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SYSTEM FROM 1871-1914
Desiree Maegan L. Ong
Student, College of Liberal Arts, De La Salle University
Finals Essay
December 15, 2014
Abstract: The impact of the use of Realpolitik in the 19th century on the development of the
European state system has not been thoroughly examined yet. This paper, therefore, seeks to
explore the use of Realpolitik in the Age of Nationalism and establish its correlation with the
development of the European state system from 1871-1914 by examining the cases of
Realpolitik in the Italian unification led by Cavour and the German unification led by Bismarck.
Information used in this paper were gathered from online articles and electronic databases
accessible through the De La Salle University (DLSU) Library website.
Keywords: Realpolitik, Age of Nationalism, Cavour, Bismarck, Italian Unification, German
Unification, European state system

Key Question: Does Cavour and Bismarcks use of Realpolitik in the Age of Nationalism have
any correlation to the development of the European state system?


What is the Age of Nationalism and Realpolitik, and how did they start?
The term Realpolitik is often associated with the Age of Nationalism in the 19th century,
yet both are equally broad terms in European history. In order to understand how these two
concepts are linked, one must first learn their meanings. This paper, therefore, will first define
and explain Realpolitik and the Age of Nationalism to lay down the foundation of the analysis.
In the 19th century, a wave of romantic nationalism known as the Age of Nationalism
(1850-1914) swept the European continent and transformed its countries (Breuilly, 2013).
According to Zimmer (2003), Nationalism became a dominant force in Western society after
1850. He states that the Age of Nationalism emerged during Napoleons rule in France, which
proliferated the ideas of nationalism to other Europeans states such as Germany and Italy. It
also includes the Revolutions of 1948 a succession of republican revolts against European
monarchies, starting in Sicily, and extending to France, Germany, Italy, and the Austrian
Empire. They all ended in failure and repression, and were followed by extensive disillusionment
among liberals (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, 2014). This failure, however, paved way
to the unification of Italy and Germany because, as what Germany (2008) pointed out, it

demonstrated that strong Idealism was not enough to accomplish revolutionary goals. Germany
(2008) claims that Realism then replaced Romanticism as the dominant philosophy after 1850.
Along with Realism, Germany (2008) says that a political outgrowth of realism known as
Realpolitik emerged and was used as a political strategy by leaders such as Camillio Cavour
and Otto von Bismarck, particularly in unifying Italy and Germany.
The term Realpolitik is a German word that literally means realistic politics (Heywood,
2013). According to Haslam (2002), it comes from Ludwig Son von Rochau, a German writer
and politician in the 19th century, who used it to pertain to the diplomatic approach of Klemens
von Metternich, a German-Austrian politician and statesman who is considered the foremost
diplomat of his time. However, it stemmed from a longer tradition of thought about reasons of
state that is associated pre-eminently with Niccol Machiavelli (Humphreys, 2014). Humphreys
(2014) argues that Machiavellis work, The Prince (Machiavelli, 1995), in which he advises the
Medicis on how to bring back the fortunes of Florence, is often regarded as the bible
of Realpolitik. In Rochaus (1853) book Grundstze der Realpolitik angewendet auf die
staatlichen Zustnde Deutschlands, he describes the meaning of the term: "The study of the
powers that shape, maintain and alter the state is the basis of all political insight and leads to
the understanding that the law of power governs the world of states just as the law of gravity
governs the physical world." Modern realpolitik in now defined by Bew (2014) as: "politics or
diplomacy based primarily on power and on practical and material factors and considerations,
rather than ideological notions or moralistic or ethical premises. To put it simply, realpolitik is a
view of the political reality and a form of politics or diplomacy that discourages the idealistic and
ethical view of politics, morals, principles, unnecessary diplomacy, and popular sentiment, and
instead focuses on advancing national interest.
What then comprises Realpolitik? According to Humphreys (2014):
1. Realpolitik view the state as a unitary actor whose interests can be reasonably and
straightforwardly identified.
2. Realpolitik like realist theory, involves a categorical differentiation between international
and domestic politics.
3. Realpolitik appeals that the national interest be prioritized over all other ends and values.
4. Realpolitik is a set of activities that help organize individuals, systematically resolve
disputes, and maintain order in society with the use of power may it coercive (use of
rewards and punishments in a form of laws) or noncoercive (does not involve rewards or
punishments but power results from a sense of legitimacy.
In short, Realpolitik is politics or diplomacy based primarily on power and on practical and
material factors and considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic or ethical
Among all the practices of Realpolitik in World History, this paper will focus on the use of
Realpolitik in unifying Italy and Germany, since the said cases were the most prominent ones in
European History in terms of the utilization of Realpolitik as a strategy to achieve the said
unifications (Merriman, 1996). The concepts and explanations mentioned above will be used to

