Geopolitics and Statistics

Dr. Karl Höhn
1. Traditional Geopolitics and National Power
An examination of traditional geopolitics is unavoidable when looking at the measurement of national power, for no other school of thought has been more focused on the elements of national power than traditional geopolitics. It partially relates to the more empirical?inductive focus of geopolitics, which is interested first of all in facts about international politics. For the purpose of geopolitics, it is preferable to have these facts in the most comparable format, which is statistics. It also relates to the geographic input into geopolitics, for geographical country descriptions feature many relevant country statistics,[1] many of which are elements of national power. A triangle can be constructed to visualize the three inputs that go into geopolitics and geopolitical measurements of national power:


International Politics


     Geography                                                     Statistics


Rudolf Kjellén saw it in bipolar terms: on one side is regular political science [Staatswissenschaft] as the thesis, on the other side are statistics and geography as the anti-thesis, both sides calling forth a new synthesis. In a broader context he considered economics, society, and state as cultural formations, while territory and population are the natural foundations (Kjellén 1917: 32, 44−45).
2. Statistics and National Power
In our time nobody associates anymore statistics with the state or political science, though the term "statistics" itself has visibly the term "state" in it. This chapter offers a brief and incomplete sketch of the history of statistics in relation to international politics, the primary purpose of which is to prove that the measurement of national power was the original aim of statistics,[2] that is before the application of statistics broadened to other fields as well. Around 1850 the point was reached that statistics separated from political science to turn into a methodological science in its own right. Nevertheless statistics were then again featured by an emerging geopolitics, given that geopolitics had more of an empirical orientation as compared to the theorizations of a puristic political science. With the post-WWII advance of the computer age, statistics found its way back into international relations especially in the United States, where a viable quantitative community has been existing ever since, and where quantitative approaches are considered a legitimate method within international relations and political science.
In the 17th and early 18th century any reference to the power of the state was uncommon, rather one referred to the power of princes. The expression "state" for the body politic came up in Germany after 1650, and it is only after 1740 that the "state" replaced the "prince" as the holder of power in the public discourse. It is also in the 18th century that "states" are increasingly referred to as "powers" as when talking about the great powers in political discourse (Klueting 1986: 33–36). Gottfried Achenwall (1719–1772) popularized the term "statistics" ["Statistik"] in Germany beginning 1748, though the term has been in irregular use before, so in two book titles from 1672 and 1701. Achenwall traced the term back to "statista" that is the Italian word for statesman,[3] meaning that statistics was a discipline of statecraft [Staatskunst], hence related to political science or "state science" ["Staatenkunde"] as it was called at the time. The intention of statistics was to provide statesmen with the necessary knowledge of the internal conditions of states. The term "statistics" ["Statistik"] was only used in Germany at the time, though similar efforts existed in other countries as well. France then organized its Statistical Office [Bureau de Statistique] in 1801 and Prussia its Royal Statistical Office [Königliches Statistisches Büro] in 1805 (Klueting 1986: 40–41, 51–53, 56).
Statistics, in the way understood nowadays, had its origin in England with the works of John Graunt (1620–1674) and his friend William Petty (1623–1687). Petty started using the term "political arithmetic" as designation for his statistical work. In 1690 he published a work with the name Political Arithmetic. The term "statistics" was first used in England in 1770 (Johannisson 1990: 343), though it was John Sinclair in 1798 who popularized the term in his work titled The Statistical Account of Scotland. In explaining his motives Sinclair stated in volume 20 of his work:
Many people were at first surprised, at my using the new words, Statistics and Statistical, as it was supposed, that some term in our own language, might have expressed the same meaning. But, in the course of a very extensive tour, through the northern parts of Europe, which I happened to take in 1786, I found, that in Germany they were engaged in a species of political inquiry, to which they had given the name of Statistics; and though I apply a different meaning to that word, for by Statistical is meant in Germany, an inquiry for the purpose of ascertaining the political strength of a country, or questions respecting matters of state; whereas, the idea I annex to the term, is an inquiry into the state of a country, for the purpose of ascertaining the quantum of happiness enjoyed by its inhabitants, and the means of its future improvement; yet as I thought that a new word, might attract more public attention, I resolved on adopting it, and I hope that it is now completely naturalised and incorporated with our language. (Sinclair 1798: xiii–xiv)
This citation also reinforces the point that the original intent of statistics was to look at the strengths and weaknesses of states.
