Military Strategy Magazine  /  Volume 4, Issue 1  /  

Politics, Statecraft and the art of War

Politics, Statecraft and the art of War Politics, Statecraft and the art of War
To cite this article: Jones, David Martin, “Politics, Statecraft and the art of War,” Infinity Journal, Volume 4, Issue 1, summer 2014, pages 18-24.

There is a paradox at the heart of the contemporary understanding of international law. Use of force is considered appropriate only for humanitarian ends and must fulfill a set of predetermined axioms laid down in chapter 7 of the UN charter, developed in the convention of the responsibility to protect. Yet strategy, to be effective, requires a clear political aim which might deviate from the general rule; preoccupied with an abstract model applied generally, it has lost sight of the particular. The failure of contemporary western statesmen in the twenty first century to address this anomaly or to prioritize their political ends has thus led to strategic confusion from Afghanistan to Syria and Ukraine. In this context, it might be useful to reappraise the utility of modern rationalism and return instead to an earlier understanding of statecraft that prudently avoided ‘premature generalisations’.[i]

The sixteenth century political thinkers who defined the modern understandin§g of sovereignty and the nature of political obedience had much to say about the relationship between the state and the strategic use of force, yet this aspect of their thought is largely neglected. These early modern theorists of raison d’etat clarified the identity of the modern state and how it maintained and defended its right to exist, offering a practical counsel that modern western democracies, in their efforts to maintain internal order or conduct wars of choice, could do well to attend to.

The century from the Counter-Reformation to the Peace of Westphalia was almost as bloody as the twentieth in terms of the devastation it wreaked upon Europe. Between 1550-1648, Europe suffered divisive internal as well as external war, and witnessed the often brutal severing of traditional political and religious allegiances from Prague to Edinburgh. Between 1618-48, the gross domestic product of the lands of the Holy Roman Empire (covering most of central Europe) declined by between 25-40 percent. The war devastated and depopulated entire regions of contemporary Germany, Italy, Holland, France and Belgium. In 1635, Jacques Callot captured the miseries and misfortunes of the war in a devastating series of lithographs (see fig 1).

It was in the context of confessional division and internecine war that the modern unitary state emerged unsteadily from the disintegrating chrysalis of the medieval realm. With it arose a new scepticism about morality, law and order that came to be termed ‘politique’, or reason of state. The realist thinkers that outlined this political project from Nicolo Machiavelli at the start of the century, to the neglected but far more influential Dutch humanist, Justus Lipsius, at its end, were notably wary of abstract moral injunctions when it came to difficult questions of war and governance. Instead they offered a distinctive counsel of prudence, or practical morality, when considering the use of force. Unlike the contemporary human rights lobby, practical sixteenth century guides to statecraft offered maxims or aphorisms, not axioms, to address difficult cases like war. This practical advice to princes and republics on morality and war contrasts dramatically with contemporary international law and its application of a universal moral and legal standard to all cases of the use of force for humanitarian ends.

Yet a return to a prudent rhetoric of reasonableness, especially in foreign policy debates, could restore the balance which abstract theoretical rationalism, and its preoccupation with certain rules and systems has disturbed. In a world of uncertainty and complexity, abstract rationalist rigour is less appropriate than the sixteenth century humanism of those like Michel de Montaigne, who exhorted his readers to live with ambiguity without judgement. Indeed as the late Stephen Toulmin has argued, an updated practical ethics, or casuistry, can still have value in resolving doubtful cases ranging from war to euthanasia in the twenty first century.

What then was the character of this practical case analysis, and what implications does it have for statecraft and strategy? To recover this prudential view, and what it means for contemporary strategic thought, requires first that we establish how a distinctive approach to difficult cases of obligation emerged in the sixteenth century, as a response to confessional division and political fragmentation. This evolved as humanist philosophers and statesmen adapted from Cicero’s De Officiis, and the histories of Tacitus, Polybius and Livy, a practical case ethics and a set of maxims to address questions of war and peace. In the process of interrogating the classical world for advice on political conduct, they walked eyes backwards into a realist understanding of statecraft.

