Organic State Theory (Friedrich Ratzel) – UPSC [Geography]

In this article, You will read Organic State Theory (Friedrich Ratzel) – for UPSC (Geography Optional – Political Geography).

Organic State Theory

  • The organic theory, along with the Heartland and Rimland theories, falls under political geography, otherwise known as geopolitics.
  • Geopolitics refers to how politics plays a role in geography and influences different geographic attributes such as political borders. The term geopolitics once had a negative connotation, due to the organic theory, and in this paper, we shall discuss the reason for this.
  • It was theorized in 1897 by Friedrich Ratzel, a nineteenth-century German geographer and ethnographer. The name “organic theory” comes from Ratzel’s assertion that political entities, such as countries, behave in a way not too dissimilar from that of living organisms.
  • More specifically, to survive, a political entity requires nourishment to gain political power. This nourishment came in the form of a term he coined called Lebensraum, which translates from German to “living space.” He was referring to the physical territory.
  • Therefore, we can say that organic theory states that political entities continually seek nourishment in the form of gaining territories to survive in the same way that a living organism seeks nourishment from food to survive.
  • States are like living organisms and have a life cycle with similar stages:
    • Youth
    • Maturity
    • Old age
  • Youthful states are identified by:
    • Population growth
    • Stable cultural identity
  • Mature states are defined by:
    • Population stability
    • Cultural evolution
  • Old states are defined by:
    • Decreasing population
    • Break-down of cultural identity
  • Essentially, the analogy is that food for an organism is territory for a country, and the more territory that it conquers the more that the particular political entity can sustain and preserve itself. As a result, the organic theory implies that for a political entity to maintain control, it invariably needs to seek out Lebensraum and go out and conquer all the territory that it possibly can, and complacency is not an option. Otherwise, it risks its security and is always vulnerable to attacks because other political entities also behave in this organic way and will try to conquer as much territory as they can as well for the purpose of self-preservation.
  • You can compare it to the competition among living organisms for the scarce resource of food, which is their form of nourishment.

Importance and Examples of Organic theory

  • Organic theory was another explanation of how and why certain political entities behaved the way that they did. Many political scientists, geographers, and ethnographers took this theory of aiming to use what happened in the past to explain what could happen in the future.
  • Its primary goal was to help influence policy in a certain way so that certain political entities can sustain themselves and predict the way other countries, particularly those currently on the aggressive or with an aggressive nature, will behave given a particular set of circumstances.
  • In its use as a political tool, organic theory was often used as a justification of relentless and aggressive conquering. The idea behind it was self-preservation. The argument was that if one political entity didn’t actively seek new territory and expanded, then its territory was susceptible and prone to outside attack from other political entities who sought the same nourishment.
  • To see the examples of the organic theory in play, you don’t need to look far. All great empires and political entities throughout history have focused on expansion. There has been no political entity in the world focused on voluntary contraction. The closest thing that occurred in history to voluntary contraction is the split of the Roman Empire its Western and Eastern halves, the latter going on to become the Byzantine Empire. This split was not entirely voluntary, however, as it had to be done due to administrative difficulties within the empire.
  • You don’t see this happening as much in the modern era due to plenty of pacts, agreements, and treaties calling for ceasefires. Bodies such as the United Nations enforce such accords. However, the innate nature of a state behaving according to the organic theory is still visible. If a country is unable to conquer a territory, then it does the second-best option: it intervenes in external affairs for its gains. An example of this would be the Western intervention in the Middle East.
  • Another way you can see the organic theory at work in the modern world is through self-determination. Many marginalized ethnic groups, or those who believe that they deserve their political entity, such as stateless nations aim to separate from the entity that they are currently under the control of. However, if that larger entity lets self-determination run its course, that means it loses territory and therefore, nutrition. For example, India does not want to lose the state of Kashmir to Pakistan because that would mean that Pakistan would gain territory and support its organic behavior, and India would lose nutrition in this case.
  • There have been many rebuttals to the organic theory. In 1899, Sir William Crookes, a British scientist, said that territorial expansion is not the only thing that can act as nutrition and that technological advances can also solidify a political entity. This argument may explain why more developed nations are more politically stable and less likely to invade and conquer.
  • So, Organic theory is the idea that countries behave like organisms in that they seek nutrition to survive. The nutrition in the country’s case is land territory. It was used by Adolf Hitler to justify his ruthless expansion of Nazi Germany.
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