Portrait of Samuel von Pufendorf

Pufendorf on the danger of rulers confusing their own self-interest with that of the State (1695)

Found in: An Introduction to the History of the Principal Kingdoms and States of Europe (1682, 2013)

The German philosopher of natural law Samuel von Pufendorf (1632-1694) was also an historian who thought that Rulers needed to be better informed about history in order to avoid confusing their own selfish interests with the real interests of the State:

Presidents, Kings, Tyrants, & Despots

(O)ne might ask, How it often times happens, that great Errors are committed in this kind against the Interest of the State. To this may be answer’d, That those who have the Supream Administration of Affairs, are oftentimes not sufficiently instructed concerning the Interest both of their own State, as also that of their Neighbours; and yet being fond of their own Sentiments, will not follow the Advice of understanding and faithfull Ministers. Sometimes they are misguided by their Passions, or by Time-serving Ministers and Favourites. But where the Administration of the Government is committed to the Care of Ministers of State, it may happen, that these are not capable of discerning it, or else are led away by a private Interest, which is opposite to that of the State; or else, being divided into Factions, they are more concern’d to ruin their Rivals, than to follow the Dictates of Reason.