Secrecy: A Baroque Sharing of the Political

Figaro. Oh, my Lord, the thing is so easy—He must be a Fool indeed who could find his vanity flattered by his skill in Politics—To appear always deeply concerned for the good of the State, yet to have no other end but Self-interest; to assemble and say Nothing; to pretend vast Secrecy where there is nothing to conceal; to shut yourself up in your Chamber, and mend your pen or pick your Teeth, while your Footmen inform the attending Croud you are too busy to be approach’d—this, with the art of intercepting Letters, imitating Hands, pensioning Traitors, and rewarding Flatterers, is the whole mystery of Politics, or I am an Idiot.
Count. This is the definition of a Partisan not a Politician.
Figaro. Party and Politics are much the same, they are become synonimous terms.[1]
You may say, gentlemen, that if you knew the motives and reasons for the king’s advice, you would certainly follow them. But to this I have to reply that the master of the ship does not give any reason for the way in which he navigates it; that there are affairs whose success depends only on secrecy, and many means proper to an end are no longer so when they are divulged … [2]

1The contribution that follows could be understood as part of a diptych, the other part [3] of which will have shown that the success of the theatrical metaphor to describe politics in the 17th century is not without its trivialization, in the form of a topos of moral and political literature, nor is it, secondly, without its secondarization—so true is it that a much-used image can become a backdrop whose analysis or awareness are no longer necessary. The theatrical metaphor used to highlight the dazzling coup d’état gives way to what I have called a baroque Machiavellianism, unfaithful to Machiavelli of course, which renews the aestheticpolitical idea of “representation” and inaugurates a political space that goes beyond the stage of the theater and the backstage that it induces.

2Certainly secrecy, understood politically, participates in this philosophical atmosphere that separates the moral and the political while staging this separation. It is a curiosity in the history of philosophy that the notions of reason of State [raison d’État] and secrecy are spontaneously attributed to Machiavelli, even though the Florentine never makes them fundamental concepts: the expression “reason of State” does not exist in his work; “secret” is of little Machiavellian use in The Prince (I distinguish “Machiavellian” [machiavélique]—the dark and false legend concerning Machiavelli’s thought—from “Machiavellic” [machiavélien] to designate what refers to Machiavelli [4]). It is to a joint analysis of The Prince and the Discourses on Livy, in the looming Tacitean universe, that one should devote oneself in order to accomplish convincing exegetical work. For the moment, I will stick to this widespread and erroneous conception, contributing to the Machiavellian legend, which invents a pseudo-Machiavellic myth of secrecy and reason of State, in the same tone as the misreading [contre-sens] attributing to him an “art of politics” or an “art of the State” when it is a matter, with arte, of a technique, of a profession of politics. [5]

3The political baroque may thus be considered as a “false” Machiavellianism, as one may speak of a false positive in medicine: a result that exists while being misleading. My initial hypothesis is that the notion of secrecy, so often summoned for the period—and often rightly so—from the Medici in Italy to Richelieu in France, from the Italian city republics to French absolutism, sheds new light on what I call the political baroque and the idea of representation (I do not enclose the “baroque” in a dated period, even if 1600-1750 seem to me to be the most relevant terms due to their “vague rigidity”). Hence, Beaumarchais writes, at the end of a period of political obscurity of the secret finally shattered by the Enlightenment and the Revolution, a collected synthesis, beginning the tirade with the feint, finishing it with the great secret, and closing the debate with a sentence as nominal as lapidary in the amalgam: “Party and Politics are much the same” [“La politique, l’intrigue, volontiers”]. Beaumarchais here puts an end to a whole conception of the political through secrecy of which he understood the motivations: to dissimulate its intentions and its ignorances, to increase its power by this fact alone; what is important is to let people believe in secrecy, whatever its contents, regardless even of the existence of content. Politics as intrigue is brutally unveiled, has abandoned its mysteries, and thus defeated with all force. The secret will not be told in the images of the theater: the final step of Beaumarchais, it is on stage that this truth is uttered—the last baroque fire that is extinguished by the ultimate revelation. From stage to hatch.

4My thesis will be as follows. In the image of politics compared to theater, the secret diverts from the power exalted by its representation. The secret is the opening of a space that is at the same time a closure. Opening of a space but not of a place, let alone that of a stage. If the secret is held par excellence in secretarial furniture, with restricted supports and hidden drawers, if it is exchanged in studioli with deceptive inlays—sometimes true and sometimes false—it is because it separates political practice from the exercise of power; it is because it opens up a space against the temporality of representation. It is a sharing of the political that is at once opened and closed by the secret. Thus, in political developments, theatrical images of power and the invisibility of the secret coexist. We therefore cannot limit ourselves to the idea of representation of power: we must make room for concealment.

Reason of State

5The secret is fundamentally ambiguous, being both content and practice: “there is a lot of difference between the secret and the form of the secret”, writes Cardinal de Retz, an expert on the subject. [6] From Machiavelli to the Grand Siècle, the second understanding—namely practice, sometimes confused with government—prevailed, fueling the risk of tyranny. In the history of political practices, with the discovery of an independent political science and techniques of power, everything has contributed to the abounding of the metonymy. The assimilation between secrecy, reason of State, a prince possibly freed or above the law (legibus solutus), and the silence favored by the tradition of Roman readings, and in particular that of Tacitus—a whole atmosphere is invaded by the idea of t he secret. Part of the tension and opposition takes place over this horizon of an always impenetrable, never demonstrable secret. The Annals of Tacitus abound in examples of the silence of the powerful—silence which is a sign and manifestation of power: it is important “not to divulge the secrets of her house or the counsels of friends, or any services performed by the soldiers […] for ‘the condition,’ he said, ‘of holding empire is that an account cannot be balanced unless it be rendered to one person.’” [7] The connection between reason of State and secrecy is not essential. Only a certain understanding of the authors, and their inclusion in Machiavellianism, to claim or criticize it, allows such assimilation. For if the reason of State is a way of considering public safety as authorizing a derogation from the law, it does not directly mean that the secret is the necessary motive and practice. “Tacitism”, understood as the power lodged in the silence and the impenetrable decision of the great, promotes the connection and transforms the unnecessary into the necessary. The reason of State therefore cannot be understood without secrecy. But where is its place—a place that is necessarily difficult to identify because of the very fact of secrecy? Another reason justifies the connection: just as the secret is content and practice (the protection of that content), so is reason of State a practice and the science of that practice. If the reason of State is a rationality of the exercise of power and the knowledge of this practice, the secret must also obey a rationality whose difficulty is that it will always be invisible. What is revealed, then, is a rationality at work which was not suspected and which is in the service of the State. The secret was its absolutely necessary condition. But the secret itself will never see its rationality displayed, even after the fact. If the reason of State includes a component of secrecy, we can say that the secret constitutes the obscure and never legitimate part of the reason of State.