analyze Cavour and Bismarcks use of Realpolitik as well as how this utilization contributed to
the development of the European state system from 1871-1914.


How did Bismarck exercise Realpolitik in his efforts to unify Germany?
In his book Bismarck, Crankshaw (2011) asserts that the most famous German
advocate of Realpolitik was Otto von Bismarck, the so-called Master of Realpolitik and the
First Chancellor (18621890) to Wilhelm I of the Kingdom of Prussia. According to Eyck (1968),
Bismarck was a leading diplomat of the late 19th century, and he was known as the Iron
Chancellor. Bismarck, first Prime Minister of Prussia and then the Chancellor of the German
Empire, began the "construction" of Germany with the use of high politics accompanied by war
against Austria and France. Bismark was a true advocate of "Realpolitik" and a prominent user
of the said view (Duffy, 2009).
First, Bismarck orchestrated war with Austria in 1866 over disputed territory in the Duchy
of Holstein in order to establish the German Empire, and this served as a first step to oust
Austria as the prime influence among the German states and over German affairs
(Feuchtwanger, 2002). Feuchtwanger (2002) states that the Danish king's attempts to adjoin the
duchies of Schleswig and Holstein provided an opportunity for Bismarck to act. He enticed
Austria to declare war on Denmark to acquire these two territories. An alliance between Austria
and Prussia was formed and they immediately defeated the Danes together. Schleswig and
Holstein were then ceded to Austria and Prussia. The two victorious nations fought over who
should control the two territories. Bismarck was not interested in a Germany that included
Austria, so he used the dispute as a way to lead to war between Austria and Prussia, instead of
demanding the said territories from Austria; this was a move that later on made Prussia the
dominant state among the unified German states (Pflanze, 1958). The war that resulted from
this only lasted for just seven weeks, hence its common title The Seven Weeks War also
known as the Austria-Prussian War, and it ended with the total dominance of the greatly efficient
Prussian military (Carr, 1991). Crankshaw (2011) points out that Bismarck never intended to
make the joint occupation permanent, he immediately made plans to stab the Austrians in the
back, meaning that he made it seem like he was intent on pursuing a good relationship with
Austria, but he was actually manipulating Austria in order to take away her influence over
German affairs. Feuchtwanger (2002) reports that Bismarck not only extracted Schleswig and
Holstein, but also the northern German states which were: Hanover, Hesse, Nassau and
Frankfurt, creating the North German Federation as a result of Prussias victory over Austria in
the Austria-Prussian War of 1866. The North German Federation was comprised of the northern
German states and Prussia, but excluded the southern states and Austria, therefore marking the
end of Austrian influence in Germany. Seeing this example of power through unification, the
southern German states began to have more nationalism and were more accepting of German
unification than they were before. Germany, according to Carr (1991) in his book The origins of
the wars of German unification, became united between 1862 and 1871 as a result of the