The Machiavellian Moment

It was the Florentine lawyer turned statesman, Nicolo Machiavelli who first drew attention to the gap between an abstract morality and the virtu required of a prince or republic if it wished to survive in a world of contingent uncertainty. As he explained in The Prince, it was ‘more appropriate to follow up the real truth of a matter than the imagination of it; for many have pictured republics and principalities which in fact have never been known or seen, because how one lives is so far distant from how one ought to live, that he who neglects what is done for what ought to be done sooner effects his ruin than his preservation’.[ii] Moreover, in order to preserve the state, rulers needed both good counsel and to prepare for war. Indeed, ‘a prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study than war and its rules and disciplines; for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules and it is of such force that it not only upholds those who are born princes, but it often enables men to rise from a private station to that rank.’[iii] Significantly, the only political work that Machiavelli published in his lifetime, The Art of War (1521), treated military virtue as a necessary precondition for political or civil virtue. Here again Machiavelli looked to the ancients for both strategy and tactics. As he noted in his Discourses on the Roman historian Livy, ‘that if where there are men there are no soldiers, it arises through a defect of the prince and not through any other defect’. Effective rule required an armed citizenry and a close attention to strategy.

Machiavelli’s work was controversial. His posthumously published writings influenced both the thought and practice of statesmen and princes as various as Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII in England and the Duc de Rohan and Henri IV in France. However, later writers in a Machiavellian or realist idiom thought the Florentine delighted too much in the shock value of demonstrating the utility of amoral political action in extreme circumstances.[iv] Later étatist thinkers wrote in a cooler style, recognizing that Machiavelli had identified the mystery of rule or arcana imperii, but that it required a more nuanced application to the problem of internal and external war.[v] In this style of thinking, the arcana acknowledged the necessity of morally questionable behaviour whilst simultaneously maintaining the virtue of rule for preserving and advancing the common interest. Although Machiavelli might be seen as reviving this understanding, its classical origin lay in the Roman historian Tacitus’ discussion of the ‘secrets of imperial policy’.[vi]

Moreover, by the end of the sixteenth century it was not Machiavelli, but the Dutch humanist Justus Lipsius who did most to clarify these secrets through a revised understanding of Roman military and political thought adapted to the contemporary needs of princes and their counsellors in sixteenth century Europe. In his masterwork on civil and military prudence, the Politicorum sive civilis doctrinae libri sex qui ad principatum maxime spectant (henceforth Politica), he provided rulers with a compendium of practical advice.[vii] Shortly after its publication in 1589, the Vatican placed the Politica on the index of banned books. A modified version however went through more than ninety editions between 1591-1630, and influenced statesmen and counsellors from Prince Maurice of Nassau, whom he taught, to the protestant Leicester and Essex circles in England, and the catholic Cardinals Mazarin and Richelieu in France. He became something of a cult in Spain and constituted the leading source of early modern Spanish statecraft.

Lipsius (1547-1606) was educated as a Jesuit, yet taught first at the Dutch protestant university of Leiden before reconverting to Catholicism and finish his career at the university of Louvain. He taught the political elite of Europe how to maintain political stability and conduct internal and external war (the subject of the last three of the Politica’s six books) in the context of mounting confessional conflict. Interestingly his ideas slipped effortlessly across the confessional divide that threatened to engulf Europe. This was because Lipsius considered religion too important to be left to individual conscience, the whim of the ‘fickle’ masses or enthusiastic preachers. He advised that princes ‘burn and cut’ those who countermanded official religious teaching.[viii]

The Politica adapted classical thought, notably Tacitus’ histories and annals, via a careful selection of quotations to illustrate political and personal predicaments and the means for their prudential resolution. Lipsius considered Tacitus’ sententiae particularly applicable to the predicament of rule in the late sixteenth century, as he articulated a political vision where the prince had to make difficult choices in an imperfect world.[ix] In Books 3 and 4 of the Politica, Lipsius synthesized Tacitus with a moderate Machiavellianism, thereby linking reason of state to classical imperial traditions of thought and counsel. It had the additional effect of emphasizing the mysterious and numinous character of the sometimes problematic tactics necessarily employed by the good prince.