6It seems as if there were confusion between power and a certain conception of the exercise of power; as if practice preceded the definition of power; as if the power existed entirely in its practice. It will not be the first time that we encounter this twisted logic, this inverted world. However, we may start with a distinction. The fact that it is a content, an utterance or an intention, shared by a very small number (ideally two individuals, or even only one), makes the secret primarily a private content and practice, even though it is concerned with public affairs. Secrecy, understood with the reason of State, implies that politics takes place in separate places. The secret is first of all what is put aside, what is concealed and excluded, set apart, what is shut away, foreclosed, locked (it comes from the supine secretus of the verb secernere—to set apart, to discard—itself formed by the prefix se- indicating separation, and to cernere—to distinguish, to separate: secernere is thus almost redundant). Politics is thus dependent on a separation between the private concern of the statesman and the preservation of the State: power is guaranteed by the necessarily private secrecy; the State is protected by the silence of those in power. Consequently, the “private” place of the man of power has to be defined completely. The man of power and secrecy does not represent: he sometimes has no particular function; he is often confused with the shadow minister or adviser, with the secretary. Baroque Machiavellianism is obviously located before the invention of state sovereignty by Jean Bodin, even if we can consider that this invention was prepared, as it were, by the practice of secrecy articulated in the opposition between private and public affairs. But precisely, this separation is shrouded in the darkness essential to the secret. Coups d’État are not systematically exempt from private satisfaction. If we think of the two Frondes in France, we cannot really separate the private interests of Condé, Beaufort, Retz, etc., the corporatist interests of parliaments and companies, from their aristocratic or bourgeois rejection of power centralized by Richelieu then Mazarin, from taxes, from abuse of power.

7There is nevertheless something theatrical in the anecdotes of Livy or Tacitus: remaining silent and showing, such are the dazzling and apparent arbitrariness of power, which implies a rationality only penetrated by the prince. To his son who asks him what to do with his victory in Gabii, Tarquinius Superbus, wary of the messenger, opposes a stubborn silence to the questions and walks into the gardens, topping the tallest poppies. The messenger reports the silence and the gestures, which Sextus Tarquinius understands: he must kill the leaders of the city. [8] The reigns of Claudius, Nero, Tiberius, are in Tacitus full of secrets and manipulations of all kinds. Yet, even if we consider the political as a space of pretense and presentation, the theatrical metaphor is worn out; while necessary, it is nevertheless insufficient. The secret cannot be understood in the usual categories of politics in the Baroque period: appearance, as that which appears without necessarily being deceptive, presentation, which I distinguish from representation as ostentation of power (par excellence, the louis-the-fourteenth representation of power), the spectacle as a revealing face-to-face held out to the spectator, a member of the political community thus microcosmic in the theater. On stage, the secret is simply a matter of plot: it cannot be shown, it cannot be the object of a theatrical theory of politics. [9] In fact, secrecy could well constitute the boundaries of this whole political theater, including the backstage and the auditorium. The secret is this space which is outside the theater. We understand better, then, how the metaphor of the theater is essential while being insufficient for politics. The secret is understood with it, without ever blending into it. If the secret is a form of obscurity or ambiguity, it is because normally it is never revealed, never deciphered. Amelot de la Houssaie, commenting on his own translation of Baltasar Gracián, often refers to Machiavelli but also to Tacitus. And with regard to a maxim that was supposed to celebrate the clear and elegant speech of the courtier—a maxim which turns out to be particularly circumvented, since “sometimes obscurity suits well”—it is towards Tacitus that he turns and his Consulte ambiguus (Ann., 13). The prince must speak “ambiguously”, like an oracle. [10]

8If the reason of State is excess, derogation, overflow, if the coup d’État is a swift, surprising action, directly resulting from the executive, without ordinary reason but obeying and constituting an extraordinary reason, secrecy, in this order of idea, would be the opposite of excess, the minimal point where power is concentrated, a very effective involution. It is not a buried treasure that can be dug up to confer power upon its inventor. Rather, it is the condition and the opposite of the excess of government, of the very theatrical coup d’État. A hidden dynamic, the secret, in accordance with the etymology of the word, is separate, set apart, always necessarily put aside. Right there stands a distinct element of the reason of State and of the state of exception. The latter is the creation of a temporality, which is opposed to ordinary temporality; [11] it is the creation of a space—a hidden space, whether fantasized or real. In this sense, secrecy is the key to power, as opposed to any laborious fabrication or one subject to justifying reasons. The reason of State and the practice of secrecy refer to “another” [autre] reason, it is not to the reason of the philosopher. The power of secrecy, the purveyor of power, is that it is based on the certainty that it exists with content that must remain hidden. It is easy to understand what links up reason of State and secrecy, apart from the fact that the latter is the condition of existence of the first: it is that both are conditions of mastery: fantasy perhaps, but the key to power, secrecy is the opposite of any laborious fabrication subservient to quests for legitimacy. If Amelot de la Houssaie compares the Tacitean secret to the oracle, it is because it participates in a power of the hidden and the mystery. Playing on the imagination of power is effective.

9Secrecy in politics is the certainty of suspicion, no more, no less. If the reason of State is not a matter of representation, in the sense of ostentation, it is all the same a matter of visibility and invisibility. Let it be said here all that we owe to the precise, scholarly, and particularly enlightening work of Michel Sénellart on the reason of State, its philosophical history and its historiography, as well as on Machiavelli. Any analysis touching on the reason of State and Machiavellianism is necessarily marked by his considerable work. Taking it as a determining factor, I refrain from reducing it to a summary and refer, instead, to his entire work. Let us only note that the third part of Les Arts de gouverner[12] is devoted to the secret, and the final chapter to the arcana imperii, in a subtle discussion of the means and the end. Sénellart concludes by estimating that publicity was less claimed against the arcana taken up by supporters of absolutism than it was opposed “to the visibility of power, as a sign of the invisible” (p. 282).

