Geopolitics: How Maps Help Us Understand History, Predict the Future – Pt. 2, by Brian Miller

(Continued from Part 1.  This concludes the article.)

Geopolitics, Social Darwinism, State Survival, and “Lebensraum”

These histories serve as a simplified starting point for understanding geopolitics, and the types of influences that are embedded in the concept. With state sovereignty came the dominant understanding that a state’s purpose was that of survival. Said differently, states were seen to always be in competition with different states.

In the late 19th century, Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection was being applied by scholars to the study of societies (Social Darwinism). German geographer, Friedrich Ratzel, applied Darwin’s natural selection theory to state sovereignty (particularly Germany), and together the concept became known as the “Organic Theory of the State.”

The foundation of Ratzel’s theory was that states interact with different states through the “survival of the fittest” perspective, and that a state must grow through territorial expansion in order to thrive.

The implementation of this theory had a particular consequence. Ratzel’s theory of state survival is said to have legitimized “continual war of all against all, as each country must seek the path of the least resistance to territorial expansion and must simultaneously defend its territory at all costs.”

The term “geopolitics” was coined by Swedish political scientist Rudolf Kjellen (a student of Ratzel’s) in 1899, and inspired an intellectual movement between German and Scandinavian scholars. This movement, supported by the “science” of geopolitics, resulted in a veneer of legitimacy that a state, and its nation, should be viewed as combined elements that together produce a stronger effect.

Ratzel envisioned the nation and state relationship as a “super-organism” whose strength was determined by the size of its territory, population, and the availability of natural resources. Ratzel further published The Sea as a Source of Greatness of a People in 1901, and identified ways in which the land and sea provide opportunity for expansion. This work introduced the concept “Lebensraum,” translated to mean “living space,” which argued that stronger states would naturally take territory and resources from weaker states.

Prior to World War I, Ratzel and Kjellen’s work contributed to the idea that Germany was the “land of geographers,” as German universities were among the first to teach geography. This renewed interest, supported by such geopolitical theories, positioned geography as the “god’s eye view” of how the world “really” worked.

The Nazi Connection: Geopolitk and Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”

The relationship between geopolitics and the rise of the Nazi party is accredited to political geographer Karl Haushofer. Prior to Haushofer’s career in “Geopolitik,” he was active German military who spent time in Japan studying their armed forces between 1908 and 1910. Haushofer’s interaction with both military officials and scholars during that time would later be accredited to the rise of geopolitical institutions in Japan during the 1920s and 1930s. His influence would also stretch as far as South America.

Following World War I, Haushofer retired as a major general in 1919, and took a professor position teaching geography at the University of Munich. Haushofer, like Ratzel before him, believed that German greatness was dependent upon Lebensraum:

“If the state was to prosper rather than just survive, the acquisition of ‘living space,’ particularly in the East, was vital and moreover achievable with the help of potential allies such as Italy and Japan.”

According to Haushofer, if Germany was to grow into a world power, and rebound from the losses of the WWI defeat, its leadership would need to be thoughtful of five essential elements:

  • Physical location
  • Resources
  • Territory
  • Morphology
  • Population

Haushofer’s own geopolitical theories promoted the concept of “pan regions,” which argued that Germany and other state powers, such as Japan, should develop distinct geopolitical strategies that focus on separate regions. To do so was to carve up the map and become neighbors in world domination rather than interfering within each state’s territory of interest. For Haushofer, his geopolitical focus was to the East and Africa.

Following the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, Rudolf Hess (Hitler’s personal secretary, and one of five people who held key positions in the Nazi party), was arrested and imprisoned for participating in the failed coup against the Weimar Republic. Hess was a former student of Haushofer, and it was this relationship that would lead Haushofer to visit Hess in prison, thus becoming introduced to Hitler.

As we are familiar, Hitler authored Mein Kampf while in prison, and the work draws from the theory of Lebensraum (living space) to support Hitler’s vision of German destiny, territorial expansion and “the master race.”

Some common misconceptions around this history (especially in America) are that Haushofer was thought to be the intellectual powerhouse behind Hitler’s ambition of territorial expansion and genocide. It is true that Haushofer was highly influential with ambitions of territorial expansion, but it was Hitler who placed the far greater emphasis on the identity of people – i.e., the master race vs. the Jewish monster.

