The building of the international system based upon stability through realism does not always follow ethical rules: instead, it often happens that cynicism plays a decisive role.
One of the greatest expressions of the philosophical concept of cynicism is that named after “reason of state”. That of the reason of state is a statolatric vision that considers the political power of a country and the supreme interests of the sovereign as propeller engines for political action and a source of inspiration for strategies. The philosophical paradigm upon which the theory of reason of state rests upon is the idea that any political action exercised by the state, if it is necessary for the sake of the state itself, is legitimate despite its lack of morality.
Specifically, the reason of state consists in the pursuit of the national interest of states, which implies the fulfillment of their economic, cultural, strategic and geopolitical goals and ambitions, as well as the accomplishment of their specific “historical mission”. The pursuit of national interest is one of the main distinguishing features of the realist doctrine of international relations. The national interest aims primarily at granting the survival and the safety of the state, and at augmenting its welfare, economic growth and powerfullness.
Generally, the reason of state is invoked to justify a state or governmental action – which is often kept secret – directed at avoiding the break out of wars, revolutions or political events that may put at stake the existence and survival of the state. In the majority of cases, the reason of state takes the appearance of a state secret, because it carries out an action contrary to several interests or ideals of the state, of its allies and of its citizens in order to avert the occurrence of worse consequences for them. The action veiled with the state secret is often of violent or coercive fashion, often taking the form of a sacrifice of a smaller good so to achieve a greater good (or the choice of a smaller evil so to avoid a greater one).
The first theorizer of the theory of the reason of state was the Italian political-philosopher Giovanni Botero (1544-1617), expressing it in his essay “Della ragion di Stato” (1589). Although Botero’s methodology and purposes may somewhat recall Machiavelli’s ones, actually many differences occur between the two. In fact, Botero considers the state as an absolute and stable dominion over the subjects, and the reason of state is nothing more than the set of necessary and appropriate means and expediencies through which exercise and preserve this very dominion. Botero will also add that the reason of state theorized by Machiavelli is untruthful and wicked, because the Prince should exercise his power respecting and supporting the religious and moral precepts.
Unlike Botero, the other Italian political-philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) expressed in his essay “Il Principe” (1513) a different view of the notion of reason of state. The chief idea tha Machiavelli endorses is that government is an art inspired solely by mere utilitarianism and that the prince, i.e. the governor, is entitled to rule using any expedient, even the most immoral and gruesome, in order to reach his aims, which ultimately converge into the pursue of the well-being and might of the state.
The main difference between Botero’s and Machiavelli’s thought consists in the impact given to morality and religion as tools for government. Machiavelli believes that the governor ought to use the reason of state careless of any moral or religious implication for the sake of the state’s grandeur. Instead, Botero assumes that the use of the reason of state by the governor should be moderated by the application of virtues like morality and justice and by the respect for religion: otherwise, the governor would lack of reputation and obedience among his subjects.
Although some theories of international relations believe that the international order relies on idealistic and somewhat naïve principles, it is difficult to deny that the international community, now as in the past, is rather the result of designs based upon national interest, aimed at increasing the welfare of the state – or at least of a group of individuals within the state.