Dissimulating the Arcana

10Hiding the means of power in order to be more powerful, maintaining the suspicion of secrecy, would not be sufficient to secure power to its holder, to carry out the affairs of the State and to increase its power. The dynamism of power must be reckoned with an additional element, which is in fact a way of interpreting the secret in the sense of pure practice, namely the practice of dissimulation. Something is done through secrecy. Machiavelli places the prince under the regime of visibility, appearances, reputation and credit. Thus his virtues include concealing his intentions, not maintaining secrecy, which would rather be of the order of conspiracy. The reference to Machiavelli is historically relevant but conceptually inappropriate. [13] The same is not true with dissimulation. The Machiavellian reference is exploited by the political baroque, that is to say, a baroque way of considering the relations of power and the relations between nature and artifice, nourished by exchanges between aesthetics and politics, which cannot be reduced to mere theatricalization.

11Dissimulation is the secret of the success of the reason of State, that is to say, of the men who practice it. With dissimulation, the analysis moves from the notion of the always problematic reason of State to the one who acts. Secrecy is not only omission or silence, it is deception, feinting, lying, strategy, stratagems, deceit… From silence to action, from the exercise of power abstractly understood to active political practice. The sentence attributed to Louis XI is very popular: “Qui nescit dissimulare, nescit regnare.” (“He who does not know how to dissimulate, does not know how to rule” [14]). Thus far, in understanding secrecy through the reason of State, we have distinguished between the essential element and the component. Dissimulation, which is emphasized far more than secrecy itself, complicates the analysis. It is conceived as much as a lie as a secret. In this sense, politics is understood as a form of causality, not in the pragmatic sense of being the supreme cause of numerous effects in reality, but as a relationship of cause and effect whose cause remains hidden. Even when revealed, it can only be assumed since no legitimating discourse is required or evoked. Secrecy is to hide and set apart, in an untraceable place, which one should not even look for, because the cause is not logically traceable. If there is rationality—and secrecy is also the risk of arbitrariness, hence the absolutist favor from which it benefited, then the revolutionary fury which will rely on transparency and publicity to avoid despotism—it is invisible and remains impenetrable by the common people. Paradox of a rationality which is elusive in a rational way. Secrecy removes the causal step of dissimulating something. It is the circulation of the lettre de cachet that consolidates the power, not necessarily the content. One understands that the theatrical metaphor cannot be extended. The secret would necessarily be on the side of the backstage. But the backstage is a well-identified place, even if it is hidden, it is where the changes of scenery, costumes, etc. take place. We know what happens there without seeing it. The coup de théâtre, which Louis Marin rightly compared with a coup d’État, reveals that there was a secret. But the coup is terrible only insofar as, by this sudden revelation of the arcana of power, it reveals only that other secrets are always possible, since no one knows them, since no causality can confirm and anticipate what happens. The secret, in order to be a sign, even a volatile one, and a condition of power, must be guessed at from the outside—it must be suspected, without obviously being discovered. Hannah Arendt, in The Origins of Totalitarianism, showed that the effectiveness of the secret was not necessarily that it had a content, that something was hidden. The secret of secrecy is that it is necessary to put aside in order to better put in the center. In this sense, the reason of State cannot be reduced to its component of secrecy: it is far too much knowledge of a practice. As a practice, it reveals that there was a necessary secret. As knowledge, it includes a secret component. The one is by no means to be confused with the other.

12Thus, dissimulation, as a concrete action of the man of power acting, is the behavior that corresponds to the politics of secrecy. Secrecy, thus understood as a modality of dissimulation, introduces us to a fundamental problem that I have not yet addressed: the separation, inaugurated by Machiavelli, between the moral sphere and the political sphere. Moreover, the private sphere and the public sphere are not so separate when one considers the secret, since it is kept in the intimacy of the man of power in order to have better effects on the political sphere. Thus, dissimulation, usually considered immoral in personal conduct, is advocated by Machiavelli in politics, and then by other thinkers in the Baroque period. For Machiavelli, as for Gracián or Naudé, this does not mean that politics must be immoral, it means that the separation must not pass through the traditional frontier between morality and politics. On the other hand, this implies that dissimulation is a “Machiavellian art of being secret”, as Michel Sénellart writes, who analyzes it as the novelty that separates being from what appears. Machiavelli joins the secret to the dialectic between virtù and fortune on the one hand, and “[folds] the art of government on the science of war” on the other hand. In so doing, he reveals the “mobility” of the prince, which is itself a condition of power. In this sense, appearance is not immediately the art of dissimulating, but the art of manipulating by signs. For “[a]ppearance is part of the system of relations that governs real and symbolic exchanges between the prince, his relatives and his subjects. It answers the need for a common code, without which no political cohesion would be possible”. The prince himself does not remain in the shadows, on the contrary he must manage his appearances “within an economy of the visible of which the prince remains the home” [15]. We will return to this idea that secrecy generates a code and that it engages, in the political space, a circulation of signs, rather than a system of lies and even less so a balance of power.

13Less linked to the reason of State than it seems, confined at least to a component relationship, secrecy has an existence in dissimulation as a practice, in this case essential, of the prince. It is indeed a “Machiavellian art” to be secret, and we will see that it goes beyond the Renaissance period to characterize a thinking of politics that makes the separation from morality a condition of knowledge about politics. The reasons constitute the good only of the holders of the secret.

14In contrast to ostentatious representation, secrecy implies other links. Thus, if the prince produces the secret as such (it is not enough to know it, to “know it” [d’« en connaître »] as they say in Bureau des Légendes), if, consequently, his action proceeds first of all from dissimulation, on the other hand the public, the subjects, the people, recipients of the exercise of power, do not know it. They can only suspect that there is secrecy and that all conditions of exercise of power escape them. The flip side of a politics of secrecy is obviously that those immediately concerned by the effects of secrecy cannot perceive it. In this respect, the arcana imperii generally have a place of choice, first in the precedents of the reason of State, then in the origins of secrecy. Erudite and fine studies fully satisfy the curiosity of those who would like to understand the passage from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance without break. The place of Clapmar and his work De Arcanis rerum publicarum (1605) is fundamental here, after the “Machiavellian turning point” [16]. The goal pursued by Clapmar, however, is not the power of the State or that of the prince, but rather internal tranquility, for which he orders the classification of the arcana, necessary to prevent troubles and factions. The secret is thus in the stratagems and simulacra, derogating from the well understood justice, necessary for the tranquility of the subjects of the prince, distinct from law. Clapmar quotes Tacitus and Roman historians, criticizes Machiavelli, and is inspired by the theorists of the “good” reason of State, that is to say the reason of State which is not impious (defended primarily by Botero in The Reason of State 1589-1598; I refer to the works of Romain Descendre).