Danish War (1862), Austria- Prussian War (1866) and Franco- Prussian War (1870), as well as
the sense of nationalism that emerged from these battles. Otto von Bismarcks policy of
directing the German people against other ethnic groups, such as the Danish or French, to unite
the Germans, became a success as a result of the triumph over these other groups (Holborn
Second, Pflanze (1958) also argues that Bismarck manipulated political issues such as
the movement for liberal policies and the diplomatic campaign he regarded as his masterpiece
the Schleswig-Holstein Question (19th-century controversy between Denmark, Prussia, and
Austria over the status of Schleswig and Holstein), to oppose other countries and cause wars to
attain his goals despite being a believer of conservatism. Pflanze (1958) claims that this was
evident in Bismarcks compliance to embrace some social policies of the liberals such as
employee insurance and pensions. While doing so, he used small changes from the top down to
avoid the possibility of major change from the bottom up. Characteristic of Bismarcks political
action was nearly a Machiavellian policy, displaying a pragmatic view of the real political world
(Pflanze, 1958).
The German-Danish war (1864) was a prime example of how Bismarck used Realpolitik
to achieve German unification (Holborn, 1960). Holborn (1960) argues that in order to have a
war with no interruptions from other countries, Bismarck helped Russia during the Polish
rebellion of 1863, which made Russia sympathetic to Prussia. France was also bribed by hints
of compensation in the Rhineland and Austria was persuaded to form an alliance with Prussia.
Bismarck supported democracy to gain internal support, but had no true interest in liberal
reform. This was Realpolitik at work because Bismarck had achieved a great deal of German
unification by the manipulation of other countries (Eyck, 1968). In the end, Bismarck
accomplished both his goals through Realpolitik: to throw out Austrian influence from German
affairs and to bring the German nation under the framework of the Prussian state. He was
determined to strengthen Prussia by any means necessary. Alliances were merely convenient
and could be discontinued to take advantage of an opportunity. These alliances were practical
because they were able fasten the process of unification. Bismarck was cunning in a sense that
he indirectly and stealthily used other states as his pawns and pretended to support liberal
reforms in order to achieve German unification without ever revealing his plans. In this case,
national interest was prioritized above all, as what is explicitly demanded by Realpolitik,
according to Humphrey (2014).
Third, Bismarck conveyed the essence of Realpolitik in his very famous Blood and Iron
speech to the Budget Committee of the Prussian Chamber of Deputies on 30 September 1862,
shortly after he became Minister President: The great questions of the time will not be resolved
by speeches and majority decisionsthat was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849but by iron
and blood. (Beidler, 2014). Hull (2013) claims that Bismarcks emphasis on blood and iron did
not simply imply the unparalleled military power of the Prussian army but rather two important
aspects: the ability of various German states to produce iron and other related war materials
and the willingness to use those war materials if necessary. Otto von Bismarck used the blood
and iron phrase to describe the method by which a unified German state would be created

(Frankell, 2005). The Frankfurt Assembly of 1848, which attempted to unify Germany through
constitutional means, had been squelched. Bismarck knew that the chances of peaceful
resolutions were nonexistent; to him, Germany could be created only through war (Frankell,
2005). Again, in Humphreys (2014) segmentation of Realpolitik, the blood and iron speech of
Bismarck exhibited the characteristic of Realpolitik to regard the state as a unitary actor who
interests can be reasonably and straightforwardly identified. Bismarck did not beat around the
bush in stating that what Germany needed was war; he was very straightforward in advancing
the national interest of Germany. Again, he showed that there was no room for idealistic ways
such as peaceful revolutions, but only for war, thus showing how he realistically viewed politics
and disregarded ideologies and morals, because national interest was his top priority.

