Magazine article Foreign Affairs

Realpolitik: A History

Magazine article Foreign Affairs

Realpolitik: A History

Article excerpt

Recent Books: Political and Legal: Realpolitik: A History BY JOHN BEW. Oxford University Press, 2015, 408 pp.

The term "realpolitik" is widely used today as a synonym for "power politics" and understood as the realist approach to foreign policy, a venerable tradition that stretches from Machiavelli and Bismarck to scholar-diplomats of the postwar era such as George Kennan and Henry Kissinger. In this fascinating biography of the concept, Bew reveals its rather surprising intellectual provenance and explains its shifting role in grand debates over statecraft. Bew traces the term to the mid-nineteenthcentury writings of a little-known German thinker, August Ludwig von Rochau. For Rochau, "realpolitik" referred less to a philosophy than to a method for working through the contradictions emerging across Europe as the competing forces of liberalism and nationalism gave shape to modern states. …

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