Since its coinage in mid-19th century Germany, Realpolitik has proven both elusive and protean. To some, it represents the best approach to meaningful change...

Since its coinage in mid-19th century Germany, Realpolitik has proven both elusive and protean. To some, it represents the best approach to meaningful change and political stability in a world buffeted by uncertainty and rapid transformation. To others, it encapsulates an attitude of cynicism and cold calculation, a transparent and self-justifying policy exercised by dominant nations over weaker. Remolded across generations and repurposed to its political and ideological moment, Realpolitik remains a touchstone for discussion about statecraft and diplomacy. It is a freighted concept.

The historian John Bew (King’s College London) explores the genesis of Realpolitik in his new book Realpolitik: A History (Oxford University Press, 2015). Besides tracing its longstanding and enduring relevance in political and foreign policy debates, Bew uncovers the context that gave birth to Realpolitik–that of the fervor of radical change in 1848 in Europe. He also explains its application in the conduct of foreign policy from the days of Bismarck onward. Bew is especially adept at illuminating its translation from German into English, one that reveals the uniquely Anglo-American version of realpolitik-small “r” being practiced today–a modern iteration that attempts to reconcile idealism with the pursuit of national interests.

Lively, encyclopedic, and utterly original, Realpolitik illuminates the life and times of a term that has shaped and will continue to shape international relations.

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