The realpolitik of Otto von Bismarck is narrowed down to power and alliance. By all
means, he uses his legitimacy to engineer war against Austria as the first step to have the
German Empire. In order to secure the power held by the German Empire, Bismarck
strategically called for alliance not only to avoid war, but to also preserve the power of the
German Empire. He did this, as told by Crankshaw (2011), by forming an alliance with the
Austria-Hungary, with the Dual Alliance, and also with the Triple Alliance with Italy to avoid war
in the south. One of the chief aims of the Triple Alliance was to prevent Italy from declaring war
against Austria-Hungary, towards whom the Italians were in dispute territorial matters.
Crankshaw (2011) adds that he negotiated the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia to avoid the
possibility of the two-front war against France and Russia. Taking into account the concept of
Realpolitik defined above by Humphreys (2014), it is indeed a set of activities that help organize
individuals, systematically resolve disputes, and maintain order in society with the use of power
may it coercive or noncoercive.

How did Cavour exercise Realpolitik during his rule in Italy?

When talking about Realpolitik, Bismarck would always be cited as a great example.
However, Cavour was also an excellent user of Realpolitik (Header, 2014). Smith (1968) says
that Camillo di Cavour, was the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Piedmont and Sardinia and
was greatly responsible for creating the nation of Italy. Smith (1985) reveals that in 1855, as
prime minister of Sardinia, Cavour involved the kingdom on the British and French side of the
Crimean War, using the peace conference to give international publicity to the cause of Italian
unification. In 1858, he formed an alliance with France, one that included a pledge of military
support if necessary, against Austria, Italys major obstacle to unification. After a planned
provocation of Vienna, Austria declared war against Sardinia in 1859 and was easily defeated
by the French army. The peace, signed in November 1959 in Zurich, Switzerland, joined
Lombardy, a formerly Austrian province, with Sardinia. In return, France received Savoy and
Nice from Italya small price to pay for paving the way to unification. In Modern Italy: the
making of a political history, Smith (1997) states that the northern Italian states, inspired by
Cavours success against Austria, held elections in 1859 and 1860, and voted to join the
Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, a major action towards unification. Giuseppi Garibaldi, a native
of Piedmont-Sardinia, was influential in bringing the southern Italian states into the unification

process. The Kingdom of Italy, however, still did not have Rome and Venice, but fortunately
Bismarck of Prussia declared war against Austria. Cavour saw this as a chance to complete the
unification of Italy, and so the Kingdom of Italy joined the war. Austria ceded Rome and Venice
to France to ensure her neutrality, but then France quickly handed them over to Italy. In 1870,
during the Franco-Prussian War, French troops withdrew from Rome so the Italian troops were
able to move in easily, and Rome was then declared the capital city of the Kingdom of Italy. By
1871, Italy was finally unified (Smith, 1997). In this case, Count Cavour strategically used
France to protect not only Piedmont but to attain the unification of Italy.
Strategically, the realpolitik of Camillo di Cavour was the same as that of Otto von
Bismarck, which deals with power politics and alliance. Camillo di Cavour did his best to use
Piedmont as the key to the unification of Italy same as Bismarcks Prussia as the key to the
unification of the German Empire. Camillo di Cavour accepted the alliance with Britain and
France in order support Piedmonts expansion in Italy. Also, both leaders were able to utilize the
wars such as the Crimean War, the Austria-Prussian War, and the Franco-Prussian war in order
to expand their territory and complete the unification process of Italy and Germany. Cavour was
a realist who practiced realistic politics. He allied with France when necessary and with Frances
key enemy, Prussia, was necessary. By keeping the goal in mind, Cavour used international
power to achieve his domestic goals. Again, using the concept of Realpolitik as explained by
Humphrey (2014), Realpolitik requires the distinction and knowledge of international and
domestic politics, which was greatly possessed by Cavour.
As what can be noted from both leaders use of Realpolitik using the explanation of the
term above, there was a consistent pursuance of national interest for every action undertaken
and a realistic analysis of power. Both of them took into account that an alliance would be the
key to power, instead of letting ideologies and emotions such as pride get in the way, which
demonstrates the definitions given by Rochau (1853) and Bow (2014). They used alliances not
to avoid war, but to gain power, and the continuous advancement of national interest was
somehow disguised by these alliances. Instead of initiating the war, which might incur
devastating losses on Bismarck and Cavours part, they aided these states, allied with them to
encourage wars and earn their trust, and in the end used these wars as an opportunity to
secure territory. The provision of aid during wars earned the trust of the states that were aided,
and Bismarck as well as Cavour encouraged this war, because they enabled them (Cavour and
Bismarck) to manipulate these states and made it easier for them to seize territories. Alliances
also meant that lands could easily be handed to them, such as when France ceded Rome and
Venice to Italy.


