November 04, 2010

Charm: Offensive? Part III

I do not want to leave aside an important matter, a mistake that it is easy for a Prince to make unless he is very prudent and has good judgement. This concerns flatterers, of which the courts are full, for men become so obsessed with their own affairs, deceiving themselves in the process, that it is difficult to defend themselves from this plague. In seeking to combat it, one runs the risk of becoming hated. There is no other defence against flattery than letting men know that they do not offend you by telling you the truth (Machiavelli, The Prince).
Perhaps what should have been said is that charm as deceit is not charm at all, but simply deceit. Intention is all important when considering the charming, for indeed, true charm has good ends. We must be able to discern the difference between that which is shallow and that which is deep: the depth of true charm is its paradox of self-effacement that is in turn endearing. The charming do not self-promote, but rather accentuate the positive in those around them. As parties disperse and partygoers reflect on the evening, the man who was charming will be on their lips, not because of his accomplishments or charisma, but because he allowed others to see themselves in the best light.

But true charm is not mere flattery, for in accentuating the positive, the charming man must light upon genuine qualities that are in fact there. This author is no fan of flattery. I’ve said somewhere within these pages in the past that the question, ‘does my bum look big in this?’ is one of the most symbolically violent acts between the sexes in the West. If the answer is ‘yes’ then the straightforward man might feel loathe to say ‘no’, and yet he surely must, or at least have enough of an idea of his interlocutor’s wardrobe to be able delicately to suggest something else. At its worst, flattery is lying, and lying cannot be true charm. Mere flattery is simply deceit by another name.

The charming man must therefore be a man of great insight, for he must see that which redeems us. People are wont to project that which is negative, perhaps not perceiving the ways in which they tend to be received. We form instant judgements based on appearances, first utterances, a look in the eye, a tone of voice. The charming man sees through this to our greatest qualities and, as he affirms those qualities, we relax under his gaze and warm to his approach. We know not about him, and we do not realise that we have not asked. The charming man will be sought again, because people will think to themselves that they like him. Actually, they have simply realised that they like themselves. When people like themselves – when they feel that they are good – they are more likely to be good to themselves and to manifest their goodness to others. The charming man therefore facilitates the good.


  1. Doctor, I am always glad to see someone defend the morality and goodness of charm - but, as you must know, I am not thus often glad...

    But if you allow me to be straightforward about such a convoluted issue as charm - you imply charm is not straightforward. Showing people in their best light begs a couple of question we should all be happier for understanding: do all people deserve being shown in their best light? Aren't some people still ugly even in their best light? What part is omission and part is commission in all of this?

    Deceit works, it seems to me, if we want to be deceived but do not realize it. There is a part of us, which is best shown in public, which thrives on what we do not deserve, but desire nevertheless. We are boasters - we claim to be or to have what we are not or have not. Those who confirm best our prejudices and promise most persuasively to fulfill all our irrational hopes - they will be the best deceivers.

    To look at our world, at least those considered cool or fashionable or in step with the times are such deceivers. They flatter mobs, when it quite comes to it - they only seem to rise above the mob because they show the self-love of the mob; whenever one of them no longer does that, whether he will or no, inevitably he falls flat and someone else takes his place.

    But the sophisticated are such also: they are allowed to rise above the common men because they claim something extraordinary the common men want. If the common confirm that superiority, it cannot be what it seems to be: the superior ought not to be judged by inferiors. The common men are not judges of the architect's craft or of anyone else's!

    Those therefore that claim to rise above the mob do so only at the mob's whim. They contemn the mob, but really depend on it. The self-love and self-hatred of mob and mob pleaser alike show in this way.

    If charm is really so different to deceit, it must have those qualities the mob does not and lead to those ends rationally which the mob espies only in enthusiastic fits. Is not a daunting prospect?

  2. All most valid and pertinent. I shall come to this.


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