17. Realpolitik [SER]

Realpolitik has had an enduring influence on the realm of politics, since its introduction during the Renaissance by Italian philosopher, writer and political theorist Niccoló Machiavelli. Notorious for the callous political practicalities he preached for; Machiavelli has often been considered the father of Realpolitik. Realpolitik seeks to engage in political endeavors, by basing ourselves on practical objectives in lieu of sentiments and moral beliefs. Hence, it favors a pragmatic approach, devoid of a moral compass (which could serve as a diversion to our objective). It emphasizes the need to adapt ourselves to a situation. We need to become political chameleons if what we seek, is to become auspicious and revered.

Machiavelli’s chef d’ouevres, “The Prince” is still read by strategists and political animals throughout the world, wherein the author compounds all principles he believes will allow the actor to maintain power in a dangerous and competitive world. This can be outlined through key passages of his book:

“How we live is so different from how we ought to live that he who studies what ought to be done rather than what is done will learn the way to his downfall rather than to his preservation.”

This quotation outlines how studying the commendable way of action (ought to be done) can be precarious, and does not secure a prosperous path, which the average individual yearns for. On the other hand,  we should devote ourselves to emulating and studying former actions (is done), which proved advantageous. Doing so, would prove propitious. This is also an answer to the long-time question; why do we study history? To weed out successful from unsuccessful actions, the former of which should be mirrored.

“Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity requires.”

This next quotation epitomizes Machiavelli’s Realpolitik, one should not be an ethical or moral paragon, if success is his ambition. Au contraire, by purely focusing on one’s ambition, devoid of any distractions (i.e. ethics, emotions…), our objectives would eventually be reached.

“Men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.”

One of the most enduring excerpts of “The Prince”, 20th century history has been a living manifestation of this witty passage. Most notably, one of the chief long-term causes of the Second World War. At the Paris Peace Conference, the four major Peacemakers (Lloyd, Wilson, Orlando and Clemenceau), had many stifles and ongoing conflicts apropos the future state of Germany. Yet, the peacemakers had to compromise their decisions which led to a middle road, with Germany neither “crushed” nor “treated”.

Therefore, in an increasingly more idealistic, yet simultaneously unrealistic world of politics; Realpolitik could, despite its ostensible “heinous” reputation, serve as a beacon of social equilibrium.

Image Source:

“Machiavelli: The Graphic Novel.” Medievalists. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Sept. 2015. <http://www.medievalists.net/2014/05/09/machiavelli-graphic-novel/&gt;. 

One thought on “17. Realpolitik [SER]

  1. “in an increasingly more idealistic, yet simultaneously unrealistic world of politics; Realpolitik could, despite its ostensible “heinous” reputation, serve as a beacon of social equilibrium.” Do you really think so? Don’t you think this is precisely what all financially powerful corporations and institutions already do? Do you think this has brought and brings social equilibrium? It can be fashionable and cheeky in certain settings and at certain times to endorse the pragmatic approach devoid of moral and ethical considerations for the purpose of advancing ones own aspirations. Have you tried to imagine how things would be in the classroom, in the office, at home, or in any other group setting, if everyone adopted Machiavelli’s recommendations for successfully attaining our personal goals individually what a total mess it would be? We could say that his recommendations are only for the prince, and not for anyone else. But even there, do you think this is really workable on the long term, is it sustainable?


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