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Reason of State

Höpfl, Harro (2010) 'Reason of State.' In: Lagerlund, Henrik, (ed.) Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy: Philosophy between 500 and 1500. Springer, pp. 1113-1115. ISBN 9781402097287

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A term of art, originally Italian, becoming common usage in other European vernaculars in the late sixteenth century. It meant practical reflection, albeit in writing and general in form, about all aspects of statecraft (reason = reasoning, discussing, considering, but also a ground or justification for acting; state = government, the prince’s position, the institutional order of a “commonwealth” or “principality”). It claimed practical usefulness in virtue of its grounding in experience and history, contrasting itself with “mirrors of princes,” which were supposedly ignorant of the realities of politics. More narrowly, reason of state meant a “Machiavellian” disregard for legal, moral, and religious considerations when the “interests of the state” or “necessity” required it. Particularly contentious were the justifiability of dishonesty, duplicity, breach of faith and even treaty obligations, violence against opponents and competitors, illegal taxation, disregard of the claims of traditional institutions and officeholders, and the practice of religious toleration. Opponents of “reason of state” attempted to demonstrate that, on the contrary, adherence to religion, morality, and legality was the best policy, in that it earned providential rewards, but also that in strictly pragmatic terms it was most likely to bring political success. However, these proponents of “true reason of state” acknowledged that strict adherence to these norms was sometimes impossible, and when it was, statesmen must attempt to avoid the greater evil. Having become the subject of a vast literature and even a standard university topic, reason of state faded as an issue in the later seventeenth century. Realpolitik from the nineteenth century onwards resembles it, with the state representing a morality superior to the norms of legality and private morality, a view in turn contested by advocates of human rights and international morality.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Social Sciences > Essex Business School
Depositing User: Clare Chatfield
Date Deposited: 03 Aug 2013 09:32
Last Modified: 16 Dec 2014 11:19

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