Podcast: "The Prince" Among Men: Bismarck, the Psychology of Realism, and International Relations

What is Realpolitik and how common is it? This paper argues that Realpolitik is the pursuit of egoistic interests under structural constraints in international politics, most importantly anarchy and the distribution of power. In other words, it is instrumental rationality in foreign policy. However, realpolitik cannot be taken for granted. Foreign policy-makers have all kind of interests that are not exclusively egoistic in nature, prosocial commitments to international norms, for instance. More importantly, realpolitik rests on a particular psychological foundation. Instrumentally rational behaviour requires rational thought. Realpolitik is as much cognitive as it is substantive. While we might think that Realpolitik is ubiquitous in foreign policy practice, the case of Bismarck shows that it is actually quite rare. In bringing about German unification, the paper shows that Bismarck had to fight against "romantic" conservatives who were willing to sacrifice egoistic Prussian interests to transnational legitimist solidarity against the liberal forces of revolution. Even when sharing his goals, they came to radically different conclusions about the proper course to pursue based on a cognitive style less rational than Bismarck's.

Speaker: Professor Brian Rathbun (University of Southern California)
Chair: Professor Nicholas J Wheeler (Director, ICCS)

Brian Rathbun received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley in 2002 and has taught at USC since 2008. He has written three solo-authored books, on humanitarian intervention, multilateral institution building, and diplomacy. His articles have appeared in International Organization, World Politics, the Journal of Politics, Security Studies, the European Journal of International Relations, International Studies Quarterly, International Theory, and the Journal of Conflict Resolution among others. He is the recipient of the 2009 USC Parents Association Teaching and Mentoring Award.

Recorded: Friday 27th May 2016 (12:00-13:30)

Download a transcript here
See more Seminars in the ICCS seminar series.