Realpolitik (see also Political realism; from German: real “realistic”, “practical” or “actual”; and Politik “politics”) refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on power and on practical and material factors and considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic or ethical premises. In this respect, it shares aspects of its philosophical approach with those of realism and pragmatism. The term realpolitik is sometimes used pejoratively to imply politics that are coercive, amoral, or Machiavellian. Realpolitik is a theory of politics that focuses on considerations of power, not ideals, morals, or principles. The term was coined by Ludwig von Rochau, a German writer and politician in the 19th century, following Klemens von Metternich's lead in finding ways to balance the power of European empires. Balancing power to keep the European pentarchy was the means for keeping the peace, and careful Realpolitik practitioners tried to avoid arms races.
Rodrigo Borja defines it as the principle on which nations act, in their foreign policies, driven by their own interests and not by altruism, friendship, idealism or solidarity considerations.
Realpolitik in Europe and Britain
As used in the U.S., the term is often similar to power politics, while in Germany, Realpolitik is used to describe modest (realistic) politics in opposition to overzealous (unrealistic) politics, though it is associated with the nationalism of the 19th century. Realpolitik policies were created after the revolutions of 1848 as a tool to strengthen states and tighten social order. The most famous German advocate of “Realpolitik” was Otto von Bismarck, the First Chancellor (1862–1890) to Wilhelm I of the Kingdom of Prussia. Bismarck used Realpolitik to achieve Prussian dominance in Germany, as he manipulated political issues such as Schleswig-Holstein and the Hohenzollern candidature to antagonize other countries, possibly with the intention of war. Characteristic of Bismarck's political action was an almost Machiavellian policy, demonstrating a pragmatic view of the real political world. One example of this is his willingness to adopt some of the "liberal" social policies of employee insurance, for example; realistically, by doing so, he could manipulate small changes from the top down, rather than face the possibility of major change, from the bottom up. Another example, Prussia's seemingly illogical move of not demanding territory from a defeated Austria, a move that later led to the unification of Germany, is one of the often-cited examples of Realpolitik. Similarly, in the German Green Party, people willing to compromise are referred to as Realos (realists), and opponents as Fundis (fundamentalists or ideologues).
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