Monday, March 10, 2014
The National Interest - February 25, 2014
IN 1934, a young British historian published his first book, . In it, he announced that a nation’s foreign policy “is based upon a series of assumptions, with which statesmen have lived since their earliest years and which they regard as so axiomatic as hardly to be worth stating.” It was the duty of the historian, he wrote, “to clarify these assumptions and to trace their influence upon the course of every-day policy.”
By that apodictic verdict A. J. P. Taylor, who soon became one of the greatest British historians of the past century, meant realpolitik, which he believed was the true motor of international relations, with moralism serving at best as a pious smokescreen for a battle for power, or, as he put it in the title of one of his best books, for the struggle for mastery in Europe. Since then, realpolitik has had its ups and downs, both in Britain and America. In the late 1930s, for example, it became a convenient excuse among much of the British aristocracy for doing nothing in the face of Nazi terror and aggression, but, then again, it also underlay Winston Churchill’s declaration that he would sup with the devil to defeat Hitler, which is what he did in forming a wartime alliance with Stalin. Now that this elastic term is once again coming back into vogue, it is worth taking up Taylor’s challenge again.
For what does this portentous Teutonic word actually mean and what implications, if any, does it hold for the assumptions of contemporary Western statesmen? As realpolitik undergoes a renaissance in the English-speaking world, it is surely worth investigating what the word, coined in 1853, was originally supposed to entail. The answer to that question might surprise but will also enlighten. realpolitik has been used and abused beyond all recognition over the last 160 years. But the original concept is still relevant to the challenges of the twenty-first century, if not quite in the way one might expect. It contains notions within it that both bolster and act as a useful counterweight and corrective to the mantras of modern American realism. realpolitik, you could say, is ripe for excavation and rediscovery.
The reasons for the most recent return of realpolitik are no mystery. The optimism and sense of triumph which crept into Anglo-American political culture following the end of the Cold War and which peaked with the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad’s Firdos Square just over ten years ago have been replaced by the “return of history” and the “end of dreams.”
As periodically happens when the world becomes a more challenging place, a slew of new books on Niccolò Machiavelli have appeared on both sides of the Atlantic, including offerings by Jonathan Powell (Tony Blair’s former chief of staff) and Philip Bobbitt. Last December, in a review of four recent books on the Florentine statesman in the , Michael Ignatieff announced the coming of the latest “Machiavellian moment” (a phrase introduced by the historian J. G. A. Pocock in 1975). By that he meant “an instance when public necessity requires actions that private ethics and religious values might condemn as unjust and immoral.” Other familiar heroes of realpolitik—such as Lord Castlereagh and Count Metternich (the focus of Henry Kissinger’s ) and Otto von Bismarck and George F. Kennan—are also enjoying a return to prestige.
This time around, realpolitik also has some new friends and unlikely advocates. The most liberal president to inhabit the White House in many years has been as realist as any of his predecessors in the conduct of foreign affairs, with a zero-sum security policy in which “interests” are paramount. Last May, the German weekly ran an article declaring that President Obama was the heir to “Kissinger’s realpolitik,” quoting editor Jacob Heilbrunn to the effect that he “may even start speaking about foreign affairs with a German accent.” “Everybody always breaks it down between idealist and realist,” said Obama’s then chief of staff Rahm Emanuel in April 2010. “If you had to put him in a category, he’s probably more realpolitik, like Bush 41 . . . you’ve got to be cold-blooded about the self-interests of your nation.”
In the 1990s, some regarded realpolitik as a thing of the past—a relic of the Cold War and a “needs must” approach to the world which could now be tossed into the dustbin of history. Even at the height of their influence, Western realpolitikers have often faced resistance and criticism from within their own societies. As a foreign import, lifted from the heart of the great Anglo-American bogeyman of the two world wars, the word does not sit comfortably alongside such soothing terms as “enlightenment,” “morality” and “virtue.” In a world where great-power rivalries have returned, however, realpolitik is once more discovering a receptive audience. The chastening of American ambitions in the Middle East also allows realpolitikers to point out, with some justification, that idealism can lead to worse moral outcomes than the cool, circumspect approach to statecraft that they purport to employ.
So the exponents of realpolitik have rediscovered their voice and their swagger. Yet realpolitik is one of those words borrowed from another language that is much used but little understood. Its true meaning remains occluded by the fact that it has so often been caricatured—but also because realpolitikers caricature the naive idealists whom they set themselves up against. “I will leave it to the self-described realists to explain in greater detail the origins and meaning of ‘realism’ and ‘realpolitik’ to our confused journalists and politicos,” said Robert Kagan in 2010, in a discussion of President Obama’s realist credentials. In fact, few satisfactory definitions exist, largely because international-relations theorists have remained uninterested in its historical origins.
