Image credit - including another interesting article on Realpolitik.
The story behind the name-dropping:
The concept emerged when liberal nationalism in Germany failed during the revolutions of 1848. The domestic political challenge, writes Bew, was how to build a stable and liberal nation state in a fragile, rapidly changing environment without either violent revolution or harsh repression. Germany’s internal fragmentation, along with its vulnerability to external pressure from its lack of geographically defensive natural frontiers, set the context. Realpolitik proposed that statecraft must first identify the contending social, economic, and intellectual forces to achieve some kind of equilibrium so they would not hinder the nation state’s development. Only then could the project of liberating Germany to form a united realm succeed.
Ludwig von Rochau (1810-1873) coined the term “realpolitik” in 1853. His two-volume Foundations of Realpolitik offered a liberal response to the challenge of power politics that had swept aside constitutionalism in Germany just a few years before. Accepting power as the fundamental determinant of politics, Rochau separated natural or legal right from sovereignty, which he treated as the consequence of power. Political arrangements had to reflect the social forces within a state as harmonious balance among them minimized internal conflict while drawing more effectively upon their intrinsic strength. Ideas mattered, but less for their intrinsic virtue (or viciousness) than for the wider support they attracted.
Cynics might rate an idea’s usefulness above its truth. Rochau focused instead on the power an idea exercised. Whether right or wrong in themselves, ideas had influence that any political assessment must consider if it was to match reality. Modernity, Rochau believed, made public opinion the key factor in national politics. Statesmen had to engage rather than attempt to suppress it.
Realpolitik aimed to strip away illusions, whether grounded in sentiment, ideals, or ambition. Understanding reality made serving higher ideals possible. Critics later charged Rochau with succumbing to obstacles that blocked change, but he sought to work around barriers rather than push through them. German unity, from a realpolitik standpoint, opened the possibility of a liberal agenda of self-government, expanded political participation, and freedom of expression. Nationalism offered a unifying ideal to overcome differences stemming from religious sectarianism, region, or social class. Since neither Germany’s old order nor the conservative internationalism epitomized by Klemens von Metternich could share power with rising groups or adapt to change, Rochau believed both were doomed to fail.
Make sure the entire article.
It strikes me that Realpolitik in the sense defined by Rochau seems an indispensable aspect of modern liberty. The latter replaces the tutelage by kin, lord, or priest with vastly expanded personal latitude and responsibility. People represent themselves more than a community of rigid, anti-individualistic cohesion. Compare what I have written about modular man in Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion (Ernest Gellner) - (4/4). In seeking accommodation with his fellows, the individual is led by different motives and strategies than the tribesman subservient to a culture that treats him as a faithful reflection, an enactor of its rites and rules. Liberty gives rights to people with varying notions of justice and other fundamental convictions. If the they are to coexist peacefully, new forms of compromise and toleration need to be instituted. Realpolitik has a role to play in that.