The sun is setting on Realpolitik as we know it, the malignant political strategy leading the US to ruin, and rising in a new era of global mutualism led by Chinese and Russian leadership. Within our lifetime, dialectical forces will write a new chapter in history over the scribbles of unipolarism and the forces which have seemingly shown now to be directing the policies of the Trump administration, such as in rejecting the Iran Deal (JCPoA), have midwifed this era.
- By Haneul Na’avi with Joaquin Flores
Realpolitik understood generally, though not etymologically, has gone through numerous iterations originally necessitated to unite quarreling territories during China’s Warring States period and Italy’s 15th-century rule by France, Spain, Florence, and Tuscany, among others.
Although Machiavelli and Sun Tsu are commonly referred to as forerunners, Ludwig von Rochau‘s treatise Grundsätze der Realpolitik etched this philosophy into modern politics adapted to the age of bourgeois-enlightenment morality. But ultimately only von Rochau’s sober realism would go on to influence even bitter opponents like German chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who would later employ these theories by developing Germany’s most balanced diplomatic policy in living memory. While von Rochau would live in exile in Italy in opposition to Bismarck, the latter would utilize von Rochau’s ideas in order to justify German policy outside the realm of lofty ideals of either national or bourgeois sentimentality. It became a form of materialism employed by the bourgeoisie, not too differently to how some variations of ‘Marxian’ analysis today is used by the same in order to ensure its own class security. From this, it developed a reputation and experienced a reorientation away from that of von Rochau’s very nuanced understanding.
Across the Atlantic, the US adopted forms of realpolitik which were chiefly pronounced and as a term, has been used to characterize the strategic initiatives of both Kissinger and Brzezinski, despite the differences between the two men. It is no surprise then that Nixon, Carter, Clinton Bush, Obama, and now Trump have had their policies shaped by these varying realpolitik policies, even if apparently based in conflicting proposals with regard to the intricate group of balanced actors, who may be the targets for either conflict or cooperation.
Dialectically, the Realpolitik of von Rochau is the product of a line of enlightenment thought which confronted the limitations of the bourgeois trans-class and trans-national conception of justice, when applied to reality. The bourgeois-liberal conception of justice had been experiencing a split between liberal-idealists and liberal-realists. The liberal-realists, like von Rochau, who in a way parallel to the rise of the materialists in the political and sociological sciences, proposed that just because the enlightenment had established a rights based conception of justice, the position of actual power – might – was the ultimate determinant of relations between states.
Liberal enlightenment goals within a country could only, in this view, be practiced and defended by a power-analysis and realist approach to international relations. In many ways this contradiction would exist also in the view of the German Imperial apologist and renegade from Marxism, Kautsky, when he articulated that both the institutional development of labor/socialist movements as well as the development of the productive forces ought to be militarily defended in the German case by voting for war credits in 1914.
The rise of Socialism concretely underscores the limitations of the bourgeois conundrum of realpolitik’s materialism, in showing that a materialist class and geopolitical analysis invariably leads to the realization that the class interests of the predominating financial wing of the capitalist class will lead towards a clash between centers of capital, even if following a von Rochau inspired conception of international deconfliction through multi-lateral policies in turn based on power-analysis.
Realpolitik after von Rochau seems to present only half the equation, and rather than being used as Rochau had, to envisage a policy bouquet aimed at avoiding conflict, it seems to have been turned on its head – to justify such concepts as pre-emptive strikes, a military mandate for the annexation of lands, and the construction of empire in the vein of Pax Americana.
This vulgarized realpolitik imposes that one nation’s structure upon all and commandeers the means of production to extend the state in order to maintain dominance for the sake of not losing the dominant position. The 60’s, under Zbigniew Brzezinski, George F. Kennan, and later Henry Kissinger, initiated a renaissance of Realpolitik to to apparently move past a U.S policy formation based on ideological attacks on communism, and towards understanding that the communist bloc too was operating on a rational-materialist foundation in terms of its decision making process.
The two faces of Realpolitik are thusly understood – one of von Rochau whose insights were ultimately used towards the building of a world-system contrary to his own vision, and secondly that policy framing used in the pursuit of a unipolar U.S led world contrary to the multipolar conception of von Rochau’s proposed multi-vectored foreign policy.
Thus, von Rochau has to be radicalised – literally – brought back to its roots. But its own limitation, trapped within bourgeois neo-idealism which framed itself as a viable realism, can only be realized in the context of an actually multi-polar world which is in turn based upon more advanced productive forces ,which in reality even-the-playing-field between the multiple nodes of capital.
So we can see that von Rocuau must be radicalized in the more conventional sense as well – understood as only viable within the framework of the emergent and radically different world order based upon the continual weakening of the Atlanticist centers of capital.
All US administrations, from Nixon to Trump, have struggled to shield Pax Americana from the natural entropy of empire. In our epoch, class relations continue to shift as productive forces globalise, rendering the nation-state secondary in purpose. This is the founding principle of the Belt and Road (OBOR) initiative: that global production is socialised, interconnected, “win-win”, and for the betterment, not subjugation, of humanity. Chinese president Xi Jinping stressed this at the 19th CPC Congress last year, codifying these aspirations in his Thoughts on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era treatise.
The OBOR observes the socialist maxim that shared human goals supersede selfish national interests, and the Brzezinski-era model of exceptional geopolitics fizzles as states seek to alienate their products to new markets through mutual benefit rather than by force. The multiform strategies of American realpolitik, including petrodollar recycling, preemptive invasions, mission creep genocide against ‘uncooperative’ nations, backing the Israeli regime along with other Gulf monarchs, or endless military bases and vassal networks, are attempts to stop this cooperation from occurring. This again, stems from the fear of loss, not strength, and is an unnatural social relation for the 21st century globalisation.
In his treatise “On China”, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger noted this by quoting Immanuel Kant, stating that,
“perpetual peace would eventually come to the world in one of two ways, by human insight or by conflicts and catastrophes of a magnitude that left humanity no other choice […] We are at such a juncture.’
Pax Americana, standing at this juncture, has brought neither peace nor advanced long-term American interests, but simply awaits the same karmic retribution as all tyrannical empires before it. The world is evolving, shrugging off the gossamer of fanatical exploitation for dialectical science. It struggles to move forward, beyond sanctions, beyond war, and beyond unilateralism to make peace an inevitability, not by “blood and fire”, but by “a new type of international relations [and] community with a shared future for mankind”.
Realpolitik, understood as materialism, can only be rationalized dialectically – that the material foundations of unipolarity upon which Realpolitik was redefined away from von Rochau’s own conceptions, and with good reason, can only in the future be realized upon global material conditions engendered by an equalization of the productive forces of the developing world.