In picking up the gauntlet thrown down by Kagan, then—to explore the origins and meanings of realpolitik—one discovers some surprising answers. Both realists and their critics should take heed. Rediscovering realpolitik is, in fact, a more useful exercise than simply dusting off a copy of Machiavelli’s . We can do better than revert to Renaissance-era statecraft every time we get our fingers burned. That is because realpolitik was born in an era that more closely resembles the one in which we find ourselves today. It emerged in mid-nineteenth-century Europe from the collision of the Enlightenment with the realities of power politics: a world that was experiencing a unique combustion of new ideas about freedom and social order alongside rapid industrialization, class war, sectarianism, great-power rivalry and the rise of nationalism. In other words, it was a response to the quintessential dilemmas of modernity, some of which we are still grappling with today.
Above all, the creation of the concept of realpolitik was an early attempt to answer a conundrum that has been at the heart of Anglo-American foreign policy ever since: how to achieve liberal, enlightened goals in a world that does not follow liberal, enlightened rules; and how to ensure political and social progress in an unstable and unpredictable environment.
REALPOLITIK IS NOT, as is often assumed, as old as statecraft itself. Nor is it part of a seamless creed stretching back to Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes and Richelieu, though, as Jonathan Haslam points out in , it has a place within it. It is something distinct from raison d’état, strategic thought or Machiavellianism—though all played a part in its formulation.
Realpolitik is of more recent vintage. The neologism was invented by the German thinker Ludwig August von Rochau in his 1853 treatise ( ). Rochau, who added a second volume in 1869 and wrote a total of eleven books, is a largely forgotten figure today. His work has attracted comment in his homeland, including Natascha Doll’s perspicuous 2005 study, but has never been translated into English and there are no extended discussions of his life and work in the English language (notable exceptions here are brief mentions in Jonathan Haslam’s history of realism and James Sheehan’s work on nineteenth-century German liberalism).
So who was Rochau and what did he mean by the word realpolitik? Rochau, to borrow a loaded phrase, was what might be called a “liberal mugged by reality.” The illegitimate son of an officer of the Braunschweig hussars, he was a publicist, journalist and radical participant in the , the movement for liberal political reform in the German states. The efforts of this liberal movement—like those of its sister movements across Europe—culminated in the rebellions of 1848, which were intended to establish constitutional and representative government. Rochau, who had been forced into exile before the uprising, tried to attain a seat in the liberal Frankfurt Parliament, which was established that year. Although he failed, he became a well-known figure in the National Liberal Party and eventually became a deputy in the German Reichstag in 1871.
In some respects, the 1848 revolutions were nineteenth-century Europe’s equivalent of the Arab Spring. Uprisings that began in the name of freedom and constitutional rights quickly fell victim to other political phenomena. The liberal gains of 1848 were soon lost as the would-be revolutionaries were swatted down by coercive governments who restored their authority or were overtaken by more powerful social forces such as class, religion and nationalism.
The liberal dream of a united Germany under the rule of law was thwarted. In the multifarious states and principalities of Germany, autocrats, monarchists and the landed classes quickly reestablished their control and scattered the revolutionaries into prison or exile. Over the following two decades, Germany was indeed to be united but not by the means that the men of 1848 envisaged. Rather than constitutionalism and representative government, it was the “blood and iron” of the Prussian chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, that forged the creation of the German Empire in 1871.
Nor was this all. In France, the Second Republic was established in early 1848 and the French people were granted universal suffrage. But democracy did not prove to be a vehicle for liberalism, as might have been expected. The people (chiefly the peasants) elected Napoleon’s nephew Louis, who used this mandate to abolish the representative assembly, marginalize the liberals and install himself as emperor in 1852. It was the implosion of the 1848 French revolution that Karl Marx wrestled with four years later in , noting—referring to the resurrection of Bonapartism—that history tends to repeat itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” In Italy, meanwhile, where Rochau also visited, a series of local rebellions were swiftly suppressed.
As Rochau watched the dreams of the liberals dissipate in smoke, he thought it time for some hard thinking. Liberals had to get real. “The castles that they have built in the air have evaporated into blue mist,” he wrote. “A work that had begun with aimless enthusiasm and carried out with an overestimation of one’s capabilities ended in dishonour and injury.”
It was as an antidote to their failure to understand the nature of power and politics that this budding realist invoked the need for a new realpolitik. This was juxtaposed with “idealpolitik,” which had inspired Rochau and his comrades but won them no real gains. “Realpolitik does not move in a foggy future, but in the present’s field of vision,” he wrote. “It does not consider its task to consist in the realisation of ideals, but in the attainment of concrete ends.”
Rochau was far from ready to give up on the ideas he had held so far. In his view, the great achievement of modernity had been to undermine the notion that might is right in politics—or that kings or certain classes had a God-given right to rule they were strong. But that did not mean liberals could simply dismiss the laws of politics. In making such progress, they had mistakenly assumed that the “law of the strong” had simply evaporated overnight. In reality, this law was as unavoidable as the “law of gravity over the material world.” The foundational truth of politics was the link between power ( ) and dominance ( ).