As Lipsius observes in his Notae to Book 1 of the Politica, Tacitus is the leading Latin historian because he deals ‘truthfully and briefly’ with prudence and good judgment.[x] The work then was a political guidebook tailored to the office of counsellor to the prince. Tacitus was particularly valuable in this advisory context because, as Lipsius explained, ‘this writer deals with princely courts, with the inner life of princes, their plans, commands and actions and he teaches us, who have noticed the similarity in many respects with our own time, that the same effects may come from the same causes’.[xi]

The Politica not only established the foundations for the evolving early modern European ‘art of policie’,[xii] it also brought about a revolution in sixteenth century military affairs. As Geoffrey Parker has shown, Lipsius’ counsel on military prudence in the Politica (Bk V: 13) and his later work De Militia Romana, influenced his former students Maurice of Nassau and Willem of Lodewijk to adapt Roman practices of discipline and drill to the infantry training and tactics of the Dutch Republic’s armies. Via Lipsius infantries across Europe learnt to maintain their files and ranks and use their muskets in volley fire.[xiii]

The Politica then, not The Prince, suited the prevailing post-Tridentine mode of moral and political discourse. More precisely, what did Lipsian counsel involve and how did he adapt his classical scholarship on the Roman historians to the demands of statecraft?

State Right trumps Human Rights

Ultimately, the realist advice literature on counsel and statecraft that Machiavelli pioneered and Lipsius crystalized for elite consumption needs to be situated in the context of the political predicament that sixteenth century policy makers confronted, and the manner in which they deliberated upon their policy options. Sixteenth century counsellors recognized the rhetorical need to persuade their audience to view their actions in one way rather than another. This justificatory dimension might be termed presentation and it drew upon the dominant legitimating ideas available at the time. In sixteenth and seventeenth century discourse, these would include: justice; authority; law; right; virtue; utility; honour; the true faith; the common good; conscience; and obligation or duty.

Justificatory presentation attempted to define the contested religious and political space of the post Machiavellian world between 1550-1640 and legitimate the use of force for political ends. It established the rhetorical conditions for a counter presentation using the same set of ideas but organized in a different or opposed configuration or alignment. Sixteenth century humanists like Juan Luis Vives, Giovani Botero or Justus Lipsius who imbibed and refined Machiavelli’s ideas, offered their counsel to both protestant princes and catholic monarchs and were acutely conscious of the need to shape rhetorically the presentation of a particular policy option.

This predicament, moreover, must be distinguished from the very different process of deliberation that political actors followed in making particular decisions, for example, making war, pacifying Ghent, burning heretics or raising taxes. The test of successful presentation was whether the audience found it convincing. The conflict between presentation and counter presentation will typically occur over a political act depicted in idealist or normative terms (the justice or rightness of the act), whilst the counter move will accuse the presenter of self-interest, hypocrisy and illegitimacy. In France, the Netherlands and England in the period 1580-1650, political actors, attempting to present themselves in excessively idealistic terms, could lose credibility. More particularly, in the context of the debate over religion and its defence by force if necessary, the presentation and counter presentation of a policy expressed in terms of competing moral justifications for action could undermine its effectiveness. This was particularly the case where patriotism and compassion for a patria wracked by civil war might be redescribed by a politique like Lipsius in On Constancy as misguided pity, the most delusive of ‘affections’, a mask of self-interest facilitating moral, social and political chaos and an ‘utter’ enemy ‘to this, our Constancy’.[xiv] Similarly, in the Politica he observes how ‘the pretence of religion’ has ignited ‘the fires of strife’ across Europe.[xv]

The conflict over presentation generated the conditions for two further possibilities. First, the recourse to a more vigorous reassertion of a single standard of rightness and the identification of cunning or misguided men as morally corrupt, duplicitous, and vicious. The alternative and realist response distinguished between different spheres of human life, allowing each a limited rightness of its own. This moral strategy was the work of raison d’état thinkers functioning within a casuist framework, influenced by the evolving sixteenth century interest in the Roman historians that Lipsius’ humanist scholarship did so much to advance.

