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As realpolitik comes back into fashion in Washington, D.C., the term used by both scholars and practitioners in discussions of international affairs remains much used but little understood. This series explores what realpolitik looks like in practice as well as theory, and asks the question: how relevant is realpolitik to the international challenges faced by the West in the twenty-first century? Hosted by The John W. Kluge Center, the series features Dr. John Bew, the thirteenth Kissinger Chair at the Library of Congress. Read news release

Location: The John W. Kluge Center, Room 119, Thomas Jefferson Building. 
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“America, the Muslim Brotherhood and Realpolitik: Understanding the Other”

Dr. Martyn FramptonA discussion with Dr. Martyn Frampton and Dr. John Bew.

THURSDAY, MARCH 13, 4 p.m. (Room LJ-119)

Dr. John Bew and Dr. Martyn Frampton discuss America’s engagement with, and understanding of, the Muslim Brotherhood since 1945 and what this says about concepts of realpolitik. Dr. Martyn Frampton is Senior Lecturer in Modern History at Queen Mary University of London. He is working on a new project that examines the history of the relationship between the west and the Muslim Brotherhood, based on English and Arabic documents.


“Realpolitik and American Exceptionalism”Robert Kagan

A discussion with Robert Kagan and Dr. John Bew.

THURSDAY, MARCH 27, 12 p.m. (Room LJ-119)

Robert Kagan and Dr. John Bew discuss how America positions itself in the world in the 21st-century. How can realpolitik be squared with the foreign policy of a nation which has always seen itself as exceptional? Kagan is senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, columnist for the Washington Post, and a noted historian, author and foreign policy commentator.


Real Realpolitik: A History”

Dr. John BewDr. John Bew, Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library’s John W. Kluge Center.

THURSDAY, APRIL 10, 4 p.m. (Room LJ-119)

Dr. Bew argues that real realpolitik is ripe for excavation and rediscovery as it undergoes a renaissance in the English-speaking world. Bew argues that the original concept of ‘realpolitik’ is still relevant to the challenges of the twenty-first century. Its use in the English language provides a window into the soul of Anglo-American political culture.

Additional Resources

Kissinger Lecture Series: major foreign policy addresses at the Library of Congress delivered by those who have achieved a level of distinction in the field of foreign affairs. Speakers include Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, and James Baker.

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The Kissinger Chair at the John W. Kluge Center engages in research at the senior level in any aspect of foreign policy or international relations involving the United States. Learn more about the Kissinger Chair

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Event Recap

The German word realpolitik—an approach to world affairs that puts national interests before morality or ethics—has had enormous impact on American and British foreign policy. Three events hosted by The John W. Kluge Center and featuring Dr. John Bew asked how relevant realpolitik is to international affairs today.

“The word realpolitik is back in fashion among scholars and practitioners in Washington, D.C.,” says Bew. “Through these events, we’re exploring how realpolitik is discussed in the Anglo-American world, and examining its relevancy to modern challenges facing the United States and the United Kingdom.” 

The series, titled “The Return of Realpolitik: A Window into the Soul of Anglo-American Foreign Policy,” concluded Thursday April 10 at 4 p.m. with a lecture by Dr. Bew in room LJ-119 of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building.

Part one, Applying Realpolitik, explored how America approaches the Arab world, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. Bew discussed the topic with British scholar Dr. Martyn Frampton, who is researching a new book on the topic.

Part two, Challenging Realpolitik, featured Bew in discussion with noted historian Robert Kagan on whether realpolitik conflicts with traditional ideas of American exceptionalism and a national destiny viewed as providential. Kagan’s theories on realpolitik have been cited by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Part three, Excavating Realpolitik, is Bew’s final lecture as Kissinger Chair. He discussed the true origins of realpolitik as researched at the Library of Congress, and revealed results that were both surprising and enlightening, he says.

Bew says the Library of Congress and the Kluge Center have been invaluable to his research. “I feel like I have the hand of history on my shoulders,” Bew says. “Literally, there is no better place to do research.” In addition to the general collections, Bew has delved into the papers of Hans Morgenthau (PDF) and Reinhold Niebuhr (PDF), held by the Manuscripts Division. These influential thinkers reflected on realpolitik as Americans and German émigrés, shedding important light on the subject. Also useful has been the Front Line Diplomacy Archive, Bew says, which holds hundreds of interviews with former American diplomats. “It’s extremely well categorized and a superb resource,” Bew adds.

Bew’s time at the Kluge Center will culminate in his writing of the first-ever English-language book that traces realpolitik back to its origins and frames its relevance for the twenty-first century. “The book will be a historian’s guide to the twenty-first century, looking at all the debates and trying to distill them into something relevant for the century ahead,” Bew says. “I hope it will be read by policymakers, and be a source of enlightenment.”

The John W. Kluge Center was established at the Library of Congress in 2000 to foster a mutually enriching relationship between the world of ideas and the world of action, between scholars and political leaders. The Center attracts outstanding scholarly figures to Washington, D.C., facilitates their access to the Library’s remarkable collections, and helps them engage in conversation with policymakers and the public.

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