Rather than abandoning his liberalism, he challenged his fellow liberals to think of smarter ways to achieve their goals. They had much to fight for. The regimes that had been restored after 1848 were “anachronisms” because they did not adequately reflect the balance of social forces within German society. The only viable government for Germany, he argued, was one that was constructed around and harnessed the full potential of the (the middle classes). But the intellectual progress made by the Enlightenment had hit the brick wall of reality. To get through that wall, it needed more than ideological purity. When it became “a matter of trying to bring down the walls of Jericho, the Realpolitik thinks that lacking better tools, the most simple pickaxe is more effective than the sound of the most powerful trumpets.”
The strange afterlife of realpolitik showed just how difficult it was for liberals to balance their ideals with a true understanding of means and ends. After Rochau, the concept became entrusted into the hands of the historian and fellow National Liberal politician Heinrich von Treitschke, a virulent anti-Semite—his credo was “the Jews are our misfortune”—who set out to show the German people “how brilliant Realpolitik is.” But Treitschke’s influence—and his ideas of racial struggle and war—represented an increasingly rightward turn in German liberalism. Among the National Liberals, liberal values were increasingly subordinated to the German national cause, which had been seized upon and exploited by Bismarck. Rochau had regarded anti-Semitism as repugnant, absurd and delusional.
Rochau remained a fierce critic and opponent of Bismarck until his death in 1873. Bismarck’s government banned the publication of the weekly journal that Rochau edited in the 1860s. By a strange twist of fate, however, the phrase that Rochau coined became increasingly associated with Bismarck himself. Detached from its original meaning, it was used to describe Bismarck’s brand of practical and ruthless statecraft in the domestic and international arena: his astute management of different social forces within the state and his ability to combine diplomacy with the threat of force. Thus the true meaning of realpolitik began to be drowned out as it was harnessed by conservatives for a very different cause. For those watching the rise of the German nation from outside, therefore, realpolitik soon became a byword for German dastardliness.
FROM ITS German origins, realpolitik seeped into the English language (and the Anglo-American conscience) in two ways, and in two distinct waves. The first was in the slow buildup of Anglo-German antagonism in the late nineteenth century. For Britons, increasingly conscious of threats to their position as the leading global superpower, realpolitik—as practiced by Bismarck and then the kaiser—was an unpleasant and disconcerting discovery. It was taken to imply cynical and uncivilized conduct on the international stage—a lack of respect for the treaties and laws that provided some semblance of order in global affairs and a fetishization of naked self-interest as an end in itself.
The first mention of realpolitik in the English language came in 1872. It was in a translation of an attack on Rochau by the Prussian nationalist Constantin Frantz, who believed that the very notion of realpolitik betrayed the Christian spirit of benevolence that was central to the essence of liberalism. After this, the word was barely mentioned again until the 1890s, when it began to seep into the press with growing frequency, as Wilhelmine Germany became an increasingly aggressive and assertive actor on the international stage. Following Frantz, realpolitik was identified as the source of a sort of gangrene in German philosophy and intellectual life. The traditions of Goethe and Kant, which had been so admired in England, had been marginalized by what seemed to be a neo-Machiavellian obsession with power and the interests of the state.
In 1895, the, for example, bemoaned the fact that there were few “survivors of a period when the old-fashioned idealism of the German character had not been superseded by what is now called ‘realpolitik.’” By 1904, as German naval rearmament gained pace, the noted how the German state “works exclusively upon a science of self-interest, more definitely methodized than in any other Foreign Office, and applied with more tenacious consistency.”
Not everyone accepted the implication that realpolitik was a uniquely German condition. In 1902, the English radical economist J. A. Hobson published , in which he suggested that the growing ambitions of the great powers—reflected in colonialism and huge military and naval rearmament programs—were all symptoms of the same sickness. It was a greedy type of Machiavellianism, entitled “real-politik” in Germany, where it was made, which has remodelled the whole art of diplomacy and has erected national aggrandisement without pity or scruple as the conscious motive force of foreign policy.
What Hobson called “earth hunger”—the scramble for markets and resources and the repudiation of treaty obligations—was reflected in the “sliding scale of diplomatic language” and words like “hinterland, sphere of interest, sphere of influence, paramountcy, suzerainty, protectorate.” Even the Americans, too, were being drawn into the imperial game, engaging in what the Germans now called (world politics).
In India, the philosopher Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a future president of the country, echoed Hobson’s views:
Realpolitik, which has for its principle, “It is good when I steal your cow, and bad when you steal my cow,” has been the governing force of European relations all these four or five centuries. Self-interest is the end; brute-force, the means; conscience is taboo.
The Great War, he added, was “the penalty which Europe pays for its steadfast loyalty to a false ideal.”