In this developing idiom of statecraft then, political acts may be represented in terms more powerfully persuasive than justice, namely, those of necessity and prudence.[xvi] This, of course, is the core message that the Politica transmits.[xvii]

Necessity and prudence, the latter itself a form of practical reason, recognized and accepted the potential for the dissolution of universal moral norms into different and sometimes competing spheres of life. Analogously, because of its pejorative characterization as preoccupied entirely with the deliberations of government and its darker arts, this approach to rule is frequently misunderstood. As J.H. Hexter observed, the English phrase ‘reason of state’ is an inadequate translation of the French raison and Italian ragioni, unfortunate because it obscures the fact that in French and Italian, the phrase implies a guiding concern with the actual right of the state in terms of maintaining, preserving and sustaining the common interest. [xviii]

This right, moreover, may be expressed in terms both of the right of the state’s survival, as well as the conditions for preserving or developing civic and military virtue. Applying these contextual considerations to the new realist thinking therefore suggests that they demonstrate a dual though equally acute concern; with the presentation of policy that reflects the prevailing casuistic conventions, together and less obviously, with the deliberation amongst the prince’s counsellors directed to the maintenance of the state’s ‘right’ and its capacity to facilitate a condition of civic order and public morality. This concern is particularly evident in Book 3 of the Politica devoted as it is to the quality and character of counsel, and Books 4 and 5 which explore the character of civil and military prudence.

Prudence and Casuistry

Lipsius, then, advanced his understanding of state right through a careful reading of prudence as a response to providence and the necessity that ‘tames and subdues all things’.[xix] Prudence, as it did for the ancients, constitutes the supreme political and human virtue in the Politica. Virtue, Lipsius contends, consists entirely ‘in Selection and Moderation’. Moreover as ‘these cannot exist without Prudence. Virtue cannot. Just as architects cannot do their work properly without level and ruler, so cannot we without this ruling principle’.[xx] Lipsius defines prudence, therefore, as ‘the understanding and choosing of what is to be sought or avoided both in private and public’.[xxi]

The adaptation of a supervening moral code to a particular case of conscience is casuistry and Lipsius’ application of prudence to a particular case of civil disorder or strategic use of force follows this convention. The casuist attended not only to the general rule, for example not to commit harm, but also to the extenuating circumstances that might affect a particular case where ‘someone takes away your possessions or a right’, that might necessitate taking up arms.[xxii] Casuistry involved a ‘dialectic between the principles which we bring to the consideration of particular cases and the facts of those cases as they are revealed to us through practical discernment’.[xxiii]

The adaptation of political behaviour to what the circumstances demand, therefore, made best sense in the later part of the sixteenth century in the context of a probabilist casuistry that held it was possible to satisfy the formal requirements of moral reflection by remaining in speculative doubt about the right answer to a question but believing in the permissibility of acting as if one answer were true. This somewhat mutable understanding of truth made possible a situational political morality.[xxiv] In the Politica it assumes the quality of mixed prudence, which ‘is in reality unstable and changeable in every respect’. [xxv] In Book IV, Lipsius specifically addressed the prudence he wanted ‘to be in the Prince himself’ which ‘is hard to bind to rules’ because it ‘covers a wide area that is fluctuating and veiled’.[xxvi] It possesses two branches: experience; and memoria (history), hence the importance of historical examples.

In Book 4 we learn, in addition, that the way of princely prudence is notoriously difficult and unclear, its matter ‘veiled in deep darkness’.[xxvii] Lipsius, from the perspective of princely counsel resorts to what he terms mixed prudence (prudentia mixta). In this context, prudence, Lipsius contends, possesses two further divisions, namely, civil and military prudence. He additionally subdivided the first branch into religious and worldly categories. Significantly, it was in this ‘dark field’ that required the careful adjustment of general rules to specific circumstances. This is particularly the case in worldly affairs where opinion and passion, both transitory and unpredictable, influence the masses. Popular credulity and fecklessness[xxviii] necessarily affects the conduct of the prince who, in order to maintain the actual reality of stable and peaceful ruling’,[xxix] must necessarily have recourse to the ‘double fountain of prudence’.