In what way did the use of Realpolitik in the 19th century shape the European state system of
balance of power?

Before discussing the impact of Realpolitik, this paper would first define balance of
power theory in order to provide a better understanding of the European state system. Kegley
and Blanton (2012), in World Politics: Trend and Transformation, define balance of power as
the idea that national security is improved when military power is distributed so that no state is
strong enough to dominate all others. In short, it is a situation wherein nations roughly have
equal power. Now that the concept of balance of power has been defined, the European
balance of power will now be discussed.
Bartlett (1996) states that as the imperial game propagated throughout the world, the
map of Europe was changing as well. Bartlett (1996) mentions that from 1815-1870, in the
aftermath of Napoleon's near control of Europe, the European power developed a system of
military and political balance. The balance of power in Europe was a system that sought to
maintain international order and peace by stringing along with any increase in strength of one
nation-state with an increase in strength of his geographic or political enemy. By upholding this
tricky system, the argument continued, no country would be willing to embark on a course of
military expansion for fear of retaliation by an equally powerful force. The emergence of two
newly-born nations manifested a shifting balance of power in Europe, especially in favor of
Germany (Bartlett, 1996).
As what have been previously discussed, Realpolitik helped Bismarck and Cavour in
achieving the unification of Germany and Italy respectively. Specifically, during the first half of
the 19th century, Britain and France dominated Europe, but by the 1850s they had become
deeply alarmed by Russia and Prussias growing power (Kegley & Blanton, 2012). In addition,
Kegley and Blanton (2012) state that the Crimean War of 185455 and the Italian War of 1859
shattered the relations among the Great Powers in Europe; however, the creation and rise of
the German Empire as a dominant nation restructured the European balance of power. The
years 1870 and 1871 marked the unification of Italy and Germany into viable and strong nationstates in the heart of Europe, which changed the structure of the delicate balance of power
established by the Congress of Vienna. With the completion of the unification of Germany and
Italy in 1871, the old balance of power involving France, Brandenburg-Prussia, Austria-Hungary,
and Russia was replaced by a new system. Germany and Italy became European powers while
Austrias power dwindled. Under the authority of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Germany
proceeded in 1873 by joining the two most conservative powers in EuropeAustria-Hungary
and Russia to form the Three Emperors League. Otto von Bismarck managed to maintain the
balance of power, by presenting treaties and forming many complicated alliances between the
European nations such as the Triple Alliance. Schroeder (1989) reports that the three empires
vowed to consult one another on mutual interests in Europe and to remain neutral when any
one-member state took military action against a non- member, particularly France or the Balkan
nations. France and Russia allied, and even Britain eventually, which considered itself so
powerful that allies were unnecessary, allied with Japan and then came to an 'understanding'
first with France (1904) and then Russia (1907) under the Entente Cordiale and Triple Entente
respectively (Schroeder, 1989).

The second half of the 19th century saw a Europe dominated by a small number of
powerful nation-states, as mentioned by Merriman (1996) in A history of modern Europe: from
the Renaissance to the present. As they were not the same as those which had reshaped
Europe at the Congress of Vienna, the balance of power which had prevented war between
1815 and 1854 was upset. Duffy (2009) claims that the balance of power collapsed in 1914
under the pressure of the arms race, a shift in the criteria of power, and the mistaken
expectation of a short war rather than the First World War. The creation of two new states, the
growth of international tension, wars and the formation of two of antagonistic alliances were to
set the scene for the greatest and bloodiest conflict the world had ever known World War 1
(Duffy, 2009). After the resignation of Otto Von Bismarck in the 1890s, the foreign policy of the
German Empire became expansionary and the newly created alliances were proven to be
delicate, which Duffy (2009) mentions as something that triggered the First World War in 1914.
One of the objectives of the Treaty of Versailles, the main post-WWI treaty, was to topple the
dominance of the 'Balance of Power' concept and replace it with the League of Nations
(Schroeder, 1989).