15The arcana imperii are by definition that which cannot be seen, that which is substantially concealed while being at the heart of politics. We move away from the effect of the prince’s action. The theme of the arcana imperii is a distant origin of the secret of the renascent and baroque reason of State. On the other hand, this distant kinship explains other connections. The secret in politics must remain indecipherable: the ruler must only let the people believe that it exists. In this sense, the secret is indeed a mystery. Power and secrecy as practice would be heirs to secularized mysteries. [17] There may be reasons for such action, but they will never be visible, never from the façade, and will fuel a conception of politics as essentially mysterious, in any case elusive to the common people.

Ambiguity and Enigma: Against Ostentation

16This can be seen at the end of what should be considered as a phenomenology of secrecy in politics, through putative origins (arcana imperii) and approximate connections (reason of State). Secrecy is part of a political practice: it is a component of politics defined within the framework of a Machiavellian arte of government that goes on until the Baroque period, but it is not a knowledge, nor a science, and its place within a political science is very unstable. Its status is paradoxical: how to establish the foundations of a political science and practice largely based on the hidden and the cachet, when one cannot reveal what is essential to them? Indeed, to announce a science of the politics of secrecy is to definitively and irreparably remove all effectiveness from it, even though effectiveness is its primary goal. Secrecy excludes the politics of a regime of truth: the secret revealed is a loss of power, not the revelation of a truth. It is—without necessarily going as far as secularized mystery—enigmatic. This is how we can take up the notion of ambiguity that Amelot de la Houssaie called upon in Tacitus to comment on Gracián. In politics, where one must act “ambiguously”, secrecy is an enigma suspended above the crowd of the governed, who have no access to the hidden rationalities of power.

17From ambiguity to enigma, it is difficult not to fall into the impenetrable façade of the master of political secrecy, Cardinal Richelieu. If his portraits by Philippe de Champaigne—which could easily become part of the ostentatious representation of power—are fascinating, it is because they allow us to see the enigma as indefinitely unresolved. There is no mask or deception in these portraits; there is the simple face that calls for deciphering while assuring the viewer that the secret—of Richelieu and of power in general—will never be revealed. These portraits say nothing, they show nothing, only bare power, that is, in all its mystery. It is enough to compare these portraits, clearly identified with a presentation of power, with those, for example, of Paul III by Titian (see Titian, Portrait of Paul III with his grandsons, where it is a man of power, but also a character, as well as a family (the Farneses), and finally a city, Rome, and a renascent politics, that are represented. Nothing of the sort with Champaigne and Richelieu: what can be seen is pure enigma: everything is shown and everything is concealed.

Philippe de Champaigne, portrait of Cardinal Richelieu (about 1637), 269 x 178

figure im1

Philippe de Champaigne, portrait of Cardinal Richelieu (about 1637), 269 x 178

National Gallery, London

From Prince to Prudent Man

18Richelieu invites us to do so: to understand political secrecy, we must go beyond the abstractly discussed practice—and for good reason, since secrecy must be impenetrable. Secrecy, while not merely the name of a practice of dissimulation to govern and increase State power, is also a content that is held by one or more persons. The secret is confided and concealed in many. Mazarin gives advice on how to test the confidants of his secret, in a group of three. [18] If the secret has a virtual place, a false place, a hidden drawer, it is indeed the restricted circle of the holders of the secret, a small group of men of power, of univocal or reciprocal support. It could be argued that the group is constituted, even if with only two interlocutors, by the secret, insofar as the moral risk of lying and manipulation are shared. The restricted sharing of the core of power, such is the key to the art of government. This sharing obliges (the depositary of the secret is obliged to keep my secret) and excludes (the crowd, the public, the subjects, etc.). The chest (arca, ae, F) is immaterial: the sharing delimits a hyper-restricted group, excluding from this fact. Space but not place.

19In erasing the separation between morality and politics, several actors of secrecy are nevertheless possible. The writings are, in their very status, already ambiguous. We know that Machiavelli is detached from the tradition of the mirrors for princes—works for a single recipient, of edifying advice, of moral duties, and of grandeur. A whole diverse philosophical current takes note of this Machiavellian separation and deliberately integrates secrecy into politics. Baroque pretenses are at work. With the thought of Justus Lipsius, the redefinition of prudence takes on a whole different course from the Aristotelian schema of a relationship between politics and equity. We are no longer attached to an ethics but to the conduct of a man in a group as much as of the prince and his entourage. Appearance becomes a problem of the visible and the invisible. Justus Lipsius does not refuse the theatrical metaphor, but adds an adjective to it that trivializes the image itself: “velut theatrum hodiernae vitae” he writes, commenting on Tacitus. [19] This is of course one aspect of the similitudo temporum. But above all, the show loses its aura since it is daily. In fact, prudence is not spectacular, especially when it is not directly an ethical virtue. Justus Lipsius makes it a mixed notion, the prudentia mixta, divided into a proper prudence and a foreign prudence. It is in the name of mixed prudence that the prince governs with his ministers and advisers. The circle is formed where the secrets of power circulate; prudence has become a “virtue of practical intellect, in relation to contemplative wisdom […] Freed from sapienza, it becomes knowledge in its own right, turned towards active life.20

20In Justus Lipsius, the actors all have a role that is still quite easily identifiable. The enigmatic ambiguity reaches a climax in Baltasar Gracián, an author that Benito Pelegrín’s thorough and contextualized analysis allows the French-speaking reader to approach, which is why I refer to his texts and editions as a whole. While taking up uncritically the idea of the reason of State, Gracián in turn defines a very ambiguous prudence. It is mixed on the one hand; it is ambivalent on the other hand because it can be the best instrument of the courtier as well as of the prince, in a group where friends are rare. Gracián places reason at the heart of conduct, opposed to “vulgar passion” and to “tyrannical violence”. The reason of State in this sense cannot be an alibi for people of little faith. [21] After having affirmed that “things do not pass for what they are, but for what they seem” and that “the good exterior is the best recommendation of inner perfection” (CXXX), he affirms that Reason speaks for itself, that the surface is the interior, and “a fine stroke of policy [raison d’État] […] pretends to nothing” (CXXXI). Amelot de la Houssaie, in his linear commentary, does not fail to recall the mobility of the prince according to Machiavelli, who knows how to change with fortune. This adaptation to changing times is the best proof of a political rationality (CXXXIX c.). Prudence is thus not foreign to the reason of State, which is no longer problematic. It is even tied to prudence; finesse must remain within the limits of prudence and not become deliberate deception: “the greatest artifice is to hide well what passes for deception” (CCXIX. My emphasis). Gracián thinks in balancing, more Machiavellian than Machiavelli (from whom he borrows the image of the fox and the lion, CCXX), at least in form. The artifice, which must mask what could pass for such, leads to the praise of dissimulation: “To dissimulate is the principal means of governing” (LXXXVIII). Gracián is careful to distinguish dissimulation from lying. If the Machiavellian lesson of separation between morality and politics is assumed, it is not to lapse into immoralism, even where Gracián might be suspected of doing so (see also CXLVI, CLIV, CCXV-CCXVI). On the other hand, the point of view (the vanishing point?) has changed. Even if Machiavelli could be understood as addressing the republicans and not, as the first meaning invites, the prince, Gracián addresses the upright man, the noble man of the court who knows how to conduct himself in the affairs of men; he addresses the hero, the discreet one. [22] L’Homme de cour is entitled Oráculo Manual y arte de prudencia in Spanish; it is a paperback textbook which states the proper maxims to conduct the honest man. It is not at all a mirror for princes but a mirror for oneself, the prudent man is the only one face-to-face: “You cannot master yourself unless you know yourself. There are mirrors for the face but none for the mind. Let careful thought about yourself serve as a substitute” (LXXXIX). Dissimulation thus has two stages: first in the art of governing, maxim LXXXVIII takes up the traditional definition; then, in prudence itself, and maxim XCVIII, whose title La Houssaie translates as simply “Dissimuler” [Dissimulation], is entitled in Spanish “Cifrar la voluntad”, where cifrar says the same thing as the old “cipher”, that is to say, to encrypt according to a code (XCVIII).

