The efforts of the princes to increase their powers by 'absolutism' had already given impetus to political developments in the late Middle Ages. Machiavelli's concept of the state and its ruler suggested a close relationship between economic policy and the state, a relationship that had hitherto existed only in the city states. What Machiavelli wanted involved a principle of which the medieval order was ignorant. He considered that men fitted into the existing order more or less unconsciously owing to the strength of their beliefs. As his new ideas of government began to be established, Machiavelli had to take into consideration the new capitalist spirit in the economy and the new rivalries which it unleashed. If a strong economy were to benefit the sovereign and the state, there would have to be a permanent policy of state co-ordination and intervention. Thus there developed a 'voluntaristic' orientation in economic thinking. A rational economic order, useful to the power of state and ruler, would have to be brought about by the use of political authority, so curbing the potentially disturbing influence of individual entrepreneurs.
Such ideas have been seen as the beginning of the theory and policy later known as 'mercantilism'. But much theoretical work remained to be done before a breakthrough was achieved. As nation states became more and more conscious of their identity their governments turned to consider the practical problems of their situation. Just as in the political sphere, there were marked differences in the organization of the state between France, central Europe and territories within the Empire, Poland and Russia. Each had its own particular problems: each