Lust, sloth, and wrath are even worse when states do them — right, Machiavelli?
BY STEPHANIE CARVIN | OCTOBER 31, 2013
Everyone knows people are supposed to be moral, to do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, and so on. But what about states — do they need to be moral, too?
Early Christian and medieval scholars worried over how individuals could lead holy lives if they did not live in a secure state. After all, people wouldn’t go to church on Sunday if an inconvenient horde of pillaging Visigoths was planning to sweep in that afternoon. The meek are promised in scripture that they will inherit the earth, but these were times when the powerful and well-armed had gotten there first. Medieval writers like Augustine and Aquinas acknowledged that states could commit immoral acts — but only to protect order and keep citizens safe. In other words, killing an infidel here and there was better than allowing civilization to fall.
However, later scholars proved substantially less squeamish. For political theorists such as Machiavelli and Hobbes, sin in the international sphere was permitted, if not explicitly required. With lessons such as «any injury done to a man must be such that there is no need to fear his revenge,» Machiavelli was down with the dark side. Hobbes, too, provided justifications for nations to run amok. In the state of nature, or the war of every man against every man, «nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustices have there no place. Where there is no common Power, there is no law; where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the two cardinal virtues.» Bad wasn’t just good — it was necessary.
Today, international relations theorists don’t theorize about sin, but interest. At the core of realism, arguably the dominant school of IR, is the belief that wise statesmen will act amorally as opposed to immorally. In other words, they will act according to their interest, defined not by good or ill but by the amount of relative power they have in the system. Liberal IR scholars tend to downplay sin altogether, arguing that that the interconnectivity of states will foster cooperation, good governance, and peace.. MORE