21Gracián’s prudent man appears as the one who knows how to cipher his intentions and the reasons of his conduct. The valuation of the appearances, beyond criticism, amounts to ciphering intelligently, because the prudent man knows himself. What is clear for oneself becomes ambiguous for politics; what is valid for one is obscure for the community. Let us not forget that Gracián’s relationship with his own Jesuit order was most opaque. What to do with a statement that claims that there is no better way to cipher than to state clearly? It could be a definition of conceptism…

From Non-place to Cipher

22Yet, in the midst of all of these ambiguities, secrecy is a technical consequence of prudence in Gracián; it is not the mainspring of a politics of power. It is perhaps what distinguishes the Jesuit philosopher from men of power. Richelieu and Mazarin lead a politics of power, which confuses their interests with those of the State. The secret could well be what is not seen rather than what is not known. This is a supreme ambiguity because we know that there is secrecy, somewhere in the arcana of decisions, agreements, embassies, and narratives, but we simply do not know where it is, that is to say, precisely what it is about. The ambiguity about the content of the secret is an ignorance of what is seen. We see power when contemplating Richelieu painted by Champaigne, and simultaneously one sees nothing at all. In his Testament politique, [23] Richelieu addresses a specific monarch: Louis XIII; he looks back on recent political history and constructs advice according to this recent and turbulent past. Of course, he does not say anything about what must be hidden! The secret is kept even in speech. The Testament politique remains enigmatic insofar as it gives no key to the power actually exercised. His successor Mazarin himself addresses “politicians”. The “pact” with the reader is different, and Umberto Eco has even considered that it proceeds from a democratic spirit. Cardinal Mazarin seemed all the more talkative than his predecessor was smooth. Dissimulation is elevated to a political art par excellence, and Mazarin reveals tricks and stratagems. Yet, despite appearances, he does not say more than Richelieu. What he reveals could well be a decoy, as the tricks do not seem to be particularly subtle. Richelieu and Mazarin, masters in the art of secrecy, continue, even while writing their practice, to let it be suspected and imagined. To make believe increases their power; their façade is a kind of hyper-rationality in the dissimulation itself.

23The reason of State is evident as a practice; the science of power approaches a knowledge that provides the clues. The art of secrecy as a technique of government is a horizon that recedes the closer we get to it. It is the paradox of an invisible space, of a circulation without manifest ways. Dissimulation, elevated to the rank of practice par excellence of political secrecy, transforms the theatrical metaphor used by moral and political thinkers. It is important to understand how dissimulation is at the crossroads of two poles of power: representation and secrecy. Representation is power expressed, displayed, mastered by pomp and convention; power thus lies in its ostentatious manifestation. In this sense, the intelligibility of power through the metaphor of the theater passes through the masque: power is given only fixed and hides the intentions and the maneuvers. Politics as theater could reveal what is hidden behind the screens. The political space, since it is imposed by the reason of State, with or against the readings of Machiavelli, is not reduced to the theatrical stage castigated by the moralists, to a face-to-face of the power and the spectator. The secret as component of a political practical knowledge is ordered into another, immediately paradoxical spatiality. In the manner of a Baron Münchhausen who extracts himself from the swamp by pulling himself by the hair, the secret opens its space without occupying a place. The privileged baroque metaphors, beyond that of the theater, refer to the oculi that close in a spiral, possibly on nothing, or to the anamorphoses: a manifest image hides another one that can be revealed by another point of view than the ordinary frontal position, very precise and generally difficult to find, or by the use of a cylinder—a technical object—which reflects and transforms. The image is hidden, just as a hidden door is dissimulated in a wall, just as a studiolo is enclosed in other rooms. The studiolo is particularly ambiguous: an intimate place of private study, it can be open and welcome an audience. It is not a secret room, but the activity that takes place there can be secret. On the contrary, a secret room or passage, once discovered, are undone of their capacity. The secret of the studiolo has no place, and therefore no existence, assigned to it. This is the paradox of the definition of the secret: the ambiguity of the content-container. One never knows if the secret is a content or a practice carried out for its own sake. This is what the enigma of Richelieu’s face by Champaigne silently says: poker face. Or what Louis Marin raises, still in the theatrical image however, with the “inside-outside; neither too far-nor too close”. [24] The paradox of the secret is to be an “ungrowth” [“incroissance”].

24A fine distinction can be made between enigma and ambiguity on the one hand and cipher on the other. There are undoubtedly two models of political secrecy whose tradition should be traced in visibilized politics—where visibilized does not mean revealed, deciphered, decrypted.

25Firstly, the visibilized that shows nothing. I find an example of this in the construction of the castle and the city of Richelieu, in Anjou, granted by Louis XIII to his cardinal. The architecture is classical, symmetrical, and all perpendicular. The Grande Rue, lined with all similar private mansions that the cardinal’s courtiers had to buy, leads to the entrance of the park. The latter has a cross-shaped plan with the castle (now disappeared) at its center, almost panoptic avant la lettre. Everything is done for visibility, classic self-transparency (the courtiers facing each other), and overhanging surveillance by the master of the castle. Ostensible manifestation of power, however, nothing was seen there. The cardinal hardly appeared on the premises—an empty shell—and died before the completion of the main building. In this case, the highly visible castle did not hide anything, not even a studiolo that could easily have been assumed to house the cardinal’s secrets. The cardinal’s politics was carried out in the Louvre, in places that were not visibilized.