OF ALL THE great powers, America came late to realpolitik. It was, after all, in Rochau’s pithy description, one of those nations that “have hardly stepped out of the shoes they wore as children.” Before its entry into the Great War, America was often chided in the English press for its lack of understanding of the true nature of realpolitik, much as Rochau rebuked his liberal colleagues for their naïveté about the nature of politics after 1848.
In 1911, the British writer Sydney Brooks—a regular contributor to —suggested that America was a geographically cosseted nation and that its understanding of international politics was blunted by its relative security (a theme recently revisited by John Mearsheimer in ). Americans “live in an atmosphere of extraordinary simplicity, spaciousness, and self-absorption, until from very boredom they are forced to make international mountains out of molehills, a diversion which by itself is proof enough of their unique immunity from the serious realities of ,” Brooks wrote.
The exponential growth of American power soon caused Europeans to adjust their opinions about the American capacity for realpolitik. As pressure grew on the United States to enter the war in 1916, Walter Weyl, the editor of the fledgling and one of the intellectual fathers of the progressive movement, returned from a trip to Europe with some advice for his countrymen. “They ascribe to us more foresight than we possess, not realizing how often we have happily blundered into success, how often we have pursued Realpolitik in our sleep.” To illustrate the point, he recounted a conversation he had with a German academic about America’s position: “‘We Germans,’ a Berlin professor recently assured me, ‘write fat volumes about Realpolitik but understand it no better than babies in a nursery.’ ‘You Americans,’ he added, I thought enviously, ‘understand it far too well to talk about it.’”
When Woodrow Wilson did eventually take America into war in 1917, some of his supporters began to style his support for democracy and liberal values as a direct assault on realpolitik. The word had begun to seep into the American press in preceding years. Like in England, it was used interchangeably with Machiavellianism, for which the provided a helpful definition in 1918: “Michiavellianism [ ]—pronounced ‘mak-ee-ah-vel-eean-izm.’ A term descriptive of unscrupulous diplomacy. Derived from the name of Machiavelli, a Florentine statesman . . . Michiavellianism has been revived by the Prussian military autocracy, and is called Realpolitik.”
Wilson’s vision of politics—along with his emphasis on liberal values—was presented as a powerful alternative to the shortsighted cynicism that realpolitik seemed to denote. Wilsonianism was no longer seen as naive; it was a potent weapon in the international arena in its own right. “How curious it is that these professors of realpolitik in European chancelleries, who lately saw nothing in the President but an academist, and nothing in his phrases but dreamy vaporings of the millennium, should be changing their tune at this time!” declared the in April 1917. “Of course diplomats and militarists who deal exclusively in ‘facts’ and the realities of force never see much farther than their own noses.”
The irony of this was that Wilsonianism was closer to Rochau’s version of realpolitik than anyone imagined.
AS THE Great War turned in the Allies’ favor, and they began to write the victor’s version of its origins, realpolitik featured heavily in their explanations.
Sir Charles Waldstein, an Anglo-American academic with extensive experience of Germany, reiterated the common view that it had been part of the poisoning of German philosophy and political culture in the years preceding the war: “Real-Politik and Interressen-Politik were constantly in the mouths of its leaders, from the Kaiser down to the political stump-speaker.” Even the British foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, stated in 1918 that “Realpolitik . . . has been the true and dominating doctrine of every important German statesman, German soldier, and German thinker for two generations at least.”
Liberal Germans, Rochau’s true heirs, also joined in the criticism. Father W. Foerster, an exiled German pacifist, educationalist and ethicist, said the country had succumbed to “hallucinations of ‘Realpolitik’” that were brought on by a destructive sense of national superiority:
In spite, therefore, of all our talk of “Realpolitik,” we have remained altogether incapable of assessing the surrounding world objectively, or of emerging from our own drunken egoism; and this especially because, in addition, a fundamentally false political philosophy has taught us to look upon egoism as the only true world policy.
By the end of the Great War, therefore, realpolitik was already taken to mean a variety of sins—which were long removed from anything that Rochau had written in 1853. These included militarism, illiberalism, imperialism, naked self-interest and recklessness in the international arena. Realpolitik was understood not as a science of realism but, rather, as a glaring symptom of what had gone wrong in Germany. Insofar as other nations had participated in it, they had contributed to the unprecedented death and destruction of the Great War.
First Wilsonianism, and later the construction of the League of Nations, were conceived as an antidote to the realpolitik that had seeped into international affairs in the years before 1914. Realpolitik was to remain a dirty word in the Anglo-American world in the interwar years.
THE SECOND WAY Central European realism—and realpolitik more specifically—seeped into Western political consciousness was through the wave of German emigrant intellectuals who arrived in America before and after the Second World War. This brought a raft of uniquely talented historians and theologians such as Reinhold Niebuhr, Hans Morgenthau, Fritz Kraemer, Felix Gilbert and Henry Kissinger. In addition, the Dutch American Nicholas J. Spykman, who taught at Yale, made an important contribution to the establishment of classical realist thought in postwar America.