Haushofer was never a Nazi himself, and his son had been executed in 1945 for his role in a bomb plot to assassinate Hitler the year prior. With learning of his son’s role in the assassination attempt, Haushofer would commit suicide in 1946.

It is also a misconception that Hitler manifested the hatred of the Jewish people on his own. This claim is not to undermine Hitler’s role in the atrocities of WWII, but it is useful to explore the longer history of persecution and violence against Jewish people in this part of the world long before Hitler was born. In this way, it becomes more useful for understanding geopolitical concepts to recognize the ways in which Hitler “tapped” in to preexisting prejudices and manipulated identities as to justify territorial expansion and genocide.

The Decline of Geopolitics

There were several theoretical and scientific concepts that shaped the thoughts of world leaders leading up to and during WWII that are commonly associated with the Third Reich. Some examples include propaganda (Himmler), the systematic approach to genocide (Fordism), and eugenics to only name a few. However, none of these examples originated with the Nazis, and geopolitics is no exception.

Geopolitics did play an integral role in the rise of the Third Reich, but following the Allied victory of WWII, geopolitics was seen as an “intellectual poison.” With few exceptions after 1945, geopolitics was tainted with Nazism and lost credibility in the United States, Britain, Russia, Japan and other parts of Europe.

In relation to Haushofer’s early influence stretching to South America, Lebensraum and theories of the organic state were alive and well in South American military strategy post-WWII. Geopolitics later reemerged in the West during the 1970s, due to Henry Kissinger making sense of the Cold War.

The focus in this article is only a small snapshot of a particular geography and its history in relation to a single geopolitical theory. Other influential theories around this period include U.S. Admiral Thomas Mahan’s classic on sea power, and Halford Mackinder’s “The Heartland Theory.

Mahan’s theory on sea power suggested that the Navy was the most important factor in projecting state power (Japan found this useful), and Mackinder believed that world power was not obtainable through the sea, but through the control of the Eurasian landmass with the anticipation of a rising Russian power.

There are also many other political geographies that justify the use of violence that include imperialism, both British and Spanish colonialism, and even earlier empires. Our focus here is only one of many examples. However, there are some important geographic concepts which can be taken away from this.

The Hidden Power of Maps: What’s Included (and What’s Not)

Maps are an important aspect of geography, and they all have hidden forms of power. As can be found in the earlier discussion of “imagined geographies,” it’s important to be aware that all maps (the same goes for all media today) have a creator that – either knowingly or unknowingly – projects what they value and find important onto their creation.

As such, it is always useful to be aware of what types of places, history or knowledge is not on a particular map. While we know that what is on a map is certainly useful, what is not on a map can be much more important if we are interested in charting a course to better understand the power of geopolitics.

Environmental Determinism: From Ancient Greece to Rural Appalachia

A common theme embedded in these early geopolitical theories is traced back to the Greeks, who speculated that human behavior is shaped directly by climate and geographic location. This type of thought is known as environmental determinism. Scholars who take a deterministic view suggest that intellectual advancement in Greece was a result of the mountainous landscape that inspired “loftier thoughts.” The same concept has been applied in America because our wide open plains inspire people to “think big.”

If only human behavior was this simple. The problem with the environmental deterministic view is that it suffers from a lack of attention to types of government structure, laws, history, social dynamics, coercion, violence, and types of technology that also shape human behavior. While the environment does play a part, it is only a small part of a much larger process of how human behavior is shaped. Not to mention that today, the environment is no longer understood as “nature” or the “natural” world, but also includes human-built environments (urban spaces). When clearly defined, environmental determinism is too simple of an explanation to be useful.

As an example, the American southern accent (think the TV show “Hee Haw”) can often be associated with the thought that rural people are unintelligent. However, as can be found in the work of John Gaventa, this common stereotype has its origins in a corporation violently exploiting people in the Appalachian Valley and framing their culture as too simple-minded to understand capitalism. This example is interesting in several ways because Appalachia is mountainous, but the “loftier thoughts” that attempt to explain how the Greeks were intellectually advanced is absent in this context.