26Secondly, a comparison between two representations. We have seen that Champaigne was reluctant to show the cardinal in an ostentatious manner. All of Jansenist sensibility, the portraits do not want to be more talkative than a façade that is as smooth as it is disturbing, where everything can be suspected. On the other hand, the portrait of Gian Galeazzo Sanvitale by Parmigianino (see Parmigianino’s Portrait of Gian Galeazzo Sanvitale,,_galeazzo_sanvitale_01.jpg) displays the cipher, the code, that shows the secret without revealing it, leaving us in uncertainty. It is a portrait of pomp and circumstance, therefore an ostensible manifestation of wealth, dignity, and the qualities of the portrait’s subject. Yet, even though this type of portrait responds to many codes (symbols of wealth, culture, generosity, faith, etc.), Parmigianino introduced a cipher that leaves the interpreters speechless. The gloved right hand seems to offer the viewer the back of a medal with the numbers 7 and 2, which could also be a “C” and an “F”. The conjectures about the initials as well as about possible alchemical symbols have never been convincing, and the historical and art historical prodigies have not shed any light on them. [25] In a portrait of ostensible representation is lodged a cipher—a secret as obvious as it remains indecipherable.

Machiavellist Baroque: Naudé

27If I were to recapitulate the ways of thinking of the secret, I would say that there is a complex postmachiavellian tradition, which goes through the reason of State, and avoids the Clapmarian way of the arcana imperii. The forms of baroque secrecy are a burst of infidelities. Gabriel Naudé is a particularly notable example. Following the thought of Justus Lipsius and Charron, he borrowed elements from The Prince, at times plagiarized Ammirato (Discorsi sopra Cornelio Tacito, 1594), worked for Bagni and Mazarin, and wrote an apparently confidential work revealing the motivations of secrecy as a technique for the absolute exercise of government. While he sometimes tends to confuse the generalized practice of secrecy for men of power and what he elaborates under the name of coup d’État, he also proposes a great work on “mixed prudence”, which was supposed to remain confidential: Considérations politiques sur les coups d’État (1639) [26] was published in twelve copies according to its author. [27] In the difficult dialectic between the practice and the content of secrecy, between rationality and the dazzle of the reason of State, Naudé occupies a place of choice. Jean-Pierre Cavaillé is among the few who have taken an interest in Naudé, in the context of scholarly libertinism. I borrow too much from his analyses for the space allotted to me to quote him abundantly. Cavaillé showed the originality of Naudé who, while taking up the ideal of State rationality, establishes, with the third level of mixed prudence, that the coup lies in secrecy, even though there can be no maxim for it. Naudé, who is not a shadow minister or adviser, states the maxims of what cannot be. The whole task of the secretary then lies in the elaboration of a practical knowledge of which there cannot be a science.

28Naudé, while being a defender of nascent absolutism, in a current of scholarly libertinism, can be read, like Machiavelli, as wielding the rhetoric of the double trigger: in addressing the prince, he addresses the people, or at least a public that could make good use of the unveiling of the arcana of the State. Political science thus paves the way for other sciences, and it is reason that is the master:


… one can more or less know and discover all the greatest secrets of monarchies, the intrigues of courts, the cabals of factious people, the particular pretexts and motives, and in a word, what the king said in secret to the queen, and the speeches that Juno gave to Jupiter (Plautus), by means of so many relations, memoirs, speeches, instructions, libels, manifestos, pasquins, and similar secret documents, which come to light every day, and which are indeed capable of better and more easily forming, stretching, and teaching minds, than all the actions which are ordinarily practiced in the courts of princes, of which we can only with great difficulty know the importance, for lack of having penetrated into their causes and various movements. [28]

30Regarding secrecy specifically, Naudé severely and repeatedly criticizes the meaning and the use that Clapmar makes of it, whom he accuses of adopting a definition so broad that it covers all governmental actions.However, secrecy can only be uttered in the abstract, and in the midst of the evocation of the foundations of a political science; the presentation cannot move directly to practice except in the form of examples, of which Naudé makes abundant use, integrating them into his demonstrative rhetoric. The approximate assimilation between secrecy and coup d’État takes place in the first two chapters of the Considérations, that is to say in the definitional part, much less so in the following three chapters which deal more with the implementation: “secrets, or to put it better, coups d’État” (p. 82). This could be an admission: secrecy, as a technique of government, cannot be developed in counsels, maxims and other unveilings of State practice. Naudé goes as far as he can, while emphasizing that, like the Nile, the State secrets never discover their source, and that one “[draws] from it a thousand conveniences without having any knowledge of its origin” (p. 90).

31“Deception”, “violence” (p. 68), “labyrinth of tricks, and infinite subtleties” (p. 69), “hypocrisy” and “simulation” (p. 73), “powerful stratagems” (p. 117)… such are the means of secrecy, assimilated to coups d’État, and sometimes in the text to the reason of State. However, it is necessary to qualify. The amalgam used here and there by Naudé should not let us believe in identity. The coup d’État, under his pen, designates an action of power, strong, dazzling, surprising, which requires secrecy as to its preparation as well as to the intentions which preside over it, but which does not hold there entirely. Secrecy here is a necessary condition, so necessary that it could be confused with what it allows. This is the meaning of the disruption of temporality and logic by Naudé: “the execution precedes the sentence” (p. 104)—a logical and legal aberration which forms the basis of the coup d’État. The sentence could also have been a precedent for the very modern state of exception. This connection only makes sense through the term excess which can describe both practices, essentially from a legal point of view, and not from a political or moral point of view (p. 71). It is in an overflow of ordinary laws that Claude engages, who, “not being able by the laws of his country to take as wife his carnal niece […] had recourse to State laws, to found his obvious contradiction to the ordinary laws, and married her” (p. 101). Naudé does not theorize either a reason of State which would be excess in relation to ordinary law, but classic examples are scattered his work, and they are extraordinary: “one will find that Alexander practiced in secret what César since did openly; if violating the law is necessary, it is in order to reign” (p. 118-119).

