Realpolitik orients itself closely to the conditions and possibilities recognized as real . It is aimed at the quick making of decisions and aims at broad acceptance in public opinion . It must be distinguished from more value-oriented approaches that also relate to the history of political ideas . An important characteristic of Realpolitik is therefore the basic assumption that values and the means based on them are ultimately always negotiable and dispositive if a certain goal is to be achieved. Since the 20th century, realpolitical action has corresponded with the concept of responsibility ethics , as it was coined by Max Weber in his lecture Politics as a Profession .
As bedeutendster advocates of realpolitik, which is not based on religious or ethical considerations apply Niccolò Machiavelli , though already in the ancient Greek historian Thucydides in his historical work the Peloponnesian War looked at this very aspect.
In Germany, the concept of Realpolitik was introduced into the political discussion by August Ludwig von Rochau after the failed revolution of 1848 . In 1853 he published his pamphlet “Principles of Realpolitik”, a new edition and a second volume followed in 1859 and 1868. For several decades, “Realpolitik” became the catchphrase for the reorientation of liberal politics in the spirit of national liberalism .
The term “Realpolitik” also received its historical content for the first time in the 1850s. When conservative Austria did not, as expected, sided with its old ally Russia at the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1853 , but instead remained neutral and later even joined the alliance between the two “progressive” powers France and England , this meant the end of the saints Alliance of 1814, which the three conservative great powers Russia, Austria and Prussia concluded on the basis of common Christian counter-revolutionary ideas and with the claim of lasting mutual loyalty. The Peace of Paris of 1856 thus marked the end of the Crimean War, the beginning of a new, purely nation-state specific interests, just "realistic" phase of European power politics.
Even Otto von Bismarck put the phrase in German war of 1866 into practical policy. At that time Prussia entered into a military alliance with revolutionary Italy and defeated Austria, actually Prussia's conservative "brotherly power", and the German states allied with it. Following the victory of Prussia, Bismarck annexed three sovereign monarchical states with the Kingdom of Hanover , the Electorate of Hesse and the Duchy of Nassau and deposed their regents: a blatant violation of the principle of monarchical legitimism , which actually belonged to the basic stock of political conservatism and that up to then had also represented Bismarck. An anticipation of this “realpolitical” action, i.e. action oriented towards national expediency, can be seen in his approach in the German-Danish War of 1864, when Bismarck removed the territorial sovereignty of the King of Denmark over the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, but also the claims of the duke von Augustenburg , who according to dynastic viewpoints would have been entitled to the Schleswig-Holstein succession since the change of the Danish throne in 1863 and had hoped for the support of his legitimate claim from Prussia and its allied Austria.
Against Austria, Bismarck again enforced the renunciation of territory and compensation for King Wilhelm I , creating the option of waging war against France in 1870/1871 while keeping Austria neutral. To King Wilhelm I he said: "We do not have to exercise a judicial office, but to pursue German politics."
In the US context, the foreign policy of the Nixon government is seen as an example of realpolitik. The policy, which was formulated primarily by Nixon's security advisor Henry Kissinger , had the aim of using primarily diplomatic means to expand the USA's room for maneuver, especially with regard to the communist world, and to stabilize international relations. Kissinger's concept of relaxation ( détente ) was largely influenced by the example of classical European diplomacy at the time of the Congress of Vienna .
In the literature, among other things, reference is made to the problematic link between realpolitik and democratic codecision from a democratic theoretical perspective . Realpolitik aims at public approval. The protection of minorities , the balance between realpolitical decisions or a long-term policy are not necessarily derived from the rapidly changing public approval.
- August Ludwig von Rochau : Principles of Realpolitik. Edited and introduced by Hans-Ulrich Wehler. - Frankfurt, Berlin, Vienna: Ullstein 1972. ISBN 3-548-02915-9
- Max Weber : Politics as a profession (lecture transcript with afterword by Ralf Dahrendorf ). - Stuttgart: Reclam 1992. ISBN 3-15-008833-X
- John Bew: Realpolitik: A History . Oxford University Press, 2016
- Randall Bennett Woods: Quest for Identity: America since 1945. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2005, ISBN 978-0-521-84065-1 , pp. 281ff.
- Hans Wehberg, Realpolitik and Peace Movement , The Peace Watch, Vol. 14, No. 7 (July 1912), pp. 246-249.