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Since the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, conservative governments dominated Europe. After the revolutions of 1848, Nationalism gained popularity. Darwinism as well bolstered philosophical Realism and imperial ambitions stretched around the world. By the end of the 19th Century, European empires were driven by a political philosophy called Realpolitik. After 1848, Nationalism, the idea that similar ethnic and linguistic backgrounds constituted self-government, took root. Nationalism threatened the existing monarchies of Europe. Because many ruled diverse racial and cultural groups, like the Austrian Empire, the idea threatened its very existence.
Nowhere was Nationalism more critical than Germany. The romantic Nationalism of 1848 was not enough to consolidate its power. Germany needed Realpolitik. Realpolitik emerged from philosophical Realism.
Realism attempted to represent the world without any artificial influence; presenting things in conventional terms. The movement was a counterbalance to Romanticism which relied on passions and feelings and artificiality blending Realism into political philosophy. Realism was partially rooted in Naturalism. Naturalism emphasized methods of empirical science, particularly Darwinian views on natural selection.
The empirical sciences provided society with new explanatory power. The scientific method employed repeatable experiments and relied on material metaphysical presumptions. Its methods concerned causal elements of reality, rationality and truth. People were no longer relegated to souls and personal morality, but were agents of natural survival.
Darwin’s seminal work, The Origin of Species popularized his theory of natural selection into the culture. Political leaders who synthesized Nationalism, Realism, and Darwinism formed the basis of Realpolitik: self-interest over moral values. Like natural selection, it required adaptation to political environments.
For example, Otto Von Bismarck was the first chancellor of the Kingdom of Prussia from 1862 to 1890. He orchestrated a war with Austria in 1866 to gain territory and undercut Austrian influence over German states and culture. He did so by convincing Austria to declare war with Denmark. Their armies succeeded and captured new territory. He used the territorial dispute to declare war against them and eventually defeated them. Though he appeared friendly, he betrayed them for self-interest. His victory consolidated support from the northern German states, distanced Austrian influence, and increased Prussian leadership.
Toward the end of the 19th-century, Europeans took Realpolitik to the world. The global empires reflected the power struggles at home. As England gained territory, France claimed lands nearby. Acquiring new territory was competition for security and Nationalism, religion, and power. The partitioning of Africa between 1876 to 1894 and the Asian spheres of influence reflect European distribution of foreign lands. Far Eastern ports like Hong Kong and the Philippines began to imitate the cultural practices and Christian religion. The popularity of imperialism in home-countries was incredible. Public journals and media celebrated their nation’s advance. It seemed like Realpolitik was achieving its intended goal. Theories founded on Darwinism and Realism mixed political realities and racial divergences in intelligence and ability.
The biological differences first proposed in Darwinism synthesized imperialism and precipitated of view that conquered peoples were “lower” races. What once was a continent of celebrated rights and republic descended into empires vying for control. The contradictions between domestic policy and colonial policy were becoming great, and why Realpolitik, the pragmatic achieving of national interest, so well undergirded imperial doctrine. Realpolitik overshadowed the themes of Nationalism, Realism, and Darwinism. From the assemblies of Germany to the Asian colonies of France and Britain, Realpolitik motivated leaders politically and culturally. The ramifications of their decisions influenced the future conflicts of the 20th Century. Many would imitate Bismarck for their own gain and ynthesize the themes of late 19th Century.
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