Data has been collected since antiquity in order to know military strength in the case of war. In Rome and Greece all able-bodied men were registered. During the Middle Ages all able-bodied men were counted along with the population in general in order to determine the need for food in the case of a siege (Meier 1940: 497). Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) placed likewise great emphasis on having sufficient men for the army and sufficient food in the case of a siege. He wrote about it in a chapter titled "How the Strength of All Principalities Should be Measured" (Machiavelli, The Prince X). Official statistics in terms of internal data collection were no new development. Rather the history of German statistics [Statistik] started with the creation of comparable profiles for a number of political entities, the type of country profiles one finds today in many almanacs. Two Italian scholars set the beginning of pre-academic statistics in this regard. In 1567 Francesco Sansovino (1521–1586) published his work titled Government and Administration of Several Kingdoms and Republics, Both Ancient and Modern [Del governo et amministratione di diversi regni et republiche, cosi antiche come moderne], in which he dealt with 22 states (Klueting 1986: 43). From 1591 onwards Giovanni Botero (1544–1617) published four volumes of Universal Relations [Le relationi universali], John Hedley remarking that "this vast compendium of contemporary knowledge of the known world — physical, geographical, anthropological, economic, political, and religious — marked a new genre, namely that of political geography" (Headley 2000: 1134). These works were mostly descriptive and contained only random numerical data at best.
Much closer to the modern understanding of statistics is a work of political arithmetic by the English statistician Gregory King (1648–1712). In 1696 he published a work titled Natural and Political Observations and Conclusions upon the State and Condition of England that contained a number of standardized, international statistics on England, France, and the Netherlands. These statistics had timely political relevance as the Nine Years' War was raging from 1688 to 1697. England and the Netherlands were two protagonists of the Grand Alliance, which also included Spain, Savoy, and the Holy Roman Empire. This Grand Alliance was in a war with France. Here are the more relevant statistics provided by King:
Number of People
General Income in £
Public Revenue and Taxes in £
Total / France
Number of People
General Income in £
Public Revenue and Taxes in £
Total / France
Source: King 1696: 68; author's own calculations.
As can be observed, the position of France vis-à-vis the combined total of England and the Netherlands had worsened in all three categories shown. In the end France was unsuccessful in gaining its objectives. Jacek Kugler and Marina Arbetman credit the work of the Gregory King as "one of the first attempts to measure national power" (Kugler & Arbetman 1989: 50). This is an over-interpretation, so King can certainly be credited for being one of the first to estimate national income, also he suggests that such data is "the most useful and necessary" in order to sustain the war (Nine Years' War 1688–1697), but he nowhere explicitly states that national income represents ipso facto national strength (King 1696: 31, 61–66).
The development of statistics Germany was more in the tradition of Sansovino and Botero. Harm Klueting wrote his post-doc habilitation thesis about German statistics in the 18th century, which he calls a "science of the power of states" ["Lehre von der Macht der Staaten"]. He claims that statistics developed in connection to the notions of the balance of power and raison d'état (Klueting 1986: 16). He explains the relation of statistics [Statistik] to statecraft [Staatskunst]:
Statistics and statecraft dealt with questions regarding the power of states and the factors affecting them. Whereas statistics – this contemporary term is used throughout this text in accordance with how it was understood in the 18th century – empirically pulled together knowledge about the power-potential of particular states, statecraft worked on systematic-theoretical principles about the power of states in general, formulated general statements about the nature and content of all power relevant to foreign policy, and discussed possibilities for influencing power relations as well as strategies for increasing or decreasing power. (Klueting 1986: 17–18)[4]
This statement suggests how statistics can relate to political science even nowadays, that is statistics tends to be more empirical-inductive and may as method complement a political science that often tends to be more theoretical-deductive.
