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The Communist revolutionary, shaking hands with a life-long commie hater? Thank this trope.

Politics is the art of the possible.

If you ask a diplomat exactly why his country is behaving in a ruthless manner, he will usually, if you can blast your way through all the skillful deflections and rhetoric, respond with this argument: "We're protecting our interests. It is what every other nation is doing, and what every nation should be doing."

This line of philosophy is essentially Nice Guys Finish Last among nations, and has been around since two groups of people got together and decided that there were issues which could only be resolved by one side getting what they wanted at the expense of the other. If you ask The Empire, "Why are you taking over our country?" they will respond, "To make sure the other empire doesn't first."

Proponents of this way of thinking would say that there are a lot of big, nasty nations out there, and that if you try being nice, your rivals will simply exploit this, so you must always further your interests where you can as no one else will. Besides, if you try to "help", you could be accused of interfering with the business of other nations to further your own influence. Critics would, of course, point out that it is this kind of thinking which perpetuates tensions and wars among nations, and that it is essentially "Might Makes Right" as a political philosophy.

A follower of this philosophy would be content to be nothing more than A Hero to His Hometown. Compare and contrast Hobbes Was Right.

Examples of Realpolitik include:


  • This is what The Prince is actually about.
  • The Tau in the Ciaphas Cain novel For the Emperor use this as their justification for occupying sections of the planet. Cain points out that the Imperium have used exactly the same rationale to then seize said planets soon after.
  • In another Robert A. Heinlein novel, Have Space Suit - Will Travel, the Three Galaxies organization of many alien races puts Humanity on Trial. Our hero Kip says this is unjust. The alien moderator responds that the Three Galaxies don't bother trying to understand "justice" but are a defense organization that destroys any race that will be a threat.
  • One of the post-Asimov Foundation authors claimed that aliens never showed up because robots killed them to protect humans.
  • The Andermani Empire in the Honor Harrington series is known for determining all foreign policy by realpolitik, which is unsurprising, since they model themselves after Prussia. In a subversion of how this trope is usually portrayed, they are just as famous for expanding their empire by rescuing planets in trouble, for entirely pragmatic and selfish reasons — a tradition that started with Gustav Anderman's rescue of Kuan-Yin, now known as Potsdam.

Live Action TV

Video Games

  • You can easily fall into this way of thinking in Europa Universalis games, especially if you are a small, relatively insecure nation. Your focus tends to be less on right and wrong and more on grabbing as much for your country as possible without setting the world on you.
  • The example right above applies to any 4X games, regardless of settings or degree of realism. Why would you ally with a power that decimated your people or offends your sensibilities? Because there are bigger, nastier powers out there gunning on both of you.

Real Life

  • From The Other Wiki: Realpolitik (see also Political realism) From German: real "realistic", "practical" or "actual"; and Politik "politics". Realpolitik refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on practical considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic premises. In this respect, it shares aspects of its philosophical approach with those of realism and pragmatism. The term realpolitik is often used pejoratively to imply politics that are coercive, amoral or Machiavellian. The term was not coined by Otto Von Bismarck, although he was one of its most famous and successful followers.
    • Of course, in real life, moral considerations and what people will, and will not, go along with are real things, factors in the equation just as much as firepower and economic interests. To attempt to totally disregard such things in one's political calculation is in fact contrary to effective Realpolitik.
    • In practice, realpolitik is practiced by governments all over the world. The United States, for example, has many allies that do not share the same inherent belief in human rights (for example, Saudi Arabia). By the same token, there are many situations where the United States condemns the actions of a foreign power, but goes no further, because igniting a war in that region would be detrimental to global stability. If you've ever looked at your government and wondered why it does things or cooperates with organizations or governments that seems shady, the answer is probably this.
  • Richard Nixon made his political career being a stalwart anticommunist, yet he and Henry Kissinger (his Secretary of State) were the ones who established formal diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China - both held mutual distrust and suspicion of the Soviet Union at the time.
  • Charlesde Gaulle summed this attitude up nicely. "France has no friends, only interest".
    • Palmerston said it better in the nineteenth century: "Therefore I say that it is a narrow policy to suppose that this country or that is to be marked out as the eternal ally or the perpetual enemy of England. We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow."
  • Alexander III of Russia once said: "Russia has two allies: the Army and the Navy".
  • The Melian dialogue in Thucydides' account of the Peloponnesian War. The Athenians asserted their dominance over the Melians due to the fact that they had far stronger military force, and could blackmail the Melians into accepting either submitting peacefully or being killed. The idea was that "the strong will do what they will and the weak will accept what they must".
  • President Urho Kekkonen of Finland defined Finlandization as art of bowing to East without mooning to West, and stated Find your friends near and your enemies far.