Perhaps a more recent example of environmental determinism can be found in this news article that attempts to describe “white nationalism” as a characteristic of all firearm owners. According to this narrative, people who own firearms are white, violent, and are said to be on a level similar to Islamist extremists. As we know, there are many different cultures and races that understand the importance of firearm ownership.

However, this current narrative is geopolitical at its core, and has elements of every concept contained within this article. We have imagined geographies (includes both shared and forgotten histories), a strong emphasis of identity (us vs. them), a stripped-down version of Lebensraum (tying up the nation and the state for ideological expansion, rather than geographical), and the environmental deterministic view that attempts to simplify and single out a particular race.

It should also be noted that environmental determinism is commonly discussed in ways that focus on how non-white races are repressed. Many of those discussions are absolutely valid and true. Nevertheless, our focus here is not to marginalize those repressions, but rather highlight how such deterministic views do not discriminate in their political use. Environmental determinism has impacted all races and cultures in one way or another.

Applying Geography

At the outset, we posed the question: Why do so many people not know what geography is all about? The answer to that question is perhaps because geography has such a long and violent history in the project of state creation and civilization.

Thus understanding the value of geography helps us see the state’s imperatives – taxation, conscription, and the prevention of rebellion – for what they are. It also helps each of us better orient our relationship to the state: What information we divulge to it, whether that be for a gun background check or an income tax return. What state policies (up to and including war) we support. And why politicians say one thing and regularly do another.

Geography also provides an opportunity to place seemingly random histories under a microscope – to question and better understand why certain patterns and processes shape how we understand the world, and our place in it.

While some believe that geopolitics declined following WWII, later re-emerged and declined yet again with the Cold War, geopolitics is very much alive and well today. The maps of the world are still being carved up, and states are still in competition with one another either overtly or in more subtle ways.

For American foreign policy in particular, this is evidenced where the U.S. military maintains foreign bases, to whom the military-industrial complex is permitted to sell American-made weapons, why Washington orders drone strikes in certain places and not others, among many others.

Geography can certainly provide a clearer understanding of potential futures, because states have been playing by the same basic rules since the rise of state sovereignty in 1648. The better we can understand these geographic histories and the maps that define them, the better equipped we become at making sense of seemingly random occurrences throughout the world.

Editor’s Concluding Note: This guest article was first posted by It is re-posted with permission. It appealed to me because–like the author–I adhere to the Geographic Detriminist school of history. – JWR


    1. QGIS is one free one but it is unwieldy and probably won’t work on the average computer. Google free mapping software and check out the technical specs to see what will best work on your computer and do the job you are looking for. Google earth is useful for viewing or for transferring data to other mapping software but I refuse to work in their software.

  1. Good article, gave me memories of “Guns, Germs, and Steel!” It’s also interesting to note Bismarck’s (arguably the greatest statesman of the late 19th Century) opposition to Germany acquiring overseas colonies, and his reliance on a complex web of diplomatic alliances to work the competition of all-states-against-all-states to Germany’s advantage.

    As a Henry Ford fan, I also have to say that labelling Fordism an enabler of genocide is a very uncharitable take on an idea that contributed much to American prosperity, and without which we may have lost WW2 and the Cold War.

    1. Fordism is a common name given to the systemic approach of a particular process. Depending on how far one reads back on history, Ford was inspired by military processes that date back to the 1300s.

      I am not sure this article is saying that Henry Ford contributed to genocide, but rather his approach to assembly line production, which was inspired by early military history and style of management, is a common name used to characterize a systematic approach.

  2. Six years ago i went back to college and got a degree in geospatial technology. This is the creation of maps to display specific data/statistics. These maps can contain information ranging from utilities, bike paths, trees, political parties/voting info, sales/marketing info and even online/browsing info. One example of intrusive data collection is retail stores. These include membership stores like Costco, stores with discount cards and even Wal-Mart. Yes Wal-Mart, several years ago i went online to to order something and when I went to create an account i found a history of grocery items I had bought at my local store. Normally we buy our groceries with cash but on few occasions I have used a debit card when I had no cash. Upon investigation i found that those items in my shopping history were purchased on debit card. The amount of data being collected, mapped and used is astonishing.

