What a term! Weltpolitik … I have to be honest – until this day, as I’m writing this article, I have only known this word in its modern usage, not in its original one. I didn’t even know that it was another Germanism in the English language.
I was taught history in school from grade 7 through 13. We were taught politics in grades 12 and 13. Neither were favorite subjects of mine unless taught by one specific teacher who turned every term, every incidence in world history into a lively discussion in class. How he managed? He let us re-play certain situations as in handing us the “role”. History, politics even of ancient Greece and Rome, thus, became relatable. In later years, unfortunately, we were left with teachers who may have been great in knowing all the facts but listless in delivering them to young people who had their heads full of career dreams but also of the then more important things in life.
In short, nobody ever told us that the term Weltpolitik was developed only after the German Reich was founded in 1871. Before that, there had been a myriad of minor states, all reigned by one aristocrat or the other in the German speaking region. The new national anthem, today’s prohibited “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles”(i.e. “Germany, Germany above everything”), was meant to express that federal interest was more important than that of individual states. It was an age of nationalism and sabre-rattling anywhere in the world.
In times when other European powers founded colonies, the newly risen nation of Germany didn’t want to be left behind. It wanted to be just as grand and accepted as the older empires. Therefore, in the 1880s, Germany bought out German colonizers wherever it could, and kind of silently began what I’d call me-too-colonialism. Foreign Secretary Bernhard von Bülow demanded in 1897, “We wish to throw no one into the shade, but we also demand our own place in the sun.” It was the turn to overt colonialism, a turn to openly mingling with the powers that already were, at eye level – Weltpolitik.
We all know how dreadful that chapter was for the peoples that were subjugated. We all know that German Weltpolitik didn’t end well in its first chapters.
Today, the concept of Weltpolitik thankfully means not playing against each other but rather an attempt at playing the field together. It could be translated with cooperative politics on an international level and a diplomatic footing. It shows in organizations such as the United Nations. Weltpolitik, at its best, means to influence each other to spread and keep peace. Alas, these days, this goal has moved farther away than ever in my lifetime.
What can we do when Weltpolitik fails us?
I try to keep my mind open and check as many sources as possible before believing one that is conveniently at hand. I try to keep my own little world at peace and not to meddle with what’s not my business. I’m certainly counting my blessings and am content with what I have. That is my tiny contribution to Weltpolitik on a private level.
If we link up all our happy microcosms, we might shape a bigger one that counters that frightful macrocosm. And maybe, we can stall others and make them ponder their attempt at Weltpolitik.