This was even more the case with military prudence, or strategy. Military prudence, Lipsius maintained, ‘is necessary for a Prince before everything else, even so much that without it he is hardly a Prince’.[xxx] Even more than with civil prudence, the rightly guided Prince attended to classical modes of discipline and the examples offered by the Roman historians, who ‘had described wars almost from the beginning of time… And not just this, but they often include in their relation of the facts… the most valuable warnings and counsels for the entire business of war’.[xxxi] In this strategic context, Lipsius noted ‘plain and mere force is insufficient’ for maintaining and defending a territory unless it is ‘regulated by a certain degree of skill and planning, that is, by the Prudence of warfare’.[xxxii] Indeed, all military prudence concerns war which consisted of two kinds: foreign; and civil. In order to address foreign war, Lipsius subdivided the rules governing it to three heads, namely ‘Starting it, Waging it and Ending it. If you neglect any of these’, he continued, ‘or execute it wrongly you are most unlikely ever to celebrate a Good Outcome’. More to the point, Lipsius argued that war should only be undertaken after ‘slow deliberation’ and never entered into rashly. Indeed, as he might have warned of recent military adventures in humanitarian intervention: ‘Just as it is easy to descend in a well, but very difficult to get out again, so it is with War’.[xxxiv] More particularly war had to be undertaken only in order to secure peace. Paradoxically, however, he who desires peace, must prepare for war.

Ultimately, dealing with cunning men, the prince and his counsellors had of necessity, in civil and military affairs, to mix the honourable with the useful.[xxxv] This practice, ‘departs from virtue or the laws in the interest of the King and Kingdom’.[xxxvi] Lipsius’ treatment of mixed prudence charted then a probabilist moral course. Prudence’s fountain was by no means pure but mixed ‘a little’, requiring the addition of ‘a bit of the sediment of deceit’.[xxxvii] is permissible ‘providing it is done moderately and with good aims’. This is permissible ‘providing it is done moderately and with good aims’.[xxxviii] Deceit, in fact, came in three varieties: light; middle; and grave. Light deceit entails distrust and dissimulation, the middle variety licensed bribery and deception and the grave accepted breaches of faith and injustice. Lipsius recommends the first, tolerates the second and condemns the third.[xxxix] The wise ruler must practice dissimulation and equivocation. Indeed, ‘he who knows not how to dissimulate, knows not how to reign’.[xl] Moving to more difficult cases and ‘the middle degree of deceit’, the Prince also needed to know when and how to lie. Thus, quoting Plutarch, Lipsius contended that whilst ‘truth is better than falsehood… Experience shows the dignity and qualities of both’.[xli] For a ‘good Prince’, in difficult times, ‘has almost no other means to defend himself and his environment against so many conspirators. And for this reason too I have said that this middle sort of deceit is tolerated by me’.[xlii] Princely conduct in a particular case might therefore, ‘depart slightly from human laws, but only in order to preserve his position never to extend it’.[xliii]

This casuistic interpretation of what civil and military prudence might require also recognized how the advice to and practice of monarchy functioned within an evolving sensitivity to the state and its right.[xliv] Lipsius makes clear, in his rationale for the Politica, that his advice was not for the multitude, but for the prince, or more precisely his counsel ‘to lead and direct’ the Prince ‘to that great goal that is the common good’.[xlv] As Lipsius explains in Book 3, the good prince requires counsellors and he sees it ‘as the first task of a king’s prudence to find wise ones’. Such counsel offers ‘insights in peace or war’.[xlvi] Indeed, ‘deservedly to be praised are the Wise whose task it is, then as now, to light the way of the ruler with the torch of beneficial advice’.[xlvii] This advice necessarily required cultivating a differential political morality, where the prudence practiced by the Prince, his counsellors and ministers differed from the injunction to patient obedience inculcated in the state’s good subjects in order to maintain public order.

The implications of Lipsian casuistry for contemporary diplomatic ethics.

