Reason of State – What it is, definition and concept

The reason of State is a concept that refers to the measures carried out by a certain Government in order to preserve the interests of the State in a certain situation. It is usually related to extralegal actions.

The idea of ​​”reason of state” is used to justify state actions when they usually result in the violation of civil and political rights. Therefore, it is used in situations where the need for the interests of the state to prevail seems very high. When it is said that a certain action has been carried out for reasons of State, what it means is that those actions (normally reprehensible) have been carried out for superior interests and to avoid a greater evil.

The reason of State is a concept that arises with the appearance of the modern State and that is very present to this day. All States carry out illegal actions or actions of doubtful legality and morality in order to preserve their interests and those of the country. State intelligence agencies play a great role in these scenarios.

Even so, the reason of state does not refer exclusively to extra-legal acts, since some actions that do not violate the legislation and the law can also be considered as such.

Origin of the reason of State

The reason of state is a widely studied idea in political science and, as we have mentioned, it has its origin in the appearance of modern states. The first author to theorize about this idea is the thinker Nicolás Machiavelli, developing his work throughout the 16th century.

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The Italian philosopher, in his work Prince, establishes the decalogue to be followed by a ruler whose objective is to perpetuate himself in power. For the author, the leader has to achieve equally that his inhabitants fear and adore him. To do this, it must rule with an iron hand, but with great audacity to avoid the repudiation of its citizens. It is here where the reason for the State appears, the ruler will have to carry out actions of dubious ethics and legality, but that will ensure the interests of the State and the leader himself. His famous phrase «The end justifies the means»He never pronounced it literally, but it gives us an idea of ​​what the concept we are dealing with implies.

But it was really Giovanni Botero who developed the reason of state. The idea is extracted from Machiavelli’s work, but it is Botero who adopts and develops it.

This author, also from the 16th century, carried out his work in contrast to that of Machiavelli. He affirmed that the reason of state was the means to found, preserve and expand a domain. In its time, Italy was not a nation-state, but later this would be the domain. Botero, due to his great Christian faith, defended the use of these means if they were founded on the will of God.

Reason of State controversy

This idea does not only refer to facts of doubtful ethics and legality, vital actions can also be carried out within the legislative framework. Now, it should be noted that it is a very controversial and controversial concept.

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If the State is to have this position of superiority; if it is to be limited exclusively to legal actions even if the health of the State and citizenship is endangered; or if the end justifies the means, are some of the questions related to this debate. Some people find some facts justifiable, others none of them. It depends on the beliefs of each person.

Let’s see a hypothetical example.

For a nationalist person, the interests of his State are above any individual interest and, to preserve them, he could even include violations of his own legality. For a communist, carrying out changes in the social and state structure in a violent way might not be undesirable. On the contrary, for a liberal the individual is above all and does not justify any aggression by the State, even if it is motivated.

Examples of reason of state

Throughout history, there have been episodes starring governments that have hidden behind this motivation. That is, in that the interests of the State are above any other.

Some of them are the following:

  • Holocaust: The Nazi leaders of the Third Reich believed that the extermination of certain sectors of the population, especially the Jews, was something that should be done for the good and progress of Germany. For this reason, the civilian population had to collaborate and denounce these people even if it seemed unpleasant to them.
  • Atomic bombs: The atomic bombing against Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to the end of World War II. It was and is a very controversial fact, its detractors argued that Japan was about to surrender and other attacks would have been more proportional. The leaders who authorized the attack believed that it was necessary to achieve an end to the war.
  • State terrorism: When these actions have been developed, they have been done excusing themselves in their need to achieve state objectives and prevent a greater evil. This was the case of the LAGs in Spain. Police forces, outside the law, who fought against the ETA gang to put an end to terrorism. Some of their practices were the systematic torture of members of the terrorist group.
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