By the outbreak of the Second World War, realpolitik was sufficiently established in the American political lexicon to no longer need elaborate definition. It had crept into discussions about Hollywood in the 1930s, as some called for an “awakened sense of Realpolitik” in the movie industry as a corrective to the “sugar-coated” endings that contributed to the decline of cinema audiences in the period of the Great Depression. In 1940, the journal included it in a list of loan words from Germany that had become increasingly prevalent in the American press in the preceding years, alongside some other unfortunate imports: Reich, gestapo and putsch.
As those who had been trained in the way of German realism recognized, it was not a word with which one would typically want to associate oneself in this period. Despite the fact that they were entirely cognizant of the Mitteleuropean origins of realpolitik, the German émigrés generally steered clear of using the term.
In his 1951 , for example, Hans Morgenthau largely concealed the German influences in his thought and emphasized an English-language canon of realist thinking, which included the Federalist Papers and Lord Castlereagh’s work as British foreign secretary at the time of the Congress of Vienna.
Morgenthau’s critics recognized the sleight of hand. A review in the declared his book to be the latest addition to the now “considerable American library of sermons based on the theology of realpolitik.” In 1952, he was attacked by the Austrian American theorist Frank Tannenbaum, who stated that “the advocates of Realpolitik would sweep away all of our old beliefs as foolish, sentimental, and moralistic.” Carl J. Friedrich, another émigré and a theorist of totalitarianism, called Morgenthau’s book “an American version of the German Realpolitik.”
Even by the time Morgenthau expanded his views in 1960 in , which he defined as “the achievement of freedom,” yet another émigré, the Marxist intellectual Herbert Marcuse, wrote to him asking what “might have driven the theorist of Realpolitik to transcend Realpolitik.”
Typically, it was President Obama’s favorite philosopher, Reinhold Niebuhr, who in 1944 came closest to finding a happy medium between what he called “the most rarified heights of constitutional idealism” and “the depths of realpolitik.”
For the most part, however, anything resembling traditional German raison d’état was seized upon by the critics of the realist school as the most recent incarnation of realpolitik. Leo Strauss, another German émigré, was perhaps the most vigilant of all, comparing Machiavelli, whom he believed had lowered men’s sights, to the “teacher of evil.” In , Friedrich Hayek wrote that if the West were to convince Germans that there was an alternative to Nazism, it would “not be by concessions to their system of thought.” According to him, “We shall not delude them with a stale reproduction of the ideas of their fathers which we have borrowed from them—be it state socialism, Realpolitik, ‘scientific’ planning, or corporativism.”
The label was hard to shake. “The advocates of a realist foreign policy are caricatured with the German term Realpolitik,” noted Kissinger many years later, “I suppose to facilitate the choosing of sides.”
THE COLD WAR—and perhaps above all, the association with Kissinger—breathed new life into realpolitik and meant that the term outlasted the vituperative debates of the 1940s and 1950s. To this day, the word also enjoys a unique position in contemporary political discourse in that it is one of the few terms in international-relations theory that practitioners and diplomats both recognize and use.
In the Frontline Diplomacy archive at the Library of Congress, which contains transcripts of 1,743 interviews with senior American diplomats from the postwar era to the present day, the word realpolitik appears in fifty-seven of those interviews, often with expansive expositions as to what it means to the interviewee.
In truth, in contemporary usage, realpolitik has become interchangeable with “realism” or “realistic.” Simply speaking, it denotes an unflinching and nonideological approach to statecraft and the primacy of the raison d’état. It involves an intuitive suspicion of grandstanding and moralizing on the international stage. In theory, it most closely resembles Morgenthau’s contention that a nation could not “escape . . . into a realm where action is guided by moral principles rather than by considerations of power.” More recent versions of this creed include the neorealist theories advanced by the prominent political scientist Kenneth Waltz, who died recently. Weighty disputes between the champions of liberal institutionalism, rational-choice theory and realism continue to dominate the international-relations field. But it is realism that holds the oldest pedigree and attracts the most ire.
The Frontline Diplomacy archive demonstrates that usage of realpolitik peaked in the 1970s in the Nixon-Carter era. About half of diplomats viewed it positively, and about half used it unfavorably, as something with which they preferred not to be associated. By the 1990s and with the fall of the Soviet Union, perspectives were changing. In 1991, at the end of the Gulf War, a provocative editorial in the suggested that the power of twenty-four-hour news television presented a serious challenge to traditional notions of realpolitik. “We recognize that there are significant dangers in trying to create a foreign policy that must incorporate the imperatives of national interest, a common national morality and the information stream of global communications,” it noted, but “Realpolitik is not so readily separated from national values, from a country’s common idea of itself.”
But in its journey from 1853 to the modern day, it has been purged of much of its original meaning. It has become a label or a badge of identification. In that sense, the hand-wringing about realpolitik is, as much as anything, part of an internal monologue in Western liberalism rather than a fully developed view of world affairs. For both its critics and its advocates, it is used to denote a philosophical disposition—an instinct or an inclination—rather than a hardheaded way of analyzing political circumstances on a case-by-case basis.
