and you are seen as the manipulator, the puppet master, the whole dynamic turns around—your hand will be seen everywhere, and you will be blamed for misfortunes you may have had nothing to do with. Once the truth is revealed, events will snowball beyond your control.