- Raison d’État
- For “reasons of state,” a doctrine intimately related to Realpolitik and concerned fundamentally with the centrality, security, and vitality of the state. It is associated above all with Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal de Richelieu (1585–1642), first minister of France from 1624 to 1642, whose statecraft cast aside the medieval tradition of universal moral values as the animating principle of French policy and asserted instead that the well-being of the state overrides ordinary considerations of morality, personal and political loyalty, and restraint. The doctrine held further that the protection of the vital interests of the state in the conduct of foreign policy -an especially perilous realm - must necessarily be supreme over the interests of civil society and that the normal restrictions of legality, too, must give way to necessity whenever the state’s interests are deemed to be imperiled.The European nineteenth century, baptized in war by a French state incomparably more powerful than that of Richelieu, then shaken by liberal and nationalist revolutions, and finally subject to intensified and militarized Great Power competition within Europe and around the world, became a playground for raison d ’ état. Where “national” or “imperial” interests were thought to be at stake, the most baleful excesses were routinely excused. In comparatively liberal political systems such as Britain and France, the ruthless conduct of imperial policy was intermittently subject to criticism and censure, especially when, as in the case of the Second Boer War, its excesses became widely known. In Prussia and the German Empire forged by Otto von Bismarck, however, raison d ’ état was deeply embedded in the governmental culture and increasingly rested on the unexamined assumption that state power supplied its own legitimacy.See also <
>.FURTHER READING:Auchincloss, Louis. Richelieu. New York: Viking, 1972;Church, William Farr. Richelieu and the Reason of State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972.CARL CAVANAGH HODGE
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.