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Law 26: Keep Your Hands Clean

In the image: Mark Elliot Zuckerberg is an American media magnate, internet entrepreneur, and philanthropist. He is known for co-founding Facebook, Inc. and serves as its chairman, chief executive officer, and controlling shareholder. Wikipedia

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.

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Part 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.

Keys To Power

  • The main idea behind scapegoats is the shifting of guilt and sin to an outside figure — be it an object, animal or man — which is then banished and destroyed.
  • It is a human response to not look inward after a mistake but look outward and affix blame and guilt on a convenient object.
  • The clever knows how to harness this power.
  • The practice of scapegoating still lives on today, just indirectly and symbolically.
  • A scapegoat can also serve as a warning to others.
  • It is often wise to choose the most innocent victim possible as a sacrificial goal. Such people will not be powerful enough to fight you, and their naive protests may be seen as protesting too much, as a sign of their guilt.

Part 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.

Keys To Power

  • The truly powerful never seem to be in a hurry or overburdened. While others work their fingers to the bone, they take their leisure.
  • You will often find it necessary to expend energy to effect an evil but necessary action. But you must never appear to be this action’s agent. Find a cat’s paw.
  • 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.
  • You may also 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. As the instrument that protects a master or peer from unpleasantness or danger, you gain immense respect.


  • Use both with caution. 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 puppet master, the whole dynamic turns around.
  • There are moments when it is advantageous to not disguise your involvement or responsibility, but rather take the blame yourself for some mistake. If you have power and are secure in it, you can sometimes ask for forgiveness. It is the ploy of the king who makes a show of his own sacrifices for the good of the people.


As written in Niccolo Machiavelli’s letter to the prince, Cesare Borgia was using Remirro di Orco as a tool to take gruesome action against all of his enemies. In the end, he used him as a scapegoat, put the full blame on di Orco and threw lavish banquets for the common folk, presenting not only his clean slate but positive change. It is the ultimate act of betrayal. 

To have someone’s back only to find out they’ve been using you this whole time. Avoid falling into the trap of being someone’s cat-paw or scapegoat.

About The Book

The 48 Laws of Power (1998) is a non-fiction book by American author Robert Greene. The book is a bestseller, selling over 1.2 million copies in the United States.

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