  3. Exceptionally well written article!
    For me, history and geography are critically important for personal safety.
    Personal safety and oppressive government is on a lot of Americans’ minds right now, as we see large groups of people moving out of urban areas and into the country. Many trying to get out before the election. People are buying properties sight unseen. Unbelievable, but I get it. History and geography are two topics that remind us of why the 2nd Amendment is so critical to our survival.

  4. Great article, I wish the author were available for answering questions.

    As for learning geography, perhaps some parents reading this could use what my parents used to teach me. There was a game called “Game of the States,” which used a map of the U.S. as the playing board. You had a little truck and you drove around the country buying the main products that each state produced, and had to answer questions before you able to make a purchase such as “What is the state capitol?” The first time we played I still remember scrunching up my face and pronouncing Missouri as “Mrs. Sour Eye.” There was also “I Owe Way” and “Orrygoan”. 🙂

    Game of the States is still around after all these decades:

    Th best thing they did was to buy me a globe. It had a detachable base so my dad and I would sit on the couch and between TVC commercials, or sometimes just on a slow Saturday afternoon, we’d take turns finding the most obscure country on the globe, say the name, and the other guy would have to find it on the globe. In the process, I even learned where all the big countries were located. In the fifth grade, we had a blank globe with the outlines of all the countries, which could be written on with chalk. The teacher would call on a student to find a certain country and then write it in with chalk. On one day, student after student failed to mark the proper country. On my turn, I marked the first one correctly, than she proceeded to give me country after country, and was duly impressed that I never missed a single one, even the most obscure tiny little ones. All from my dad sitting with me on the couch, tricking me into learning geography by making a game of it. He barely graduated high school but he was not only one of the most educated people I ever knew, but one of the best teachers as well. Thanks Dad!

    1. So, for the updated edition of Game of The States, for the main products that each state produced…

      Is California’s main product “Foolishness”?


      Is New Jersey’s main product “Misery”?

    2. You had a very cool Dad, St. Funogas!

      So, we home schooled the girls in the Classical Model of Education. The girls studied Geography from day one. They memorized the location of the states and capitals of the USA every third year and then the countries and capitals of Asia, Oceana, Europe, Africa alternating years. In Junior high, they had a full year of Geography, memorizing, tracing and labeling, and then free hand drawing the entire world, while memorizing where each country was located, it’s capital and major features. Their end-of-year Geography project was to create an artistic model of the Earth’s Geography, using any medium: wood burning, glass, metal, paper, ink, clay, paints, Pencils, etc. and presenting all of the countries of the world. Then their exam was to, from memory, to draw the world and label all of the countries their capitals and major features in three hours. It was quite fun and quite an accomplishment. I can safely say that in our family, we all love Geography.

      1. Hey Lily and Fester, now I’m curious what geography curriculum my kids who home school use. Sounds like both the systems you mention are good. Lily, yours sounds exceptionally cool. It would be a fun summer project with my grandkids to spend a few days/weeks making paper-mache globes, then using math to figure out and draw the latitude/longitude lines, then using those lines to help draw in the countries and main features like rivers and mountain ranges, even some underwater features like where the tectonic plates are.

    3. I learned geography through a homeschool curriculum called Mapping the World by Heart. It’s just how it sounds. You have to actually learn what country/nation was within borders on a blank paper, bodies of water included. It really helped my understanding of world conflicts, etc. through the years. I hope to use the same curriculum with my children.

  5. A wonderful article. Thanks for running it. As another comment noted, this article has echoes of Jared Diamond’s work. Also reminds me a bit of The Great Frontier by Walter Prescott Webb.

  6. I have been making my own unique map over the past week. I used Google Maps satellite view and printed out a roughly 20k radius view with our farm in the center. During trips to town, I take different roads that serve as ingress, egress of my location, and note the homes with Biden/Harris 2020 signs. It has provided quite a stunning picture of which avenues may be hazardous to travel in about 45 days.

      1. Glad I could help BWL. The Biden signs are certainly in the minority here as well but it has been quite revealing. Exempting the older ones who still believe they are still voting for the Democrat party of JFK, even here, in rural Virginia there are those who drink deeply from the punchbowl of Marxist Kool-aid. Always a good piece of easy intelligence gathering when they out themselves.

      2. As of Friday September 25th there are no DFL campaign signs on the state, county and township roads I take to go to work. I won’t be shedding any tears if I never see any. They are all Trump signs, but nothing else so far. JWR made a good point about buying real estate now.

