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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > March 2016 > The art of Realpolitik

The art of Realpolitik

When dealing with dictators we shouldn’t forget our long-term interests, argues Jonathan Powell

Realpolitik: A History

by John Bew (Oxford University Press, £14.99)

The term “Realpolitik” is endlessly bandied around in foreign policy debates, usually as an insult or synonym for Machiavellianism, but John Bew’s scholarly new book, Realpolitik: A History, reminds us that we don’t really know what it means.

Realpolitik, as a system of politics based on realism and interests rather than moral or ideological considerations, is not, in fact, as old as history. Bew traces it back to Ludwig August von Rochau’s The Foundations of Realpolitik, the first volume of which was published in 1853 in the aftermath of the European revolutions of 1848. Von Rochau was a liberal and his work was not initially directed at foreign policy but at domestic politics, in an attempt to find a way of combining the emerging nationalism with liberalism rather than authoritarianism. He thought 1848 had failed because the revolutionaries were naive and lacked a clear understanding of power. He proposed Realpolitik as an alternative to the failed Idealpolitik. His aim was, Bew says, “to solve the conundrum of achieving liberal enlightened goals in a world that did not follow liberal enlightened rules.”

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s March issue: Peter Pomerantsev describes the situation in Eastern Europe as the governments of Hungary and Poland turn right. Simon Tilford, from the Centre for European Reform, questions the substance of David Cameron’s EU deal and Philip Collins argues that Jeremy Corbyn is not fit for purpose. Also in this issue: Peter Kellner shows us that we are feeling more optimistic than during the last stages of the last Labour government and Jessica Abrahams explores the sexism of Valentine’s Day. Plus Justice Malala on South Africa and the Prospect Duel asks: "Should all immigrants learn English?"
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