Lipsius held to an ideal of practical philosophical reason central to his conception of the constancy necessary both for personal virtue and the conduct of moral and political rule. Indeed, his continuing association with scholars, contubernales and elites in Germany, Holland, Spain and England suggests a shared engagement with a philosophical ideal that transcended the confessional divide.[xlviii] This engagement required both an awareness of providence and necessity, together with a common interest in the pursuit of practical wisdom rather than passion, religious enthusiasm and opinion. We might finally consider then how this late humanist approach would address contemporary problems in world politics.

Ultimately, the sixteenth century politique humanism that Lipsius pioneered evinced a preoccupation with prudence and utilitas at the expense of honestas. In this situation it addressed ethically the evolving predicament that the early modern (as well as the modern) politician faced, namely, the problem of deliberating and presenting controversial policies in contingent circumstances of change and uncertainty.

This practical philosophic approach to difficult cases differs from international legal rationalism in its sensitivity to the difficulty of applying abstract norms to the lived experience of difficult cases. As Jonsen and Toulmin explain in The Abuse of Casuistry, in the rationalist ‘way general ethical rules relate to specific moral cases in a theoretical manner, with universal rules serving as “axioms” from which particular moral rules are deduced as theorems’. By contrast, for a casuist, ‘the relation is frankly practical with general moral rules serving as “maxims” which can be fully understood only in terms of the paradigmatic cases that define their meaning and force’.[xlix] Such an approach emphasises practical statements and arguments that are ‘concrete, temporal and presumptive’.[l] In the practical field of international politics, unlike the exact theoretical or natural sciences, immediate facts, particular and specific situations affect deliberation, presentation and judgement.

In our ‘challenging period of confusion and change’ David Fisher has recently argued that western statesmen need to apply early modern just war principles modified by rule utilitarian consequentialism to contemporary wars of choice.[li] The moral aim ‘is to make war just and to make only just war’.[lii] Following this maxim, however, Fisher too quickly dismisses ‘realist’ raisons d’etat[liii] and contends that ‘war is just only if it is undertaken with competent authority, for a just cause, with right intention as a last resort, and with more good than harm judged likely to result taking into account the probability of success; while in its conduct individual applications of force should be both proportionate and discriminate minimizing non-combatant casualties; and the war should end in a just peace’.[liv]

Fisher’s problem is that he attends insufficiently to the particularity of case ethics by asserting abstract rules at the expense of the timeliness and particularity of circumstances governing any state action or inaction. Contra Fisher, raison d’etat was not informed by an amoral realism, but evolved a casuistic mixed prudence that Lipsius adapted to address the predicament of sixteenth and seventeenth century rule. Following this counsel we would arrive at a different and perhaps more practical set of maxims for difficult and ambiguous cases, whether it be the international community’s response to Putin’s intervention in Ukraine or the failure of the international community to intervene in Syria.

In such difficult cases a modern day Lipsian would contend that the counsel offered to a Prime Minister or President would recognize the necessity of a situational ethical practice that lead and directed the prince to that ‘great goal that is the common good’. This is particularly the case in global politics where opinion and passion, both transitory and unstable, influence the masses. Wise counsel must take into account popular credulity and fecklessness. This necessarily affects the conduct of the prince who in order to maintain stability and peace must of necessity have recourse to a mixed prudence that adjusts to a ‘reality that is changeable in every respect’. Such prudence makes use of both simulation and dissimulation to advance the common good. Indeed, while truth is better than falsehood, as the ancients acknowledge ‘experience shows the dignity and qualities of both’. In difficult cases, princely conduct might, in other words, ‘depart slightly from human laws, but only in order to preserve his position never to extend it. For necessity being a great defender of the weakness of man, breaks every law’.[lv]

Hence, mixed prudence and virtue are the two leaders of civil life, but prudence ‘is the rudder that guides the virtues’. In particular it ‘offers insight’ into cases of war or peace and the state’s right in such decisions. Here history and experience, rather than abstract norms, play a central role in determining a prudent course. Indeed, ‘history is the fount from which political and prudential choosing flows’. Since the end of the Cold War, such a mixed prudential view of international politics has been honoured only in the breach both by US and European governments and their idealist critics.