32However, the very utterance of the congruence between coup d’État, reason of State and secrecy—that Naudé also says of State—is at the very heart of the work, in the center of the presentation, at the very core of the thinking of the coup d’État, in the passage where prudence is exposed as a “moral and political virtue, which has no other goal than to seek the various means, and the best and easiest inventions to treat and ensure the success of the affairs that man undertakes” (p. 86). There are thus two kinds of prudence: ordinary prudence and extraordinary prudence. We are at the heart of the second chapter which presents prudence, then the maxims or reasons of State, to which one can assimilate, says Naudé, the coups d’État, “which can work under the same definition”: “they are an excess of common right, because of public good”, “bold and extraordinary actions that the princes are forced to carry out in the difficult and desperate affairs, against common right, without even keeping any order or form of justice, risking the interest of the private individual for the public good” (p. 104). But, while rationality is safe in the logic, the coup d’Étatt is specified precisely in a reversed temporality: the phrase “the execution precedes the sentence” takes on a range of expressions and quotations that all say the same thing—a sign of the emphasis that Naudé wants to place on the specific distinction between coups d’État and reasons of State. Moreover, the nuance is not just a specification. The coup d’État proceeds from an a-logical temporal figure (the dazzle, the surprise, the reverse). More broadly, prudence “when it orders for the present, foresees the future and remembers the past” (p. 189). No anticipation is possible for the addressee; there is a great secret anticipation for the author. The secret remains in the category of space even if it does not have a place: the chest—arca—has become an image. Naudé includes the coups d’état in the reasons of State, but he circumscribes them, in order not to fall into the errors of Clapmar. The common substance is mixed prudence, thus newly defined. [29] Maxims and coups d’État are derivations of it.

33Naudé links prudence to what he refuses to translate from Italian: the segretezza, [30] which Louis Marin translates as “the sense of secrecy”, or even “the sense of politics” [31]. In this sense, he makes great room—which is now understandable—for dissimulation, in the extension of the post-Machiavellian, somewhat Tacitist tradition, and in a complexification of the reading of Justus Lipsius: “to fox [renarder]” is “to distrust everyone and to dissimulate with each one”, that is to say that secrecy here is “omission”. But Naudé adds that the necessary secrecy is also “commission”: it is a question of achieving one’s goal “by covert means”; finesse, subtlety, equivocations, and evasions are then required. The amalgam between content and practice, between science and execution, is mentioned by Naudé thanks to the expression that I understand as expletive “practices and secret intelligences” [32]. However, according to him, such a characterization misses its mark: the extraordinary secret practice, thus uttered, does no more than describe the current, ordinary practice of the State. This is the error of Clapmar and a few others who dilute their object by dissolving the extraordinary in the ordinary. Naudé re-establishes things with an argument that we will have to take up again: the secret is not only this concealed content and this executive practice, it is also what joins together a few people, “between two or three of the wisest and most confident ministers that a prince has” (p. 90). Naudé does not hide the thorny difficulty, and, summoning Charron, Lipsius, Cardan, Livy and Machiavelli—all tutelary figures—he attributes to Machiavelli what he is in the process of doing himself, namely “[breaking] the ice” and “[profaning] […] what the most judicious used as very hidden and powerful means to make their enterprises more successful” (p. 93). Naudé seems to get out of this impossible step by maintaining, through examples, that his discourse is simple imitation, that it remains formal and does not reveal anything of its time. In fact, the examples are ancient or literary. Naudé says nothing about the policies of Richelieu, Mazarin or Bagni.

34The purpose of the book, in its Machiavellian first page, is placed under the sign of the cipher: “to decipher the actions of the princes, and to lay bare what they strive every day to veil with a thousand artifices” (p. 67). Naudé does not limit himself to unveiling the tricks and stratagems of the power, he intends to decipher, to decrypt, the conditions and the effective practices of executive power, which is usually dissimulated. Naudé considers the two definitions of secrecy: content and practice. Deciphering implies that there is something, even if this something is hidden or dissimulated. One could even go so far as to say that deciphering definitively constitutes it as an object, since it is the manifestation that there is a place of power that appears brutally with the coup d’État. Hence the recourse, unsurprisingly at this point for us, to the comparison with the anamorphosis, which completes the comparison with the “heretical” medals presenting at the same time the pope and the devil (p. 111). If I may return to my example of the portrait of Richelieu by Philippe de Champaigne, is it not disturbing to consider that, even where the painter presents a smooth face, thus the opposite of a mask, where he intends to make power appear in its simplicity or its nakedness, the viewer, at least the contemporary viewer, imagines and sees the diabolical character of the cardinal, master of the reason of State, follower of the secrecy promoting his private as well as his public undertakings?

Confidant, Adviser, Minister, Secretary…

35We are reaching the last stage of our descriptive course of the political secret in an understanding of baroque Machiavellian space. A sharing of the political, carried out by secrecy, itself set up as a technique par excellence of government and at the heart of political science, takes place between a few people and thus becomes society. In the intimate and restricted society of the political baroque, the secret is object and vector of communication. The secret as non-revelation (or dissimulation) draws a sharing of the political and ensures a social-restricted communication.

36If I return to the thinkers who have punctuated this research, I first note the obvious ambiguity of the recipient of Richelieu’s Testament politique, which is the flavor of this type of writing: the cardinal addresses himself explicitly to Louis XIII, indirectly to the latter’s mother, secondarily to any sovereign who wishes to read these lines, finally to posterity, and perhaps even to the subjects. But between Richelieu, Louis XIII and Marie de’ Medici, between Mazarin and Anne of Austria, who is the keeper of the secrets, who must keep them, who must circulate them? The specificity of the social-restricted relationship is that it is very asymmetric and undoubtedly subject to change. Crossing the dividing line between the dominant and the subjugated is far from covering the issue. In Testament politique, first of all, Richelieu does not reveal secrets nor decipher the politics of secrecy: announcing that he must “speak in this place of secrecy and diligence that are so necessary for the success of affairs”; he simply says that “the reason is obvious” [33] and the chapter closes. Secondly, we realize that he multiplies the relationships sealed by secrecy and advises the king, but he also advises the advisers, then finally the king on the attitude he should adopt with regard to the advisers (p. 192-208)! In the regime of visibility to which Testament politique is ordered, it is reason that is primary and that dictates the advice to the prince. Even the Church establishes an order in conformity with reason (p. 109), which “shall be the rule and the conduct of a State” (p. 217).

