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Politics is the art of the possible.
Great powers have no principles - only interests.
— Att. Henry Kissinger
If you ask a diplomat exactly why his country is behaving in a ruthless or manipulative manner, he will usually, if you can blast your way through all the skillful deflections and rhetoric, respond with this argument: "We're protecting our interests. It is what every other nation is doing, and what every nation should
be doing. My Country, Right or Wrong
This line of cynical
philosophy is essentially Nice Guys Finish Last
among nations, and has been around since two groups of people got together and decided that there were issues which could only be resolved by one side getting what they wanted at the expense of the other. If you ask The Empire
, "Why are you taking over our country?" they will respond, "To make sure the other empire doesn't first."
Proponents of this way of thinking would say that there are a lot of big, nasty nations committing Gambit Pileups
against each other out there, and that if you try being nice, your rivals will simply exploit this, so you must always further your interests where you can as no one else will. Besides, if you try to "help", you could be accused of interfering with the business of other nations to further your own influence. Critics would, of course, point out that it is this kind of thinking which perpetuates Chronic Backstabbing Disorder
among nations, and that it is essentially "Might Makes Right
" as a political philosophy.
A more benevolent follower of this philosophy would be content to be nothing more than A Hero To His Hometown
Compare Hobbes Was Right
, Well-Intentioned Extremist
, The Empire
, My Country, Right or Wrong
, Gambit Pileup
. Contrast Machiavelli Was Wrong
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- This is what The Prince is actually about — not about tyranny and cruelty, but about unfettered pragmatism and realism.
- The Tau in the Ciaphas Cain novel For the Emperor use this as their justification for occupying sections of the planet. Cain points out that the Imperium have used exactly the same rationale to then seize said planets soon after.
- In another Robert A. Heinlein novel, Have Space Suit - Will Travel, the Three Galaxies organization of many alien races puts Humanity on Trial. Our hero Kip says this is unjust. The alien moderator responds that the Three Galaxies don't bother trying to understand "justice" but are a defense organization that destroys any race that will be a threat.
- One of the post-Asimov Foundation authors claimed that aliens never showed up because robots killed them to protect humans.
- The Andermani Empire in the Honor Harrington series is known for determining all foreign policy by realpolitik, which is unsurprising, since they model themselves after Prussia. In a subversion of how this trope is usually portrayed, they are just as famous for expanding their empire by rescuing planets in trouble, for entirely pragmatic and selfish reasons — a tradition that started with Gustav Anderman's rescue of Kuan-Yin, now known as Potsdam.
Live Action TV
- In Stargate Atlantis the "heroes" are put on trial for their previous actions. Shepard basically argues that they aren't fighting for right or wrong, but rather they are fighting for themselves.
- On Babylon 5, this is the philosophy espoused by most of the Centauri (except for Vir, who is the Token Good Teammate, and Emperor Cartagia, who is The Caligula).
- On Star Trek: The Original Series, in the episode "Wolf In the Fold", Kirk explicitly refuses the suggestion that he help Scotty escape the planet on which he had been charged with murder. While he does his best to, and eventually does, get Scotty cleared of murder, Kirk says that he'll allow Scotty to be jailed and executed if he's found guilty—even if Kirk believes him innocent. Why? Because the planet is a strategically vital port, and helping Scotty escape its justice would sour them against the Federation.
- A friendlier version than most is seen in relations between the Russian Federation and the United States in Stargate SG-1. The two are officially allies and by later seasons the Russians operate their own SG team under the auspices of Stargate Command. In "Disclosure," though, Col. Chekov notes that part of the reason Russia is willing to take a backseat to America is because that way, the United States foots most of the bill for adapting Imported Alien Phlebotinum, then Russia can turn around and build from American blueprints for a fraction of the cost.
- In "Crusade", when the Russian Federation briefly supports the People's Republic of China bid for control of the Stargate, Chekov later admits that it was simply a ploy by his government to leverage plans to build their own Daedalus-class battlecruiser. While the Russians have long-desired to run the Stargate program, they're content (for now) with the arrangement to simply loan the Gate to the Americans and make them pay through the nose to use it. Both Landry and Chekov admit that their governments would rather maintain the deal than let another nation take control of offworld affairs, especially not the Chinese.
