He is almost unknown, but the ideas of Sir Halford Mackinder dominate global thinking
He may have inspired leaders from Hitler to Bush
Tristram Hunt - September 17, 2009
The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else,” wrote John Maynard Keynes (a man who should know) in 1936. “Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”
One such scribbler currently ruling the world is the Edwardian geographer Sir Halford Mackinder. Oxford professor, MP and imperialist, Sir Halford was the intellectual architect of modern geopolitics and the thinker who put the idea of “the Heartland” at the centre of global diplomacy.
Today, he is more relevant than ever. As Russia and Georgia continue their hot and cold war over South Ossetia, as the Kremlin attacks the European Union for its “eastern partnership” policy towards Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus, and as America and Russia tussle over influence in Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan, Mackinder’s realpolitik vision is at its most active for half a century. Few recall his name, but our foreign policy is now played out in his shadow.
Mackinder’s fame comes from a rather dry lecture delivered to the Royal Geographical Society in 1904, entitled The Geographical Pivot of History. In it he made two dynamite propositions. First, that the globalised world — crisscrossed by steam, telegram and train — had become a closed system. Since there was nowhere left to colonise, the world had become a unitary space with every strategic advance by one nation necessitating a rival power to retreat. In this closed geographical context, diplomacy was a zero-sum game and geopolitics meant successfully squaring political power with geographical setting.
Google: Brzezinski + Mackinder