From the state of exception to the sovereign state

Against the idea of ​​a founding shift in our political modernity, occurring at the time of Machiavelli, Julien Le Mauff shows that the exception to the law is experiencing a slow gestation, from XIIe At XVIIe century, constitutive of modes of government characteristic of modernity.

It is through a Foucauldian notion par excellence, genelogy, that Julien Le Mauff chooses to approach reason of state. He wishes to study the sovereign exception from the Middle Ages to the Baroque, ignoring historical divisions and blithely stepping over the sections of history. Indeed, on the one hand, reason of state is usually considered to have appeared during the Italian wars among writers and politicians like Guichardin or Machiavelli, before being explicitly theorized between the end of the XVIe century and the beginning of XVIIe century. On the other hand, historians have sought to apply this concept of the modern era to previous centuries, starting from the middle of the XIIe century and the beginnings of a thought of the state, let us remember the publication of Policraticus of John of Salisbury with Gaines Post or the reign of Roger II from Sicily with Helene Wieruszowski. It is these two historiographical trends that the work calls into question.

Beyond the notion of reason of state, the author undertakes a more general rereading of the history of political ideas and concepts. It is a question of questioning political modernity based on what is supposed to make it happen, namely the sovereign exception. As he writes at the end of his introduction, rather than by the inversion of a relationship of domination between politics and religion, the Middle Ages and political modernity are ultimately distinguished by two distinct relationships of inclusion: the passage from a Middle Ages where politics is included in religion to a modernity where religion is in politics, a shift which occurs by reason of state itself (p. 37).

The book defends a strong thesis: the modern modalities of exercising politics appear through the point of observation that is the exception of the law. It is therefore a work on the conceptions of politics between the XIIe And XVIIe centuries, notably on the transition from pastorality to a mode of government in which an individual feels invested with a divinely granted authority to take care of a human community, the way in which a shepherd watches over his flock to governmentality political government of men based on a rationality of power. The author acknowledges his debt to the pioneering works of Michel Foucault and those, more recent, of Giorgio Agamben or Michel Senellart. However, Julien le Mauff writes as a historian of ideas, keen to work on words and their use, claiming the approach conceptualizing called for by Paul Veyne. It is the semantic shifts and their intellectual translation which are the subject of the historical investigation.

Words and politics

John of Salisbury

The first contribution sounds like a methodological and conceptual warning. Julien Le Mauff is never satisfied with preconceived and ready-to-use historiographical truths. He systematically scrutinizes them through a careful rereading of the sources. His book is also an invitation to reread the canonical authors Augustine, John of Salisbury, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham both to place them in their context of intellectual production, but also to observe the terms used. The author shows that reason of state does not exist for the Middle Ages, because the resources of conceptual language available to the authors of the XIIe At XVe century do not allow them to think it. The first part is enlightening in this respect by showing that John of Salisbury leaves no room for exceptions to the law, even when he looks at tyranny. As the author writes, “medieval political thought remains above all that of the pastoral model, of the moralism of the mirrors of princes and of the tradition that they illustrate” (p. 135). However, the study of political language shows that far from being frozen words, the work even of thinkers like John of Salisbury, philosopher and secretary of Thomas Beckett when the latter was chancellor of the King of England, leads to effects of meaning which will swell the river political reasoning.

Thus the developments are particularly significant around the term of necessity (necessitas). The notion continued to be worked on throughout the medieval period. This emerges in particular from the work of the Franciscan William of Ockham, a philosopher and theologian nourished by Franciscan culture, who carries out a operationalization of theological thought towards political thought (p. 295). By working on necessity as an immutable necessity (immutabilis necessities) bringing together the necessity of the fairness of the judgment (theepieikeia), by giving its place to the contingency put forward by John Duns Scotus, Ockham gives the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire the possibility of derogating from the law, whether positive or natural. It creates a space of autonomy for political action in which the sovereign is solely responsible for his actions, outside of any moral judgment. Reflection around necessity therefore makes it possible to enrich the term with new meanings. This method is also applied to other notions, such as state. Again, what is important is the idea behind the word, and the evolution it authorizes in the conception of governmentality, which passes from the public or poorly defined common () to the state framework whose domination is gradually established from XIIIe century XVIIe century (p. 324). It is therefore through language that the operation of reconstituting the genealogy begins.

Sovereignty, territory and state

The spatial dimension plays an equally fundamental role in the perception of sovereignty. Julien Le Mauff devotes beautiful pages to the triumph of the inalinability of the domain: the king cannot alienate the royal domain and he must transmit it intact to his successors, showing that it is not, however, the same thing as state territory. This developed in the context of the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453), while it was constantly reaffirmed by the jurists of the royal entourage.

