Realpolitik: A History

1. Realpolitik (Main Book)
How an idea that began as an argument about the possibilities of German unification crossed the Atlantic and became enlisted in the cold war?

Its originator was August Ludwig von Rochau, a radical who was jailed for his politics as a student, worked in exile as a travel writer, then returned home to Germany to become a political journalist and, eventually, a politician. In 1853 he published Grundsätze der Realpolitik (roughly translated as “Foundations of Realpolitik”), whose arguments applied particularly to the ramshackle confederation of German states.اضافة اعلان

Rochau published a second version of Realpolitik in 1869, now calling for a strong German national-liberal state able to defend itself against Bonapartist tyranny and to extricate itself from its Austro-Hungarian neighbor. It took a powerful Prussia under Otto von Bismarck make that happen — and, when it did, the German chancellor quickly became regarded as a political visionary. For admirers and critics alike, his name became synonymous with Realpolitik. And as Bew suggests, the subsequent story of Realpolitik is really one of how a historically contingent German idea became divorced from its origins, morphing into a polemical term signaling hardheaded realism (as opposed to “moralism”) about politics.

By the time of World War I, it was power politics (or Machtpolitik) of the kind associated with nationalists such as the historian Heinrich von Treitschke (1834-96) that had come to dominate Allied thinking. British writers were moved to construct their own traditions of anti-Realpolitik to show just how far Germany had moved away from the norms of European politics — though the term would undergo something of a rehabilitation in the 1920s and 1930s, when lower-case (and hence un-Germanic) realpolitik was invoked in defense of empire against the perceived moralism of the League of Nations.

In the US, the concept was late to catch on, first used when the syndicated columnist Walter Lippmann called for an injection of Realpolitik into the foreign policy shield of the American republic during World War II. But the background ideas had been developing for some time. Indeed, US policy intellectuals were soon more comfortable than their European counterparts with using a modified language of Realpolitik as a response to totalitarianism, precisely because it seemed to align with the rise of US world power.

Since its coinage in mid-19th century Germany, Realpolitik has proven both elusive and protean. To some, it represents the best approach to meaningful change and political stability in a world buffeted by uncertainty and rapid transformation. To others, it encapsulates an attitude of cynicism and cold calculation, a transparent and self-justifying policy exercised by dominant nations over weaker. Remolded across generations and repurposed to its political and ideological moment, Realpolitik remains a touchstone for discussion about statecraft and diplomacy. It is a freighted concept.

Historian John Bew explores the genesis of Realpolitik, tracing its longstanding and enduring relevance in political and foreign policy debates. Bew's book uncovers the context that gave birth to Realpolitik-that of the fervor of radical change in 1848 in Europe. He explains its application in the conduct of foreign policy from the days of Bismarck onward. Lastly, he illuminates its translation from German into English, one that reveals the uniquely Anglo-American version of realpolitik-small "r"-being practiced today, a modern iteration that attempts to reconcile idealism with the pursuit of national interests.

Lively, encyclopedic, and utterly original, Realpolitik: A History illuminates the life and times of a term that has shaped and will continue to shape international relations.

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