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In the early seventeenth-century Spanish monarchy, the discourse of reason of state enabled political actors and theorists to think about politics in pragmatic terms and to extend the boundaries of legitimate action, vital in facing the challenges of managing an overstretched composite monarchy. Thinking and writing about politics in a pragmatic way was always limited by commanding notions of political and religious virtue. Yet individuals displayed considerable creativity in negotiating the limitations of conscience, armed with the tool of necessity. In the absence of a set of markers that determined when necessity had arrived, information from present circumstances, classical and recent histories, and personal experience could be organized and manipulated in order to present extenuating circumstances that could temporarily suspend moral rules of personal and political conduct. There was power, in short, in necessity.
Focusing on the various rounds of debates between the 1620s and 1640s on whether or how to seek peace or truce in the war with the Dutch Republic, this explores how agents and counsellors from different parts of the Spanish monarchy navigated the conflict between ideology and necessity-driven pragmatism in contexts of concrete decision-making. Directed at preserving and re-establishing dominion over the various realms of the monarchy, reason of state was at the heart of this weighing of principle and pragmatism. Agents were at the centre of a constant cycle of collecting and assessing information, projecting likely future courses and searching for the utmost expedience within the boundaries of royal conscience and obligations. What solutions were conceivable when attempts to preserve dominion over the Low Countries ran contrary to the demands of the Catholic faith and the preservation of the rest of the monarchy? Could special circumstances allow for special measures or concessions that might deviate from the princely obligations towards justice and the Faith? The chapter shows that as each decade of the war added to its own history, pragmatic arguments and solutions were often inspired by experience, together with a notion of extenuating necessity.
This chapter focuses on the oeuvre and actions of Virgilio Malvezzi, the Bolognese historian who had a prominent career in the service of Philip IV and the Count-Duke of Olivares. Following Malvezzi to the Low Countries and his small-scale diplomacy with French nobles conspiring against the King of France, it traces how in his letters he reflected on necessity and the moral legitimacy of political action. Through the ordering of information, he reported circumstances in such a way that they legitimized the application of unorthodox strategies such as dissimulation and pretence. As we can observe in the emergence of one of his published historical works from a newly discovered manuscript draft, the practice of ordering historical particulars and aphorism-like observations was also present in Malvezzi’s writing techniques. It shows how the method of ordering could also be at the base of a chronological narrative and how extenuating necessity could then be used in the context of an apologetic political history. The oeuvre and well-documented career of Virgilio Malvezzi thus provide a rare opportunity to address the limitations and opportunities of the continuity between theory and political practice in reason-of-state discourse.
This chapter explores ideals and practices of turning classical histories into political lessons for the present, focusing on a number of individuals who translated the histories of Tacitus into Spanish, while they also served their king as soldiers, counsellors and informants. All testified about the practical value of Tacitus in the present, as they struggled with the internal contradictions and the fact that their author had produced the texts many centuries ago, in a different, pagan world. The counsel of historical experience was tirelessly advocated in reason-of-state discourse, and this chapter shows that the call was answered in practice as the Tacitists in various capacities engaged with the problem of the Dutch Revolt. The chapter argues that although they were well aware of change, they had no scruples in using anachronism and historical analogies, or using the ancients as rhetorical tools to express their ideas and further their political aims. Memorials and pieces of counsel were written from the perspective of events from recent history and could effortlessly be placed alongside Tacitean phrases. Yet the ancient past was also a safe space that could be used to criticize present policies or express warnings, without infringing on the domain of Providence.
This chapter introduces the distinctive character of Spanish reason of state and gives a sense of its broader contribution to the study of political thought. It develops the relationship between reason of state and history, and outlines the relevance of reason of state to recent work on the early modern uses of the past, developments in early modern historical scholarship and methods of coping with so-called ‘information overload’. This chapter introduces how this book explores reason of state in a number of theoretical and practical contexts in the seventeenth-century Spanish monarchy, by focusing on individuals who used the act of organizing information – drawn from classical and recent history, their own experience and analyses of current circumstances – to rhetorically present the condition of necessity. Furthermore, the chapter highlights the paradox that although reason of state as a discourse was closely entwined with political practice, no attempt has been made to systematically trace how the discourse functioned in political action. It also points out that Spain tends to be left out of discussions of seventeenth-century political thought, arguing that the Spanish monarchy’s context is especially valuable for advancing the historiography on the interaction between political ideas and concrete contexts.
This chapter explores ideas about orthodoxy and powerful necessity in Spanish Counter-Reformation reason-of-state discourse. Individual authors engaged in describing pragmatic politics and ways of imagining how to put these into practice, while simultaneously taking care to avoid association with Machiavelli. Through translations of Lipsius’ Latin Politica into the Spanish and Italian vernaculars, the chapter first shows how the translators explored ways to square Lipsius’ thought with the Christian-Ciceronian framework endorsed by Catholic orthodoxy. Lipsius recovered the concept of necessity that Machiavelli had reshaped into necessità, and enlisted it once more as a force that could legitimately overrule human law. The chapter then traces how authors in the Spanish monarchy subsequently conceived of necessity as a concept or tool that could legitimize amoral political behaviour, especially in the discussion about deceit. Necessity depended on circumstances that were impossible to define in advance, and this made it orthodox yet flexible. Both the translators and the authors of ‘true’ reason of state experimented with organizing knowledge and (historical) information, and its potential for creating meaning and legitimizing amoral political behaviour, as they tailored a language of reason of state that was both orthodox, and suited to the realities of the present.
Exploring reason of state in a global monarchy, The Power of Necessity examines how thinkers and agents in the Spanish monarchy navigated the tension between political pragmatism and moral-religious principle. This tension lies at the very heart of Counter-Reformation reason of state. Nowhere was the need for pragmatic state management greater than in the overstretched Spanish Empire of the seventeenth century. However, pragmatic politics were problematic for a Catholic monarchy steeped in ideals of justice and divine justifications of power and kingship. Presenting a broad cast of characters from across Europe, and uniting published sources with a wide range of archival material, Lisa Kattenberg shows how non-canonical thinkers and agents confronted the political-moral dilemmas of their age by creatively employing the legitimizing power of necessity. Pioneering new ways of bridging the persistent gap between theory and practice in the history of political thought, The Power of Necessity casts fresh light on the struggle to preserve the monarchy in a modernizing world.
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