37Baltasar Gracián is aware that the relationship between the sender and recipient of the political secret is problematic from the start. An open friend that one puts in confidence, purveyor of “good advice”, it is a faithful mirror of oneself and a counterpart that places action in social relations and their moral and political complexity. [34] But to open up to another, to be necessary, is to risk oneself. To confide in someone is to force a lock that is never better guarded than by silence (CLXXIX). On the other hand, being the prince’s confidant is, says Gracián, paying a tax, and insofar as the prince becomes the slave of his confidant, he may well want to free himself of this obligation (CCXXXVII). A secret shared is reciprocal and asymmetrical obligation. As a stakeholder in power, entrusting it as well as receiving it is dangerous. Gracián oscillates with an elegant balance between the point of view of the prince and the point of view of the confidant—a sign that the treaty here is entirely political and not moralistic.

38Naudé, his strict contemporary, is more technical while ultimately being more ambivalent. We know the contempt in which he holds the masses, the crowd, the people, the vulgar, of whom one must, in any case, be wary. However, suspicion is present intermittently. Naudé does not hide the major risk of political secrecy, namely tyranny. Hence his classification of secrets and coup d’États into just and unjust [35]—a sign that absolutism and reason of State are not necessarily violence against good government. The maxims “declared and exposed, the subjects can more easily recognize when the deportations of their princes tend to establish a tyrannical domination, and consequently give order to it” (p. 74). More profoundly, the last chapter of Considérations is devoted entirely to the adviser. Naudé takes the point of view of the prince, but he explicitly admits that he did not deal with the latter. His principal concern, undoubtedly of a personal nature, is apparent: the adviser practices the policy of secrecy. The bond of obedience to the sovereign is not debatable. The adviser, as well as the secretary, are “secret and trusted servants” (p. 174). They are the eyes and the ears of the prince (p. 175). More precisely, according to Naudé, the adviser is defined by the sharing of the secret, from which all the advice given in the chapter flows. Trust appears only at the very end of the development, but it is to be conferred a particular turn. Quoting Livy, Naudé reminds us that trust is a bond that obliges (p. 192).

39It is therefore a game with several players, where it is crucial to identify the actors, active or passive. Louis Marin, all about the theatrical metaphor—a metaphor that can work in both directions since theater (Corneille) is theory in action—recognizes in the game the writer (the tragic author or the historian of the king) and the spectator. The political space is thus a face-to-face between actors and spectators. In this sense, the latter are judges, and all politics is a matter of circulation of power between speaker and audience. But Louis Marin’s theses do not specifically deal with secrecy, which is only assimilated to the stratagems of power. [36] They relate to the substantial exchange between politics and theater, by the means of representation; the minister-counselor is then an actor without a character. [37] But the image of the theater is blurred and cannot render the relationship to four that Louis Marin identifies: the holder-prince, the depositary-confidant, the primary recipients (“them”, excluded from the secret), and finally the court, excluded from the sharing, which witnesses the signs of the shared secret. It is the reign of representation. Jean-Pierre Chrétien-Goni, [38] following him, takes up the absolutely fundamental distinction between depositary and recipient, capable of disentangling the question of the sharing of the secret.

40If ambiguity must be maintained between content and practice for secrecy to have political effectiveness, it is because there is a sender of the secret (the one who creates it and is at the origin of it), a depositary (the one who receives it and protects it), and a recipient from whom it is concealed. The people, both in Machiavelli and in Naudé, hold their place: they are not involved in the sharing of the secret, and yet they “share” it in the sense that they know that politics is organized around these practices, even if they do not know the content. They are part of the communication network. Absolutism (just like totalitarianism for Arendt, except that secrecy is an empty shell) is based on this triangle of secrecy, of which only two vertices know the substance, and the third only knows that there is secrecy. Such is the functioning of executive power. One understands better the ambivalent and vague status of the secretary: he is at the same time in the circle of confidentiality, but he is at a distance, therefore more on the side of the people since he does not access the contents. On the side of the power, in his circle, having the ear of the prince, he can be removed abruptly, by the fact of the prince, or by a coup d’État. Mazarin proved that the minister is not as irremovable as the one he serves. The advisor may well have the key to the cipher; he serves as a lock to a certain form of power, but does not receive absolute power from it. His power is discrete; it cannot be apparent or represented; the minister, the adviser, the secretary, are themselves the locks of the triangular relationship of sender-depositary-recipient.

41This relationship is ancient and contributes to a “continuistic” view of power, deeply rooted in the conception of government. Mantegna represents it in the ducal palace of Mantua, as a relay of Lorenzetti’s fresco of good government in Siena. [39] (See Lorenzetti, Room of the Spouses, della corte wall:,_galeazzo_sanvitale_01.jpg)

42The prince is not presented in majesty, not even in the center of the court; he takes advice and turns, almost with humility, to the adviser-minister-secretary standing and moving behind him. In his hands is a letter. Power is secular and it is exercised within a restricted group, all occupied with political rationality. Compared to simple advice, it is indeed a despotic relationship, in the etymological sense, which is established with the policy of secrecy. One speaks of a confidant, but it is more a question of confiding than of trusting. Sharing a secret is creating chains, links, hiding it from a third party. The despot, before being the despised tyrant of the xvith-xviiith centuries, is the owner of slaves. But secrecy establishes an asymmetrical “social” relationship, made of obligations, of control, but also of a right. The final thing I would like to emphasize is that we are not only faced with a way of considering executive practice and political science, but also with the establishment of a kind of right. The despotic relationship can obviously describe a form of relationship between rulers and ruled. But the question of obligation, even if it is based on an imbalance of the parties, is not only a social-restrictive relationship but also a certain relationship of right. Pierre Nicole expressly states this in Essais de morale, quoted by Chrétien-Goni: the “right of deposit” is sufficient in itself; there is no need for trust, much less for an oath. The mere deposit creates a relationship and thus a reciprocal and asymmetrical right. [40]

43From the point of view of the history of philosophy, secrecy is not a concept of rupture, be it between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, between the Renaissance and the Baroque, absolutist or not, French or Italian. Underlying politics, it works according to a fragmented diffusion and redistributes each time the political spaces, constituting ultimately quite changeable groups that are based on partial communication. The archaic social and legal relationship is marked by a sharing, not of the sensible, not of the spoils, not of resources, but of the secret. Embedded in power relations and invisible in the cabinet, it establishes a space that has no place and works in another dimension than the theatrical dimension of government. In the Machiavellian baroque political space, secrecy is the guarantee of the exercise of power in a minimalist and efficient spirit, but also a science of political fantasy, since knowledge of the content, by the recipients, is not required. Therefore, two paths are possible and have always been possible: that of arbitrariness symbolized by the lettre de cachet, and that of political rationality elevated to a science of government. In both cases, as opposed as they are, the balance is unstable, the “right” is not of equity, the relations are not of trust but of suspicion elevated to an art.


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