  7. 1) Henry Ford really hit the nail on the head when he said “History is bunk”.
    At least when talking about the official histories put out by corrupt universities — telling the Truth about the Rich is not how Harvard got a $40 billion endowment. An endowment created originally on profits from the slave trade.
    You have to examine the EVIDENCE –or lack of it — for official histories to really appreciate the truth of what Ford said.

    2) For example, about 18 years ago a group of US historians — the Yassky Group — mounted an effort to overthrow the Second Amendment by arguing only they knew what really happened in 1776.

    The basis of their attack was Michael Bellesiles “Arming America” — a history that claimed few Americans owned firearms in 1776.

    3) Arming America has the distinction of receiving US History’s highest award — the
    Bancroft Prize — only to have that Prize rescinded when people OUTSIDE the history profession — Clayton Cramer, James Lindgren,etc — pointed out that the evidence Bellesiles had cited did not exist.

    4) But Academia’s move to crucify Bellesiles began when I pointed out that Arming America was the basis for an extremely one-sided push by Academia to ban firearms, with no attempt by these taxpayer-supported professors to give an even-sided view.

    Law Professor Glenn Reynolds noted my article on his conservative blog Instapundit.

    Shortly thereafter, the National Endowment for the Humanities rescinded the grant it gave to Bellesiles and a group of historians —allegedly misled by the Evil Bellesiles – began an ongoing academic trial of Bellesiles. With the Inquisition led by a Stanford historian named Jack Rakove.

    5) What is hilarious is not only was Arming America fake history but the history of how the professional historians handled the fraud is fake history. That history, written by Pro-gun control Peter Charles Hoffer of the Yassky Group, depicted the incident as one in which sincere, good-intentioned history professors were misled by the evil Bellesiles and they worked to correct things when informed of the facts.

    6) Claptrap. Utter claptrap. At the back of Arming America, Michael Bellesiles thanked lead prosecutor Jack Rakove for reading and approving every page. When I pointed this out on the historians H-OIEAHC forum, Rakove admitted that he had arranged for Bellesiles to get a grant from Stanford to research and write Arming America.

    7) But what about Academia’s much-proclaimed Peer Review? What has never been noted is that Arming America was waved through peer review with lavish praise by historian Roger Lane. An event with what intel people call “anomalies”.

    One is that Roger Lane was retired – hence, professionally immune from approving claptrap.

    The second is that Roger was a history professor at Haverford College – which is also where Jack Rakove studied history as an undergraduate.

    8) Some other “anomalies” in 2002:

    a) A law firm in Chicago, using the legacy of a dead heiress, runs something called the Joyce Foundation. The major funder of the gun control movement.

    b) Joyce Foundation funds a symposium producing a set of articles in the Chicago Kent Law Review attacking the Second Amendment. The symposium was led by a professor named Carl T Bogus (I’m not making this up ) and included historian Jack Rakove. Much of the Chicago Kent arguments were based on Bellesile’ s “Arming America”.

    c) A major gun-control advocacy group, the Violence Policy Center , praises the scholarship of the Chicago-Kent Symposium — with NO ONE pointing out that VPC is almost 90% funded by the same Joyce Foundation that funded the Chicago Kent symposium VPC is praising.

    d) The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California rules that the Second Amendment is not an individual right and cites Bellesiles’ Arming America – then hilariously has to later rewrite its ruling to delete the Bellesiles citations after Arming America is discredited.

    e) The Joyce Foundation’s $1 Billion in assets are EXEMPT from taxes because it claims to be a public charity working on “public health” and not engaged in political advocacy.,

    f) At this time (2002) its Board of Directors included an obscure professor of Constitutional Law named Barack Obama.

  8. Great article, thanks for posting! This is by far the most informative blog on the internet, particularly since you added the comments section. It instills a sense of family to the daily reader because of the handful of regular commentators who post so frequently. I feel as though I know you without having ever met you. That’s a special thing in these trying times. God bless you all.

    1. Well said, BD. I, likewise, have a sense of familial connection with my fellow contributors. All of us are smarter than any of us. Our shared quest for insight and liberty nourishes us all.