Henry Kissinger, a modern advocate of Realpolitik in the US, provides a concise take on
Realpolitik and the emergence of a new European state system in his book Diplomacy:
The collapse of the Metternich system in the wake of the Crimean War
produced nearly two decades of conflict: the war of Piedmont and against
Austria of 1859, the war over Schleswig-Holstein of 1864, the AustroPrussian War of 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Out of this
turmoil, a new balance of power emerged in Europe. France, which had
participated in three of the wars and encouraged others, lost its position in
the predominance to Germany. Even more importantly, the moral
restraints of the Metternich system disappeared. This upheaval became
symbolized by the use of a new term for unrestrained balance-of-power
policy: the German word Realpolitik replace the French term raison detat
without, however, changing its meaning. (Kissinger, 2012)
Realpolitik in the Age of Nationalism has brought about the proliferation of alliances in
order to gain power. Cavour and Bismarcks realpolitik were ultimately defined by power politics
and alliances. Bismarck used Realpolitik in his journey to achieve Prussian dominance in
Germany. Bismarck manipulated political issues such as the Schleswig-Holstein Question and
liberal policies to antagonize other countries and cause wars to attain his goals. He also
expressed in his famous Blood and Iron speech that the unification of Germany could only be
achieved through war and not by peaceful revolutions since they were a failure, thus opposing
idealistic notions. Bismarck did not help Austria, Russia, and France just to simply give a hand,
but his help was due to his hidden agendas. With his smart and excellent use of Realpolitik, he
was able to achieve the dwindling of Austrian influence and the unification of Germany.

German unification was achieved through an autocratic manipulation of diplomacy and war.
Mirroring Bismarcks Realpolitik, Cavour aided the British and the French in the Crimean War
and strategically used his alliance with France in order to protect Piedmont and obtain Rome
and Venice. Both leaders utilized wars to gain territory and used them as a pathway to form
alliances with other nations that helped quicken the process of unification and preserve the
empire or kingdom that they had created.
In a way, the use of Realpolitik by Bismarck was more influential since it retained the
newly created structure of the balance of power in Europe, while Italys unification attained
through Cavours Realpolitik, acts as a trigger, alongside with the German unification, to the
disruption of the balance of power in Europe, therefore restricting the said system in the 19th
century. Germany and Italy grew as strong-nation states, which threatened other European
powers, which then caused a reconstruction of the balance of power in Europe wherein
alliances were formed, and in the end resulted to Germany and Italy becoming major European
To answer the key question, yes there is a correlation between the use of Realpolitik in
the Age of Nationalism and the development of the European state system in a sense that it
was able to pave way to the unification of Italy and Germany into strong nation-states, which
then reconstructed the balance-of-power in Europe from 1871 to 1914, until the First World War
destroyed it. Although it did not directly cause the development of the European state system,
through it, Cavour and Bismarck were able to unify Italy and Germany, which then disrupted the
European balance of power system at that time, thus making it a vital instrument that shaped
the European state system just like how language contributed to the rise of nationalism as
stated by Fishman (1996) in the book Nationalism in Europe, 1815 to the present: a reader.
Based on the article of Werbowski (2013), it can also be derived that Realpolitik has an impact
in the current state system on Europe, as the aforementioned balance of power is currently
adopted in the EU, and is evident in the way Germany is seen as EUs economic leader by
many for it has the largest economy in the Eurozone in todays world and is also a part of the
EU Big Four, along with Britain, France, and Italy (Werbowski, 2013).

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