Laws of Ratzel

The dynamics of the modification of geographical spaces is one of the main concerns of geopolitics. The German geographer Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904) was one of the first to systematize a study of how spaces are modified and the influence of politically organized states on these modifications.

Although much influenced by the historical context in which he lived, the unification of Germany , and sought to justify the political attitudes of the government of his country, which he considered ideal, Ratzel left a deep contribution to the field of understanding of the international dynamics of geopolitics, being considered its founder in Germany.

His reflections and postulations on the modification of spaces, on the conflicts of interests of the states and on the forms by which these transformations were processed became known as the theory of the growing spaces or laws of Ratzel . Briefly, they are:

The seven laws of Ratzel

  1. The expansion of the state increases with the advancement of culture.
  2. The spatial increase of the states accompanies diverse manifestations of its development: ideology; production; business activity; power of their influence and effort in regard to proselytism (dissemination of their ideas, convictions and plans).
  3. States extend by assimilating or absorbing the smaller political units.
  4. The border is an organ located on the periphery of the state – through this enlargement, it materializes growth, forces and territorial changes.
  5. In making its spatial extension, the state strives to absorb regions important to its design, for example the coast of the river estuaries, the plains and the richer territories in terms of production.
  6. From the outside comes the first impulse, leading the state to the extension of territory moved by a less developed civilization than yours.
  7. The general tendency is the assimilation or absorption of the weaker nations, it invites to multiply the appropriations of territories in a movement that looks like the self-feeding.

This conception, although strongly marked by certain ideological influence, was predominant in the understanding of geopolitics for decades.

Examples of application of the laws of Ratzel

Applying the rationale of Ratzel’s laws to cases from the real historical context, European imperialism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a finished example of this doctrine: the industrialized European countries, calling themselves a “civilizing mission”, supported by a conception of technological and cultural superiority, they undertook extensive domination campaigns on the poor regions of the African and Asian continents in particular.

These regions were, and continue to be, important suppliers of valuable raw materials, agricultural production granaries and potential consumer market corridors, in addition to having significant population contingents, which can be used in the form of labor.

The convenience of industrialized countries’ dominance of these regions is obvious, and the possibility of justifying this domain through an idealized discourse of cultural and civilizing contribution was widely used for the formation of contemporary colonial empires.

The German state, later unified and therefore behind the traditional powers in building its empire, used Ratzel’s theory to justify its colonizing enterprise. The ultimate result of this application was synthesized in the doctrine of Lebensraum ( living space), according to which territorial expansion was a matter of survival for the German people.

The enlargement of the space occupied by the German people was the necessary response to the expansion of the consumption of resources and the increase in the expectations of the production of wealth by the same people, both resulting from a circumstance of progress and evolution.

The contradiction of interests between the dominating and dominated peoples in the midst of this process was sharply revealed. The Austrian Empire and the Second French Empire, states older than German and established in crystallized political foundations, resulting from long historical processes, viewed with distrust, and even with fear, the emergence of a new state in the region, a fear aggravated by a The prospect of this state quickly became a great military and economic power.

The policy of the Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck , leader of the process of unification that resulted in the structure of the modern German state, was largely based on the conception of Germany that is already born great, expressed by the highest Deutschland über alles – Germany above all.

The practical results of this doctrine were the Austro-Prussian wars (1866) and Franco-Prussian wars (1870-1871). Inspired by a strongly nationalistic discourse, the Prussians conquered these two conflicts convincingly, gaining the necessary space for the launching of the territorial and political bases of the German state. Ratzel’s theory of laws confirmed, in practice, its effectiveness.

Ratzel’s Laws Currently

Ratzel’s speech, although marked by cultural reasons that were very particular to him ,  continues today, considering that contemporary countries, especially those of an aggressive stance in the market and in international politics, still use similar reasoning to support their intention to dominion over other states, be it cultural, economic, political or any other form of domination that can be conceived.

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