      Carry on in grace

  9. One of the most interesting classes I took in college was on Political Geography: how politics is influenced by geography and how geography shapes politics. It has proved eminently practical in today’s society

  10. I hope everyone can bear with an old geezer strolling down memory lane for a few moments. I’ve loved geography since as far back as I can remember. My bucket list started when I was five years old looking at my Golden Book Encyclopedias and later, maps. The first item on my bucket list was to go to Alaska some day. Oddly enough the only state I’ve never been to yet is… Alaska. In our house, we referred to “the Rand McNally” and we all knew what it was. On cross-country family trips, my sisters and I would run inside every gas station we stopped at and load up on all the free road maps they had back in those days, then back home we’d spend hours and hours looking at them, dreaming of travels, and laughing at the funny place names like Bill, Wyoming, Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, and Boring (z-z-z-z) Oregon.

    I added dozens of items to my bucket list over the years just from looking at maps. Like going to that tiny little piece of Minnesota (the Northwest Angle) that isn’t even hooked on the the rest of the U.S., standing at the Greenwich meridian, standing on the equator with a foot on each side, in both thenorthern and southen hemispheres (I know, corny!), going to the islands of Guernsey and Jersey just to see where the cows came from (and I nominate the people of Guernsey to be the nicest people on the whole planet). To Komodo Island to see if there really were dragons there. I eventually made it to all those places, and lots more, even played slap the bull with a large Komodo dragon (after letting the guide get around a bend in the trail and out of sight) and lived to tell the tale.

    Okay, going way, WAY out on a limb here… Here’s a poem I wrote in my 12th grade English class about maps. They all thought I was uncreative writing about such a “dumb” topic.

    A map is a wonderous piece of paper
    Covered with lines from a talented maker
    That offers for free to all who will seek
    A mind trip for a day or a week
    Leave all your cares and your problems behind
    And all of your worries that choke you and bind
    Gaze at your map and read of her places
    Dream of the trails that left us few traces
    Float down her rivers and travel her highways
    Hitchhike a back road or stroll down a byway
    Run through the leaves that turn red in Vermont,
    Do what you will and go anywhere you want
    Traveling a map is as free as the air
    With just half an hour you can go anywhere you dare
    So pick up a map the next time you’re bored
    And enjoy yourself right out of your gourd!

    That pretty much ended any hopes of a career in creative writing so I majored in one of the sciences instead. But I’ve never outgrown my love of maps. 🙂

  11. It seems that moving just 36 days before a epic election is short sighted. I know of a couple that is trying to move to Boise, Idaho in the next month or so. They moved just 5 years ago to Washington State-(not West Coast cities- midpoint of State)- and now wanting to buy in Idaho. The move alone will cost in the $35,000 dollar range factoring in moving expenses plus realty fees.
    The main problems I see is the fact they will be outsiders in every sense of the word at a time of great turmoil no matter who wins in Nov.
    The price points are high since they are looking at $600K property that’s already high for wages if the area. The only positive they will not have a mortgage and are debt free.
    So people moving to a new area, no friends in area, new to any church they attend and paying a premium for the property, how is that a good idea? And spending $30,000+ in fees!!!

    1. !. SurvivalBlog has a link on the top of the page under Resources. This article might be helpful. ~Finding Like-Minded People in Your Area~
      2. Me (GGHD) … Many people with the ability to choose where they live, in the USA, will move to an area where it’s a >safer place to live. … … Unfortunately, once safe areas in the USA have become havens for criminals. Most people don’t like to sleep with one-eye open and a gun under the pillow.
      (Politicians are included in the large criminal class in many places, now days.)
      … … There are many articles about liberal Celebrities and Rich People moving from Cities and Neighborhoods, that are no longer safe.

      3. Many people now days are asking, “What will happen if the electricity and water system is disrupted for a few weeks?” = “Will my neighbors be helpful or will they try to crawl through the back window and steal my stuff?”

      4. Maps can help people find a safer area, and gain familiarity with an area too. Some websites even allow people to comment about specific areas in a location. Maps with the location of crime incidents are sometimes placed online by the local police.

      5. Generally, the overall opinion on SurvivalBlog says, “The best time to relocate from a potentially dangerous location to a safer place is ~first thing tomorrow morning.” + ‘It might be dangerous for many people in American Cities to venture outside at night!’

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