Statistics was promoted primarily by academics with the patriotic intention of providing statesmen with a solid foundation of knowledge about their countries in comparison to others. States did not consider such activities helpful, because any information about any country could be considered a state secret [Staatsgeheimnis]. States did not release information they considered sensitive, as they were afraid of possibly endangering themselves by giving other states the opportunity to analyze weak points. Rough information had to be obtained by correspondence, travel writings, and so on (Klueting 1986: 19, 24–25, 40, 63). Initially statistics did not provide many numbers, if any. It was more a standardization of categories for state descriptions in order to be useful for comparative purposes. For example Achenwall used two broad categories: land and people.[5]
The literal focus of statistics was to describe the idiosyncrasies of the various states [Staatsmerkwürdigkeiten]. Table statistics began in 1741 with the work of Johannes Peder Anchersen (1700–1765), though seven out of eight lines in his tables consisted of description, with only one line providing numbers for the size of areas. From 1760 to 1797 one can observe a paradigm shift from the categorization of power to the quantification of power. As a result tables became increasingly numerical in content. This partially correlates to the scholarly perception of material-economic factors as being increasingly important compared to non-material factors (for example the title of nobility, that is whether the ruler is emperor, king, duke, prince, or whatever). In 1785 August Friedrich Wilhelm Crome (1753–1833) introduced the graphical depictions of quantities through diagrams, another important tool of modern statistics (Klueting 1986: 27–28, 55–57, 69, 75–77, 80–82, 316).
The increasing availability as well as reliability of quantitative data eroded the notion of their being state secrets. The publicity of the data turned statistics into feedback mechanism for states in terms of having to compare their performance to that of other states. It went hand in hand with democratic emancipation, for it provided the means to allow citizens to hold their states more accountable (Klueting 1986: 63–66, 69–71). The widespread success of statistics effected its separation from political science [Staatskunde] as it was increasingly used for other purposes than the measurement of power. Felix Klezl looked at 116 definitions of statistics, he counted 45 that emphasized statistics as a part of political science, almost all of them falling into the period 1749–1850, and he counted 47 that emphasized that statistics is an independent methodological science, almost all of them falling into the period 1850–1935, most of the hybrid definitions falling into the period 1846–1854 (Klezl 1940: 11–12).[6]
Subsequently to the emergence of statistics as an independent science in 1850, it appears that the original intention of statistics to collect information and data about countries partially fell into geography, with political science returning its focus mainly to theoretical abstractions. In turn a more empirically oriented political geography emerged with the work of the geographer Friedrich Ratzel, so that later on geography and statistics merged with international politics to form geopolitics. A primary geopolitical focus has been the analysis of the elements of power (chapters 3 & 5). The Journal for Economic Policy [Wirtschaftsdienst Hamburg] was founded in 1916 and specialized on economic issues, periodic country reports, world economic surveys, and statistics; it continues publishing to this day. The Journal of Geopolitics [Zeitschrift für Geopolitik] was founded in 1924. From 1925 to 1927 the Journal for Economic Policy supplied the Journal of Geopolitics with statistics. This cooperation was ended because the Journal of Geopolitics experienced financial difficulties in 1928 (Möller 1987). The following statistics had been featured as "geopolitical statistics":
Demography (Marriages, Births, Deaths)
Coal Production
Extent of Tariffs
Immigration to the United States
Cotton Production & Consumption
Imports via Hamburg, Rotterdam, Antwerp 1910–1913
Iron & Steel Production
Oil Economy
External Trade of the United States
Rubber Production & Consumption
Shipping Costs for German Imports
Production & Distribution of Precious Metals
Metal Production & Consumption
Maritime Traffic in Main Canals & Ports
World Trade
Source: Journal of Geopolitics [Zeitschrift für Geopolitik] 1925–1927.
The initial focus in 1925 was demography. Regular updates on population trends were published in 1928, 1931, 1934, 1936, and 1941. In relation to demography, another pertinent issue discussed in 1925/1926 was the calculation of carrying capacity (section 13.1), that is the maximum population size that the soil of a given country can support. For this calculation one needs to estimate the average fertility of the soil. The focus shifted in 1925/1926 to the production of raw materials, which is geoeconomics in the original sense (section 7.2). Subsequently the focus shifted in 1926/1927 to world trade, German geopolitics promoting the concept of relative autarchy (section 7.1). In 1930/1931 the statistician Karl Saenger took a turn in promoting statistics in the Journal of Geopolitics. He still considered statistics to be a part of political science [Staatswissenschaft] in the broadest sense. He also explained that statistics was originally intended for the administration of the state and not as an aid to great politics (Saenger 1930: 255). He featured the following statistics as "geopolitical statistics":
Air Traffic
Merchant Fleet
Maritime Traffic in Main Canals
Production of Raw Materials
Agricultural Production
International Trade
Maritime Traffic
Source: Journal of Geopolitics [Zeitschrift für Geopolitik] 1930/1931.
