The Lessons of 1914 Matter Today More than Ever,

Balázs Orbán, lawyer, political scientist, university lecturer,

This past month, Professor John Mearsheimer visited Budapest for the first time to launch the Hungarian translation of his highly-acclaimed book, The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities. The launch could not have been better timed in light of the war in Ukraine: Mearsheimer, one of the most renowned realist thinkers, warned the world as early as 2014 that the increasingly provocative policies and confrontational actions might lead to an open armed conflict in Ukraine. Ever since, he has been advocating for leaders to return to realpolitik instead, suggesting that international politics should be built on realist principles. […]

In his book, Mearsheimer explains this seeming contradiction by showing that behind every principle-based foreign policy there is a universal world-changing ideology that cannot stand competition. Liberal idealism coming from the West is just as much an imperial ideology as the Russian concept of “Moscow, the third Rome” or the idea of “All Under Heaven” in China. Imperial thoughts will inevitably provoke war at some point. Realism, on the other hand, aims to preserve the status quo without the need to spread ideology, and as a consequence, it will result in less conflict. It is for this reason that one of the greatest realists of all time, Otto von Bismarck, warned Kaiser Wilhelm II about the perils Germany would face should it deviate from the Chancellor’s realpolitik. And Bismarck, just like Mearsheimer, was right—once the Reich lost the strategic vision, it ended up in one of the worst wars in history.[…]

In 1914, we Hungarians were the loudest critics of the war, and we are committed to upholding this position a century later. Count István Tisza, then prime minister of Hungary was the first to point out that the war would have no winners. Today, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is doing the same, becoming the loudest critic of the war by stressing that we need to call for an immediate ceasefire, for otherwise, the war has no end in sight. The Hungarian commitment to realist foreign policy, free from world-altering ideologies along with a strong focus on our interest in the Carpathian Basin, is there for a reason. The past 1,100 years, defending ourselves against external forces, fighting for sovereignty, and our few unsuccessful attempts at conquest outside the Carpathian Basin have taught us to be realists by instinct. However, if we want to overcome the current crisis, it is time for all of us to become both practitioners and theorists of realism—with Mearsheimer’s Great Delusion offering us guidance in the process. Läs artikel