Trend Watch

Obama Cautions Against 'a Realpolitik Approach'

From the German words for 'real' and 'politics'

Realpolitik (“a system of politics based on a country's situation and its needs rather than on ideas about what is morally right and wrong”) spiked dramatically in lookups on November 17th, following President Obama's remarks in Germany.

Speaking in Berlin, Mr Obama said he hoped the US president-elect would "not simply take a realpolitik approach" to dealing with Russia., 17 Nov. 2016

This word comes to English from the German, in which language it is a blend of real (“actual”) and Politik (“politics”). Realpolitik has been in use in English since the late 19th century, with evidence dating to 1872.

Speaking of the mission of Christianity to promote “peace on earth,” the author asks, “Whither shall we drift if, instead of the Gospel, a so-called matter-of-fact policy (Realpolitik) is to gain ground, which, from the outset, divesting itself of all ideal demands, expressly aims at nothing but the power and the greatness of our nation, and attempts to confine our minds within the narrow sphere of supposed national interests?”
The Illustrated Review (London, Eng.), Dec. 1872

The word should not be confused with its lesser-known cousin, also borrowed from German, Machtpolitik. This word is defined as “power politics; specifically : a doctrine in political theory advocating the use of power and especially of physical force by a political state in the attainment of its objectives.”

The word for someone who believes in, engages in, or advocates realpolitik is realpolitiker.

Trend Watch tracks popular lookups to see what people are talking about. You can always see all Trend Watch articles here.

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