President Obama’s imaginative use of Reinhold Niebuhr’s work—the subtle strains of which crept into his Nobel Peace Prize speech in 2009—to explain his liberal realism does not, in that sense, represent the true spirit of realpolitik. It is, like much before it, an attempt to square the circle—to articulate an intellectually coherent worldview. Like much of the scholarly practice of international relations, this is theology rather than realpolitik.
WHAT THEN, would Rochau have made of all this? Going back to his original definition, it appears that much of what masquerades as modern realpolitik has strayed quite far from the original essence of the term.
The first thing to note is that he was an enemy of lazy thinking. He would have been unimpressed with those versions of realism that resemble a knee-jerk reaction that responds to idealism with a roll of the eyes and retreats to its own set of tropes and doctrines.
Realpolitik does “not entail the renunciation of individual judgement and it requires least of all an uncritical kind of submission,” he wrote. It was more “appropriate to think of it as a mere measuring and weighing and calculating of facts that need to be processed politically.” Above all, it was not a strategy itself, but a way of thinking: an “enemy of . . . self-delusion” and “the misguided pride which characterises the human mind.”
What Rochau was attempting to articulate was not a philosophical position but a new way of understanding politics and the distribution of power. “Experience has shown that treating it along abstract-scientific lines, or on the basis of principles is hardly useful,” he wrote. One had to contend “with the historical product, accepting it as it is, with an eye for its strengths and weaknesses, and to remain otherwise unconcerned with its origins and the reasons for its particular characteristics.”
Here, once again, his work is distinct from the Renaissance statecraft of Machiavelli because of its attempt to incorporate the conditions of modernity into his analysis. Sovereignty was not the natural property of God, the king, the people or the aristocracy. It was simply a reflection of the balance of different societal forces. The best forms of government were those that mediated between them most effectively; for this observation Rochau was indebted to the Scottish Enlightenment, Edmund Burke and the French social theorist Charles Fourier. In the race among nations, the most successful state would be the one that harnessed the energies and industry of its most productive classes to the cause of the nation. By this he chiefly meant the middle classes, by virtue of their “education, wealth, entrepreneurial spirit, and appetite for work.” In the Renaissance era it had been easier to suppress new societal forces that challenged the authority of the state, but the “increased mobility of the more recent centuries” had made this impossible.
At the same time, however, modernity also presented social and political forces—such as sectarianism or ignorance—which also had to be taken into account. A true realpolitiker could not ignore “those latent forces of habit, tradition and sluggishness” such as “poverty, lack of knowledge, and prejudice” and even “immorality.” Here again, modernity intervened. The “great masses,” too, which “formerly appeared only in exceptional situations in the political arena,” were now an established fact of political life.
Above all, however, in a lesson that modern realists often miss, Rochau refused to dismiss the power of ideas and ideology. “Things like bourgeois class consciousness, the idea of freedom, nationalism, the idea of human equality are completely new factors of social life for many of today’s states,” he wrote, and good policy should not “deny these forces the appropriate recognition.” Such manifestations of “public opinion,” as Rochau called it, “can be potentially very influential and a force that even oriental despotism has to bow to.”
Indeed, it was as a theorist of public opinion that Rochau was perhaps at his most original. He painstakingly laid out different gradations of it, in ascending order of importance. In the first instance, he believed that the “feeble self-conscious opinion of the day is not entitled to claim political consideration,” as it was merely fleeting and unfocused. From this starting point, however, the more “consolidated it becomes, and the more it transforms itself into a firm conviction, the more important it becomes for the state.” The most important expression of public opinion was “” (popular belief), which should always be treated with “care and protection, not blandishment.”
While the popular belief was the highest “peak” of popular opinion, the zeitgeist was its broadest foundation and a central component of realpolitik. The zeitgeist amounted to the “consolidated opinion of the century as expressed in certain principles, opinions and habits of reason.” An opinion transformed itself into the zeitgeist to the extent that it stood the test of time. And the zeitgeist represented “in all circumstances the most important influence on the overall direction of politics.” For a state to “enforce its own aims in defiance of the zeitgeist” was to court serious trouble.
Realpolitik, therefore, was much more than raison d’état. In fact, Rochau made this distinction clear: “Statecraft, as its name suggests, is nothing more than the art of success, applied to the specific ends of the state.”
Realpolitik was about the art of politics in the post-Enlightenment world. He wrote in an age of mass ideological awakening, economic transformation, social upheaval and international rivalry. The job of statesmen was not to remain studiously aloof from these forces but rather to manage and mediate them. For Rochau, too, patriotism and nationalism were not delusions and distractions from raison d’état but one of its most effective tools. A shared sense of national purpose was a “natural conciliatory force” between conflicting parties within a state. This was why “human judgement has been very firm regarding the view that it is the utmost sacrilege to question the national spirit (), the last and most valuable guarantee of the natural order of society.” Any policies designed to break this spirit, or ignore it, “thereby descend to the lowest ranks of despicability.”