Taking up the work of Jacques Krynen, the author shows that notions like corona regni (crown of the kingdom) or the dignitas regia (royal dignity) attest of the degree of advancement of state consciousness. The work of Nicole Oresme, philosopher, bishop of Lisieux and advisor to King Charles V, marks a decisive step in the territorialization of sovereignty, by linking space and power, since he affirms that the spatial dimension enters into the very definition of the state. Julien Le Mauff refers here to the work of the medievalist Leonard Dauphant who studied “the links between geographical entities, rulers and governed” (p. 360).

François Guichardin

These reflections on the permanence, inalinability or territorialization of the state come together in the work around the notion of status which we observe in Machiavelli, Guichardin and Giovanni Botero. The slow gestation of state thought extends over several centuries, without it being fixed once and for all in XVIe. Thus, even as the logic of legal exception takes shape, the state logic emerges, sometimes among the same authors or in the same texts. State and reason of state go hand in hand or, at the very least, experience similar trajectories.

The long Middle Ages of politics

The work repeatedly demonstrates the need to study the transition from pastorality to governmentality over the long term. Julien Le Mauff finds in the sphere of political concepts and ideas the postulates of the medievalist Jacques Le Goff over a long Middle Ages. Without running IIIe century XIXe century, the study of the genealogy of reason of state requires embracing the period from XIIe century XVIIe century, even though legal exceptionalism is explicitly theorized. Along this path, the historian of ideas mobilizes numerous authors to observe the operations of recomposition and the circulation of knowledge, thanks to rigorous and clear scholarship. This analysis allows Julien Le Mauff to link thinkers like Machiavelli to the medieval sources of their thought and to nuance the Machiavelli revolution. He writes that Machiavelli is not in complete contradiction with what precedes him and initially reveals himself to be a skillful heir, an author with The prince of a synthesis which involves three distinct elements, all three inscribed in a certain continuity (p. 396). Without denying the originality of Machiavelli's work on fortunethere virt or the quality of time, it shows how much it is dependent on previous inflections. Moreover, reason of state does not appear in Machiavelli since the latter speaks of a reason of the prince. We must wait for Guichardin for the expression state reason appears in the Dialogue on how to govern Florencewritten during the 1520s. With these two authors, is theorized the formal expression of a capacity for action for those who govern, according to the necessity of the times and the pursued ends of conservation and growth of the state, and going beyond moral distinctions, religious precepts and the constraints of conscience (p. 399).

Giovanni Botero

It is in the reception of this thought over the following decades, until at least the middle of XVIIe century, that the understanding of reason of state is consolidated, often linked to partial or biased readings of Machiavelli. From this point of view, the work of Botero, seeking to establish an anti-Machiavlian reason of state with his work Of reason of state (1589), further shifts the problem by creating a science of the state in which he seeks to include all politics.

This second phase of understanding the reason of state is associated with a third phase, which takes place concomitantly, during which literate jurists such as Scipione Ammirato or Pietro Andrea Canonhiero stand out. Upon arrival, the author therefore identifies three state reasons: the first, that of Machiavelli and Guichardin, establishes a state right derogating from common law; the second, that of Botero, poses reason of state as a science of the state; the third, those of legal scholars, outlines the practical framework of reason of state driven by pressing necessity with a view to the general interest. Julien Le Mauff concludes by recalling that juxtaposed, the three reasons of state also restore the fundamental ambiguity of the logic of exception, always both outside the law and contained within it. (p. 440).

These developments respect the evolution of political thoughts while erasing overly abrupt turns and tendencies to speak of revolution or upheaval heralding modernity. Nevertheless, despite all the finesse of reading put forward by the author and the concern to respect the spirit of the texts, the break brought by Florentine humanism appears somewhat relativized. Indeed, it is the whole meaning of the genealogical approach to establish a continuum of thoughts sensitive to inflections and subtle recompositions. It then calls for discussing a specificity of the Renaissance or early modernity.

From reason of state to state of emergency

Reflection on reason of state, in addition to the clarifications it provides, echoes the progress of the contemporary world. The debates around the state of emergency between November 2015 and November 2017 make this burning issue topical. Already, following September 11, 2001, the development of extra-legal spaces due to their extraterritoriality, the most famous of which remains Guantanamo, have made reason of state a real political issue. The use of forms of argument or speech highlighting urgency marks a decline in liberal democracy and this is all the more evident when we know where the use of these arguments comes from. The retrospective history of reason of state, always finely delimited within states whose evolving form, makes it possible to measure the progress made since then, but also the risks of contemporary regressions. It is one of the last contributions of this book, and not the most reassuring, to show the fragilities inherent in our present, the fruit of a complex political history.