The word realpolitik
stems from Germanic origin meaning actual or practical politics. The
term is defined as taking more of realistic approach and when
assessing power and interest that shape foreign policy rather than
considering ethical and moral premises concerning politics. It is
sometimes used to imply or characterize using power in both a
coercive or non coercive manner. Realpolitik is often mistaken for
the philosophy political realism, which attempts to analyze,
illustrate, and recommend political relations. This concept first
emerged from a German writer named August Ludwig Von Rochau
in the nineteenth century; for him
the philosophy defined the struggle of liberalism during a time where
the ideals of nationalism were on the rise. Liberalism is founded on
ideas of equality and freedom whereas nationalism concerns it self
with the loyalty and devotion to the nation or state. He lived an
extensive life of hardships and challenges including: escaping a life
prison sentence after participation of the event known as the
“Frankfurter Wachensturm”, where there was a failed attempt to
seize the guard house on April 3rd 1833. Thereafter he
escaped to France where he lived in exile for the next ten years and
began writing essays for liberal German newspapers for the next ten
years. Rochau’s most celebrated essay was written in 1953 called the
Principles of Realpolitik.
It consisted of two volumes; the second volume was released in 1869.
A great example of the use of realpolitiks would have to start with
Otto Van Bismark, who was mainly responsible for creating the German
empire in 1871 by strategically using power and alliances to his
benefit. The first step to doing so was starting a war with Austria;
the war lasted for seven weeks known as the “The Seven Weeks War”.
Shortly after making an alliance with Napoleon, ‘The Three Emperors
League’ was negotiated tying Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia to
each other as allies. Therefore he purposefully avoided wars by
making alliances and strengthening his empire. Another example is
Camillo Di Cavour who is known for being the prime minister of the
kingdom of Piedmont and Sardinia and was largely responsible for
creating the nation of Italy; he used a similar strategy with using
alliances to his advantage. He accepted an alliance with Britain and
France to help support Piedmont’s expansion.
today’s politics realpolitik as another word to describe ‘power
politics’ and perceived as the realist approach to foreign policy.