By contrast, the wise counsellor to early modern monarchs recognized the danger of presenting them in overly idealistic terms that could lead to a damaging loss of credibility. Indeed, and in the context of NATO’s eastward expansion and Putin’s reclamation of the Crimea, ‘the pretence’ of idealism often ‘ignites the fires of strife’ across Europe. A wise prince in such circumstances would prefer the mixed prudential application of the material of deliberation to the requirements of presentation. Ultimately, a prince in troubled cases like Syria or the Crimea would recognize, unlike Obama, that he ‘must do not what is beautiful to say, but what is necessary in practice’. Indeed a contemporary Lipsian would be astonished at how little prepared the political class in the United States and Europe are for war. Lacking knowledge of military prudence they are unlikely to deliberate slowly over the reasons for the use of force or the outcome of using force. Lack of attention to history leads to the problems encountered in Afghanistan and Iraq and a failure to appreciate Russia’s long term strategic interest in the Crimea.

More particularly, the West’s conduct of international relations increasingly requires an awareness of the arcana governing all interventions and the need to practice a differential political morality. This would recognize the importance of Tacitean and stoic advice on the difficulty of political action. Linking raison d’etat to active Roman virtue rather than Fisher’s theoretically abstract rule consequentialism would, a contemporary Lipsian might argue, offer a limited ethical practice more easily adjusted to our ‘troubled condition of confusion and change’.


The Miseries and Misfortunes of War (1635) (fig 1)