Most importantly, Rochau was a critic of utopianism, not idealism. As befitted a man of the Enlightenment, he understood that ideology played the “role of a harbinger and trailblazer of events.” “Realpolitik would contradict itself if it were to deny the rights of the intellect, of ideas, of religion or any other of the moral forces to which the human soul renders homage,” he wrote. The political importance of ideas was not dependent on how rational or noble they were. On the one hand, it was common that “the most beautiful ideal that enthuses noble souls is a political nullity.” When it came to “phantasms” like “eternal peace,” international fraternity and equality, with “no will and no force” behind them, “Realpolitik passes by shrugging its shoulders.” On the other hand, he noted—casting his eyes to the socialist movement emerging in Germany at the time—“the craziest chimera may become a very serious realpolitical matter.”
“Formless ideas, impulses, emotional surges, melodic slogans, naively accepted catchwords . . . [and] habitual self-delusions”—these were the targets that Rochau had in mind when he published in 1853. By the time he wrote the second volume of his book fifteen years later, however, he had already recognized that the word he had coined had taken on a life of its own: liberals condemned it out of hand; conservatives adopted it without actually understanding what it meant. Looking at the way realpolitik has been used since that time, one can see that old habits die hard. For some the word has become a synonym for evil; for others it has been an accoutrement of sophistication. “I reject at this occasion the criticism which has been levelled at the title of my book from different directions,” Rochau wrote, with a hint of exhaustion, “if not so much against the content itself.”
Castlereagh: A LifeWall Street Journal Sunday Telegraph SpectatorTotal Politics
Posted by MBI Munshi at 3/10/2014 09:20:00 am
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
This is what it will look like.
MARCH 4, 2014
West and Russia have sailed into uncharted waters. Crimea has de facto declared independence from Kiev. Russia has intervened to effectively secure the new entity without, so far, a shot being fired. The Ukrainian police, security, and military forces on the peninsula have been neutralized, many of them pledging allegiance to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. In Kiev, the new government talks about Russia's aggression and orders mobilization -- even as it loses control over some of the key cities in the country's east and south. Meanwhile, the West has responded with suspension of preparations for the G-8 summit in Sochi. The U.S. president has talked about Russia paying a high price for its actions, and the U.S. secretary of state has laid out a menu of possible sanctions and other measures.
The successful, Western-supported revolution in Kiev in February fatally undermined the delicate balance in the key state between Russia and the West, leading to domestic turmoil in Ukraine. But perhaps more importantly, it also marks the end of Russia's post-Soviet passivity. Make no mistake: Putin's actions in Crimea and the powers he received over the weekend from the Russian parliament -- allowing him to using military force in Ukraine writ large -- return Moscow as an active player in Europe for the first time since 1989.
With more problems in store for Gazprom in the European market, the Russian gas company may have to agree to sell gas to China. Significantly lower prices offered to Beijing would be compensated by the emergence of an alternative market. With Russia likely to be excluded from the G-8, Moscow will have to make more use of the world's remaining global platforms, such as bilateral summits with China or forums with fellow BRICS countries or with Shanghai Cooperation Organization countries. In all these forums, however, Beijing, rather than Moscow, will be the senior power. As a result, Moscow will lose its unique position of being present in all major multilateral organizations, both Western and non-Western.
Posted by MBI Munshi at 3/05/2014 09:38:00 am
Putin's Plan For Overturning the European Order
By Ivan Krastev
Foreign Affairs – March 3, 2014
Russia’s willingness to violate Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty is the gravest challenge to the European order in over half a century. The conflict pits a vast nuclear power against a state equal in size to France, an autocratic regime against a revolutionary government. The Russian intervention in Ukraine raises questions about the security guarantees that the West made to Ukraine after the country gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994, and it flies in the face of many Europeans’ belief that, in recent years, a continental war has become all but impossible. The end result may be the emergence of a third Russian empire or a failed Ukrainian state at the center of Europe.
Russia’s aggression in Ukraine should not be understood as an opportunistic power grab. Rather, it is an attempt to politically, culturally, and militarily resist the West. Russia resorted to military force because it wanted to signal a game change, not because it had no other options. Indeed, it had plenty of other ways to put pressure on Kiev, including through the Russian Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol, the Ukrainian city in which the force is based; playing with gas prices; demanding that Ukraine start paying off its government debt to Russia; and drumming up anti-Ukrainian sentiment among Ukraine’s sizeable Russian population. Further, senior American figures had already noted that the Ukrainian crisis could not be solved without Russia, and European leaders had expressed their unhappiness about a new (and unfortunate) law that Ukraine’s transitional government passed soon after it was formed, which degraded the status of the Russian language. In other words, resorting to force was unnecessary.
