Realpolitik, Power, and Morality


One idea that I find challenging to the idea of objective morality is realpolitik. Realpolitik, for those who don’t know, is a political philosophy that favor pragmatism over principles. Principles and even honor are compromised for the sake of keeping peace, or attaining a desired status quo.

Mostly, I was introduced to this idea while reading Game of Thrones. Granted, GoT can be over-the-top in its cynicism at times, but I find its Nietzschean themes hard to refute. For example:

“You win, or you die. There is no middle ground”. (Cersei)

“There are no true knights, just as there are no true gods. This world is run by swords and strong arms, don’t let anyone tell you differently”. (The Hound)

“The Queen says one man is king, the King’s Hand says another is king. Who wins? The one who pays them” (Petyr Baelish).

Honestly, such statements make me question Catholicism’s romantic, high-minded rhetoric of beauty, honor, truth, etc. In light of these statements, such things are either irrelevant or good ways to get yourself killed.

Just because the good guys play by the rules doesn’t mean the bad guys will do likewise. If the good guys lose and the bad guys win, then what? History is written by the winners.


The ultimate victory is God’s, not man’s–no matter who wins or loses within time. God has not commanded us to win at all costs, he has asked us to be faithful no matter the cost. :slight_smile:


Perhaps it is time to be less involved with fictional games and TV shows of this nature if they are causing you to doubt your faith. Turn to better things, not such trivial pursuits.

Of course those who hold such a position, and live in such a fictional world, have only gaining perceived victories in this life (real or virtual) for their own ends.

We know as Christians that the Beatific Vision is the real goal.

There is nothing wrong with being pragmatic in many contexts, not just political ones. But, we may never do evil even in pursuit of good.


That may be true, but temporal victories still have an effect on the souls of many for centuries. Think, for example, how much different religiously the West would be had the Spanish Armada landed on the shores of Protestant England.


Or how much different the world would be if the British hadn’t appeased Hitler.

It goes both ways.

No use in speculating what might have been, but only on what lies ahead.


Yes, we are only responsible for our own behavior not that of the whole world. :tiphat:

JackVk, in the end God will triumph. Indeed, according to the Book of Revelation, God has already triumphed over sin and death in Christ’s redemption. That’s what’s important, not what country conquers or is conquered. Whether we live in freedom or under tyranny there will be temptations to doubt God and live in sin.

The temptations will be different in both circumstances, but the results are the same. Either we remain faithful in prosperity or we become lax. We cowtow to tyranny just to get along or we remain faithful under adversity. It doesn’t matter–all that matters is being faithful.


There can be irony in Christian spirituality. Christ’s death was a victory. We gain our lives by losing them (See Phil 3:8).

Literature that seems sophisticated and popular can be downgrading instead of up-building. We need to discern the effects because there is good reading out there which can be constructive.


Indeed. If someone is into Medieval warfare, Lord of the Rings is a much better read.


What are you implying? That Chamberlain appeased Hitler primarily for moral and humanistic reasons (and that he did not act under realism)? Chamberlain arguably was mostly reasonable and realistic when he appeased Hitler, but he mistaken Hitler as a rational statesman who too had an aversion for war, legitimate grievances, and limited ambitions. In other words, Chamberlain’s error was one of not adopting “political realism” but failing to understand the intentions of an adversary (and having a limited hand to bargaining with him that lead Chamberlain to recourse to diplomacy in the first place).

Aside from the public’s aversion for war, Chamberlain did not want war because:

(1). His military was in a limited state of readiness, as the Royal Navy and RAF preferentially received funding in the 30s. (But it was the RAF and the Dowding System that the thwarted the sea lion.) If Nazi Germany seized the oil fields of Romania, it would render the strength of the RAF and Royal Navy moot to impose economic blockades on Nazi Germany.

(2). Great Britain did not just have to just worry about Nazi Germany, but the Axis. He thought it was imperative to placate some Axis members because Great Britain did not have the military ability to defend against them all.

a. Great Britain had colonial interests in the Pacific and judged that getting embroiled in a European would render them vulnerable to Japanese expansionism.

(3). Chamberlain overestimated the abilities of his allies, particularly Poland and France, to resist Nazi aggression.

(4). The Western powers had an interest in diverting Nazi aggression towards the Soviet Union, as Nazism has an explicit ideological enmity towards Bolshevism. Moreover, Great Britain was loath to enter a military alliance with the Soviet Union, especially after its military capability was suspect after the purge of Marshal Tukhachevsky.

It is time to retire the Munich trope, especially when it is used liberally to justify aggression and pre-emptive strikes.

Perhaps, a more interesting speculative question concern the trajectory of history if Britain or France stood up to the remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936.

Also, a good counterexample would be Franklin Delano Roosevelt who also maintained an idealism about liberal democracy and rallied the isolationist American people to wage war against Nazi Germany. (Although, one could argue that this was facilitated by a blunder by Hitler to declare war against the United States after the Pearl Harbor attack in order to entice Japan to attack the Soviet Union.)

This might be a good video.

On a personal note, I lost much of my personal fervor in the faith partly because I feel gravitated to the tenets of political realism, and the Church’s moralistic approach does not seem pragmatic or benign.

The OP should do some homework and read about Cardinal Richelieu.


You know I was considering getting into GoT and reading the books and then binging the show. After reading this I wish to thank you for the warning not to. I am sure my brain can be sufficiently stimulated in a spiritual sense without this nonsense. Perhaps sports for a down hobby and a good book by a saint with a daily Bible reading.

Curious. Have you ever read the entire Bible? Do you have some suggestions on books that might be more beneficial to my soul?


The whole discussion of Chamberlain and WWII I’ll leave to you and 1ke to debate.

But I believe your personal note needs addressing. Instead of reading about Richelieu, try reading about saints who had to deal with political powers and how they triumphed over them-- by the witness of their lives and what they were able to accomplish in the teeth of deadly persecution.

If you choose the “tenets of political realism”, i. e., the world over the Kingdom of God, I fear you will be very disappointed. :slight_smile: All you will find is the failings of men and their poor efforts at making a world into what they cannot make it–utopia. Jesus wasn’t interested in being pragmatic and he didn’t come to create a utopia, but to call all to his Kingdom in which no one will lose anything, but rather gain everything, even if that means losing their earthly life to gain eternal life.

As for Christian morals being benign, if by that you means weak–you need to read G. K. Chesterton about that. The greatest saints were far stronger than any political or military leader could ever be. While we appear weak to the world, it is the meek who will inherit the earth (the humble not those with power). For only by seeing ourselves in relation to God and others as we truly are can we be and do what God desires us to be and to do.


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