- In Game of Thrones, Robb Stark is great at battle tactics, but when it comes to politics he made two MAJOR political mistakes that would eventually cost him dearly, all because he refused to play Realpolitik.
- His Arch-Enemy, Tywin Lannister, is the embodiment of Realpolitik. He forges an alliance with the Tyrells(via Littlefinger), the second most powerful family in Westeros, who help him crush Stannis Baratheon. He offers Roose Bolton (Robb Stark's second-in-command) the title of Warden of the North and Walder Frey (a potential Stark supporter) the lord paramount title of the Riverlands. Robb Stark is murdered by these two soon after.
- Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish gives several speeches embodying this perspective. He also practices it, creating alliances between the Tyrells(who had supported a rival claimant Renly Baratheon) and the Lannisters and managing to negotiate for himself a sweet position as Lord of the only region in Westeros that hasn't participated in the war. He gives a "World of Cardboard" Speech to this effect, noting that the Kingdom, the traditions of honor and chivalry, even the Iron Throne are essentially fictitious constructs that embodies the values of order rather than enforces it and the realm actually functions on an elaborate deception.
Littlefinger: "The realm. Do you know what the realm is? It's the thousand blades of Aegon's enemies, a story we agree to tell each other over and over, until we forget that it's a lie."
Lord Varys: "But what do we have left, once we abandon the lie? Chaos? A gaping pit waiting to swallow us all."
Littlefinger "Chaos isn't a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some, are given a chance to climb. They refuse, they cling to the realm or the gods or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is."
- In JAG, this way of reasoning is often used by Clayton Webb and other CIA characters to justify their actions.
- In Warhammer 40,000 this is the basic approach the Imperium of Man takes in regards to the Tau Empire and vice versa. For example, in the wake of the Damocles Crusade, many Imperial worlds were stripped of their defenders in order to make a stand at Macragge against the tyranids of Hive Fleet Behemoth. The Tau expanded their empire in the wake of the Imperial muster, going into now-defenseless systems and offering to protect them in exchange for annexation rights. Those who would not accept the deal were simply curb stomped as most of their defenses were already removed. The Tau defend their aggressive actions by saying that if they had not "expanded defensive interests" to those Imperial worlds, then other, less benevolent powers would have taken them anyway before the Imperium could build its forces back up to keep them.
- On the other side, while the Imperium of course wants to be rid of the Tau eventually, they generally refrain from taking direct offensive action against them, except to try and liberate Imperial worlds that the Tau have annexed, preferring instead a policy of trying to contain the Tau Empire's expansion. This is in part because of the huge drain of military resources that would be required to completely rout the Tau, but it also is because the Tau Empire functions as a bulwark against Tyranid hive fleets, Orks, and other local powers around the Eastern Fringe where the Imperium's power is limited. As long as the Tau Empire exists, it will distract other potential threats away from Imperial worlds, and the Imperium is only too happy to let that happen.
- The trope name would be an entirely legitimate alternate title for the Spycraft D20 system. While not necessarily a spy in the literal sense, every player is an agent, tasked with achieving an objective with few restrictions on methods and many restrictions on exposure.
- All major forms of diplomacy, negotiation, and some forms of combat can be replaced by a large wallet and a highly-developed "bribe" mechanic.
- Combat is intentionally designed to favor people that play dirty, set up traps, and hit weak points. Unlike other d20 games, it's almost unheard of for combat to move past 5 or 6 rounds— someone will have found a weak point and exploited an instant-kill long before then. You also mostly use combat to remove troublesome civilians and diplomats, so that you can replace them in a disguise.
- You can easily fall into this way of thinking in games developed by Paradox Interactive, most all of which have you play as a single nation through a turbulent part of history.
- The example right above applies to any 4X and Grand Strategy games, regardless of settings or degree of realism. Why would you ally with a power that decimated your people or offends your sensibilities? Because there are bigger, nastier powers out there gunning on both of you.
- In Mass Effect, most of the major galactic powers engage in this, especially the Citadel Council. In Mass Effect 3, Humanity is left to fight the invasion of Earth alone because their fellow Council Races would rather concentrate on the Reapers encroaching on their borders first. This is also the reason why the Asari refused to share their intact Prothean Beacon with the rest of the galaxy, despite writing the laws that made sharing Beacon knowledge mandatory for all other races, as data-mining it was the only way they maintained their position as the dominant race in the galaxy.