It was also dangerous: Ukraine is a big country, and its public, still in a revolutionary mood, is primed to fight for a patriotic cause. Moscow’s intervention will provoke strong anti-Russian sentiments in Ukraine and will perhaps bring what’s left of the country closer to the EU and NATO. Military intervention in Ukraine also risks unleashing a real humanitarian crisis within Russia. According to Russian sources, nearly 700,000 Ukrainians have fled to Russia over the last two months. Around 143,000 of them have asked for asylum. A war in Ukraine could triple these numbers. Finally, it is easy to foresee that Moscow’s use of force will increase Russia’s political isolation. It has already resulted in some economic and political sanctions, which could be a knockout punch to Russia’s stagnating economy. By some estimates, the direct costs to Russia of a war in Ukraine could reach over three percent of Russian GDP (over $60 billion).
Yet Putin decided to throw caution to the wind. Anger is one of his reasons for doing so. Putin was defeated twice in Ukraine: first during the 2004 Orange revolution, which brought to power a pro-Western coalition led by Yulia Tymoshenko, and second during the recent protests, which booted President ViKtor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian politician, out of office. Moscow had bet on Yanukovych and had tried to hold him hostage to its own interests. For example, it pressed him to refuse to sign an Association Agreement with the EU (his failure to sign was what first sparked the protests in Ukraine) and loaned Ukraine nearly $15 billion, thus making the country dependent on Russia. But it was really Putin who became hostage to the increasingly unpopular Yanukovych and his hapless cronies. When Yanukovych lost power, Putin suddenly and unexpectedly lost his strategic partner. Putin’s escalation, at least in part, is an attempt to cover up the failures of his Ukraine policy.
For now, Moscow wants to topple the new regime in Kiev, which it views as being made up of radicals who won’t survive more than several weeks in power. By pressuring the regime with an invasion and by heightening the fears of the Russian speakers in Ukraine’s south and the east, Putin will likely get what he wants. His strategic goal is not to cut off Crimea, as recent events might suggest, but to bring about a constitutional crisis that will remake Ukraine into a confederate state with a very weak center, the eastern part of which will be more integrated with Russia and the western part closer to Poland and the EU. Realizing that he has lost Kiev, in short, Putin seems to want to move Ukraine’s center of power elsewhere.
The worst part of all this is that Putin knows that he can likely get away with it. “What can we do?” asked Fiona Hill, a Brookings Institution scholar who was a top U.S. intelligence officer on Russia during the Georgia war, in a recent interview withThe New York Times. “We’ll talk about sanctions. We’ll talk about red lines. We’ll basically drive ourselves into a frenzy. And he’ll stand back and just watch it. He just knows that none of the rest of us want a war.”
But maybe the rest of us should. The Putin of 2014 is not the Putin of 2004, or even the Putin of 2008. He is no longer simply the ruthless operator who is interested in power and money, the one who dreams of getting Russia back on the global stage. He is interested in ideas. He presents his advisers with the writings of Ivan Ilyn, the Russian philosopher and ideologue of the Russian All-Military Union. He personally directs the writing of history textbooks. In the last few years, and particularly after the explosion of protests in Moscow in the winter of 2011–12, Putin has come to view himself as a last bastion of order and traditional values. He is convinced that liberalism is contagious and that Western mores and institutions present a real danger to Russian society and the Russian state. He surely dreams of the pre-1914 days, when Russia was autocratic but accepted, revolutions were not tolerated, and Russia could be part of Europe while preserving its distinctive culture and traditions.
From that perspective, the Ukrainian revolution is a symbol of everything that is wrong with today’s Europe. It flirts with people power and moral relativism, it stirs passions, and it shows utter disregard for Russia’s geopolitical ambitions. And with his adventure across the border, Putin has signaled that he won’t stand for it. He is apparently ready to abandon all thoughts of Russia being a European nation in good standing -- far better for it to be a civilization of its own -- and has proved willing to sacrifice his country’s economic interests to achieve his goals.
In other words, Putin’s march on Crimea is very different from Russia’s war in Georgia in 2008. During that debacle, Moscow used force to draw a red line that it insisted Western capitals not cross. In Crimea, Moscow has demonstrated its readiness to cross the red lines drawn by the West -- to question legal norms and the structure of the post–Cold War European order. His move is a challenge: Is the United States still ready to guarantee the security of European democracies, or does it prefer offshore balancing and pivoting to Asia? Is Germany powerful enough to deal with a Russia that is uninterested in being European?
Whatever the answers, it will be hard to counter Putin. He has refused to play by Western rules. He seems not to fear political isolation; he invites it. He seems not worry about the closing of borders; he hopes for it. His foreign policy amounts to a deep rejection of modern Western values and an attempt to draw a clear line between Russia’s world and Europe’s. For Putin, Crimea is likely just the beginning.
Posted by MBI Munshi at 3/05/2014 09:26:00 am