Before reading the thoughts of Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes, we see that the two major European powers have been present, the Kingdom of France and the Spanish Empire. Those empires have been related to a very close link, but at the same time, they are potent rivalries, and their arrival was mainly about lately.

In one of his letters, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, wrote,

“The interest of myself and my cousin, French king Francois Premier, is the same; we both want Northern Italy.” 

This above quotation gives a perfect example of how the political thoughts of the Renaissance support us in understanding the causes of the conflict. The conflict emerges not when the interests are different but when the two powers want the same. Like now, many countries wish for their own, their same neighbors to be friendly nations, but it means everybody is different.

Besides two great countries, France, the Spanish Empire, and Holy Roman Empire, we see that the territory of Italy consists of several small states, among them the Holy state and Papal state, which is only one.

The other important factor in the emergence of this unique international system was the decline of the authority of the Roman Pope. The states and the lords of the newly emerging small states did not have any respect for Rome, which it had deserved centuries before. This disrespect and the emergent equality of the relationships become one of the most inspiring reasons for their political thought of the Renaissance. Among those thinkers, Machiavelli is one of the brightest.

Machiavelli’s Thought on International Relations

Niccolo Machiavelli developed a classical tradition during the Italian Wars in his book “The Prince,” an influential political ecce for Lorenzo de Medici in 1513. It was first published, however, only in 1532 because the Roman church did not like it very much. The Roman church thought and said that “The Prince” represented the immoral, non-Christian idea of international relations.


It is because Niccolo Machiavelli addressed the very beginnings of the classical tradition, nearly to the Fukudidas and other predecessors.

He brought the ideas from ancient Greece, from the previous thinking, and adopted these ideas to his time, and he also used these ideas as advice for political practice.

What did Machiavelli write, and why is it important to understand international relations?

Here are three essential quotations laid by Machiavelli to understand International Relations:

First Quotation: 

“War should be the only study of the prince.”

By saying this, Machiavelli defines the main form of interaction between states.

For him, as for any classic realist, war is the normal condition, not peace.


Because the states are always competing, because the states can never get in terms, they will never get a final solution.

Every solution, every victory, or every compromise is only the preparation for another conflict and war. That’s why war should be the only study of a prince.

Second Quotation: 

“The Promise was given was a necessity of the past; the word broken is a necessity of the present.”

It sounds very cynical, indeed. For Machiavelli, it was apparent that any politician or prince responsible for his country or state must give promises to other countries and have no moral responsibility concerning others. He has only one more responsibility: to protect his power and the people of the country where he lives.

In the works of Machiavelli, we find another maximum. Machiavelli writes that the prince who is favorable to theirs those who live in other states is unfavorable and is moral towards his subordinates.

Third Quotation: 

“Politics have no relation to morals.”

It was very straightforward and related to what Fukudida said many 100 years before Machiavelli and nearly 2000 years before Machiavelli.

What was said by the classics and by the others to offer the realist tradition in international relations?

To understand this better, we should not look at the ideas of Machiavelli very primitively. Machiavelli was not a simple, cynical offer by saying politics have no relation to morals. He wanted to say only one thing politics are so important that one cannot approach politics with a normal human attitude to the questions like morals, justice, humanism, and the other important things which exist between the people within the society.

In the work of Machiavelli, we find one of the most important concepts of international relations and the approach to international relations from the school of classical realism, the straight division between the internal and international.

What is permittable?

What is possible Internationally does not exist inside of the society?

What is normal inside of society?

Like, morals or justice does not exist in international relations, whereas Fukudida wrote 2000 years before Machiavelli that only strength matters.

Machiavelli’s understanding of politics was based on three major ideas; one has already mentioned, “War should be the only study of the prince.”

The primary responsibility of the rulers is always to defend the state’s interests and ensure its survival. “The promise given was in the necessity of the past; the word broken is a necessity of the present.” So, if necessary, others have said already, a ruler must be ruthless and deceptive while defending self-interest.

In today’s politics, we have seen many times when countries complain that they were not explained before are intentions of their partners. But we should also understand that it is always the work or the maximum defined by Machiavelli several 100 years ago.

The third one,” Politics have no relation to morals.” A responsible ruler should not follow Christian ethics; if states follow these values, they will disappear.

Thus, for Machiavelli and the likes, morality and ethics are indicators that a specific ruler is irresponsible about his power, legitimacy, and the people he is governing.

Thomas Hobbes’s Thoughts on International Relations

Another great representative of the classic realist tradition was a British philosopher named Thomas Hobbes (16th Century and 17th Century).

It was a tough time for Europe. The wars happened here and there. The great Thirty Years War was taking place in the very heart of Europe around the Holy Roman Empire.

The other wars happened on the periphery; Russia arrived in European politics with the invasion of the Baltics through the wars of Ivan the Terrible.

Based on this intellectual and practical background, Thomas Hobbes justified states by envisaging a stateless state of nature. In this state, human beings lived in the condition of “war, everyone against everyone.” 

For Thomas Hobbes, this condition was the very initial and was threatening the very existence of humans. According to Thomas Hobbes, to leave this situation, people seek to escape the state of nature to achieve personal security and to find a solution. The solution is to establish a state.

To escape this situation, Hobbes suggested placing old power to a certain sovereign state, which he calls Leviathan, a state authority or supreme ruler, that would maintain order and end the anarchy. Without order, no economic development, art, and knowledge are possible.

It leads to the establishment of a social contract. However, unlike a liberal tradition, Hobbes supposes that Individuals and Government conducted such a contract. It is a significant difference between liberal and realist traditions. For the realist, the fundamental unit in the state is the government; for the liberals, this is the individual.

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