The Real Origins of Realpolitik

An allegedly illiberal idea—and its liberal father.

Issue: March-April 2014

IN 1934, a young British historian published his first book, The Italian Problem in European Diplomacy, 1847–1849. In it, he announced that a nation’s foreign policy “is based upon a series of assumptions, with which statesmen have lived since their earliest years and which they regard as so axiomatic as hardly to be worth stating.” It was the duty of the historian, he wrote, “to clarify these assumptions and to trace their influence upon the course of every-day policy.”

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