[i] S. Toulmin, Return to Reason (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,2001) p.117.
[ii] Nicolo Machiavelli The Prince (London: J.M. Dent 1944) ch.15.p.117
[iii] Ibid, ch. 14, p.111.
[iv] Richard Tuck, Philosophy and Government (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 55-56.
[v] In the adjustment of casuistry to the counsel of the Prince, there is a clear affinity between Lipsius’ Politica and Giovanni Botero’s Della Ragion di Stato (1589) especially their concern with prudence and their shared desire to secure and expand the state. See G.Botero, The Reason of State, trans by P.J. and D.P. Waley (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956) especially chapter 2 p.34-72. Like Lipsius, Botero had close links with the Jesuits. See R. Bireley, The Refashioning of Catholicism (Washington, D.C: Catholic University of America Press, 1999), p.182-86.
[vi] Tacitus, Annals, trans. by Alfred John Church and William John Brodribb (New York: Random House, 1942), 2.59 .
[vii] one copy of which included a loose title page dedicated to the protestant prince, Maurice of Nassau See Jan Waszink, ‘Introduction’, Justus Lipsius Politica Six Books of Politics or Political Instruction ed. J. Waszink (Biblioteca Latinitate Novvae, Royal Van Gorcum,Assen, 2004) footnote 93, p.114.
[viii] Justus Lipsius Politicorum Sive Civilis Doctrinae Libri Sex (1589), Bk 4, ch.3. Politica for short. All references are from Justus Lipsius Politica Six Books of Politics or Political Instruction, ed. Jan Waszink (Biblioteca Latinitate Novae, Assen, 2004).
[ix] Lipsius makes this point in the dedication to his 1574 edition of Tacitus. See J. Waszink, Introduction Politica, ed. by Waszink, p.94-95.
[x] Lipsius, Politica, ed. by Waszink, p.97 and p.733
[xi] Justus Lipsius, C.Cornelii Taciti Opera Quae Exstant 1. Lipsius quartum recensuit (Antwerp, 1588) f.4. Translated and cited in Jan Papy, ‘Justus Lipsius and the German Republic of Letter’, Index Actorum Symposii Leitseite Kongress (Munich 2002), p.2. Available at
[xii] For Lipsius’ influence upon English political thought see Adriana McCrae Constant Minds Political Virtue and the Lipsian Paradigm (Toronto, Toronto University Press, 1997) ; for his influence on Spanish thought see Theodore G. Corbett, ‘The Cult of Lipsius: A Leading Source of Early Modern Spanish Statecraft’, Journal of the History of Ideas, vol 36, No, 1 (Jan-Mar., 1975) pp.139-52 ; for France see Jaqueline Lagrée Juste Lipse La Restauration du Stoicisme étude et Traductions de Divers Traites Stoiciens (Paris, J. Vrin, 1994) and Jacob Soll, The Information Master: Jean Baptiste Colbert’s Secret Intelligence System (Ann Arbor, 2009) and for Germany Gerhard Oestreich Neostoicism and the Early Modern State (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press,1982) p. 68.
[xiii] Geoffrey Parker, ‘The Limits to revolutions in military affairs: Maurice of Nassau, the battle of Nieuwpooort (1600) and the Legacy’. The Journal of Military History 71,2, April 2007 pp.331-72.
[xiv] Lipsius, On Constancy, ed. by Sellars, (Bristol: Scholars Press, 1991) p.52-3.
[xv] Lipsius, Politica, ed. by Waszink 3.3. It occurs in the context of a casuist discussion of whether dissenters ‘must always be punished, and all of them’. It is not Curiosity which drives me to this question, but the Common Interest, and the present state of Europe, which I cannot behold but in tears.’ p.391.
[xvi] Lipsius Preliminary Matter, Politica, ed. by Waszink, p.231. ‘Machiavelli whose genius I do not despise, sharp, subtle and fiery as it is’. Again in Book 4’s discussion of deceit, Lipsius notes that, ‘the Italian reprobate must not be so categorically condemned’. Ibid, p.511.
[xvii] Lipsius, Politica, ed. by Waszink, p.531. Italics in original.
[xviii] See J.H. Hexter, The Vision of Politics on the Eve of the Reformation (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973) p.168. See R. Bireley, The Refashioning of Catholicism (Washington, D.C: Catholic University of America Press, 1999), p.183. Bireley writes that for Botero, ‘the term reason carried a particular implication for him. He argued that the ruler who sought a powerful state did best to seek the well-being of his subjects in a fashion that was moral and so reasonable.’
[xix] Ibid, p.58.
[xx] Lipsius, Politica, ed. by Waszink, 1.7, p.283.
[xxi] Ibid (capitals in original). .
[xxii] Justus Lipsius Politica V.iv. p.549.
[xxiii] M.W.F. Stone, ‘The adoption and rejection of Aristotelian moral philosophy in reformed casuistry’, in Humanism and Early Modern Philosophy ed. by Jill Kraye and M.W.F. Stone (London: Routledge, 2000) p.90.
[xxiv] Conal Condren, Argument and Authority (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p.223
[xxv] Lipsius, Politica, ed. by Waszink, p.383.
[xxvi] Ibid 4 .1 p.383.
[xxvii] Ibid, p.385.
[xxviii] Ibid 4.5 p.405. The people also lack judgement and are by nature jealous and suspicious.
[xxix] Ibid, p.401.
[xxx] Ibid, p.539
[xxxi] Ibid, p.537
[xxxii] Ibid, p.539.
[xxxiii] Ibid, p.541.
[xxxiv] Ibid, p.551.
[xxxv] Ibid,p.509.
[xxxvi] Ibid, 4.14 p.513
[xxxvii] Ibid, p.507.
[xxxviii] Ibid, p.509.
[xxxix] Ibid, p.513.
[xl] Ibid,, p.517
[xli] Ibid, pp.523.
[xlii] Ibid, p.523.
[xliii] Ibid, p.531.Italics in original. The source of the advice is Seneca.
[xliv] Lipsius, On Constancy, ed. by Sellars, p.44-46.
[xlv] Ibid, Preliminary Matter p.229
[xlvi] Ibid, 3.3 pp.353-55
[xlvii] Ibid, p.227.
[xlviii] See in this context, J. Papy, ‘Justus Lipsius and the German Republic of Letters’ in Leitseite Kongressi, p.5.
[xlix] A. Jonsen & S. Toulmin, The Abuse of Casuistry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988) p.23.
[l] Ibid p.27.
[li] David Fisher, Morality and War( Oxford, Oxford University Press) 2011 p.258
[lii] Ibid p.247
[liii] Ibid p.253
[liv] Ibid p.247
[lv] Lipsius, Politica p.531.