Saenger did not add any new field. Agricultural production was already touched upon by looking at carrying capacity, and air traffic can be seen as a technological extension of maritime traffic.
This short review of geopolitical statistics shows that the geopoliticians in charge of the journal were primarily interested in (1) population trends, (2) agricultural production in relation to territory, (3) production of raw materials, and (4) trade dependencies.[7] It is a rather demographic-economic focus, military statistics are clearly absent from these featured geopolitical statistics, though German geopolitics has been accused of militarism and the like.
SOURCE: Karl Höhn, Geopolitics and Statistics, in: Leszek Sykulski (ed), Geopolitics: Grounded in the Past, Geared Toward the Future, Polish Geopolitical Society, Częstochowa 2013, pp. 29-40.
Bisinger, J. C. 1823. Vergleichende Darstellung der Grundmacht oder der Staatskräfte aller europäischen Monarchien und Republiken. Pesth: C. A. Hartleben. Available at‌details/‌vergleichendedar00bisiuoft [12 May 2011].
Johannisson, Karin. Headley, John M. 2000. "Geography and Empire in the Late Renaissance: Botero's Assignment, Western Universalism, and the Civilizing Process." Renaissance Quarterly 53 (4), 1119–1155. Available at‌stable/‌2901458 [28 April 2011].
Headley, John M. 2000. "Geography and Empire in the Late Renaissance: Botero's Assignment, Western Universalism, and the Civilizing Process." Renaissance Quarterly 53 (4), 1119–1155. Available at‌stable/‌2901458 [28 April 2011].
King, Gregory. 1696 [1973]. "Natural and Political Observations and Conclusions upon the State and Condition of England." In: Laslett, Peter. ed. The Earliest Classics: John Graunt and Gregory King. [Farnborough]: Gregg International, 29–73.
Kjellén, Rudolf. 1917. Der Staat als Lebensform. Leipzig: S. Hirzel Verlag.
Klezl, Felix. 1940. "Statistik als Wissenschaft." In: Burgdörfer, Friedrich. ed. Die Statistik in Deutschland nach ihrem heutigen Stand. Berlin: Verlag für Sozialpolitik, Wirtschaft und Statistik, 10–21.
Klueting, Harm. 1986. Die Lehre von der Macht der Staaten: Das außenpolitische Machtproblem in der „politischen Wissenschaft“ und in der praktischen Politik im 18. Jahrhundert. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot.
Kugler, Jacek. & Arbetman, Marina. 1989. "Choosing Among Measures of Power: A Review of the Empirical Record." In: Stoll, Richard J. & Ward, Michael D. eds. Power in World Politics. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 49–77.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. 1513 [1981]. The Prince. Translated by Daniel Donno, 1966. New York: Bantam Books.
Möller, Martin. 1987. "Die Zeitschrift für Geopolitik (ZfG)." [online]. Available at‌person/‌moeller-martin/‌zfg.htm [29 April 2011].
Saenger, K. 1930. "Die Statistik im Rahmen der Geopolitik." Zeitschrift für Geopolitik 7 (3), 255–260.
Sinclair, John. 1798. The statistical account of Scotland: Drawn up from the communications of the ministers of the different parishes. Volume 20. Edinburgh: William Creech. Available at‌books?id=RzUtAAAAYAAJ [27 April 2011].
Supan, Alexander. 1922. Leitlinien der allgemeinen politischen Geographie: Naturlehre des Staates. 2. Ausgabe. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co.
Witt, Stuart. 1993. Statistics and Political Science. Schuylerville: Full Quart Press. Available at‌~switt/statistics.pdf [21 April 2011].

[1] In this context it can be said that non-experts in geography most often judge matters from the viewpoint of utility (Supan 1922: 9). For them the information they find in almanacs, that is country descriptions with constitutional and statistical data in combination with descriptive bits of information on localities, is geography itself.

[2] As a typical example of how closely statistics and international politics was related, one simply needs to look at the book titles of those statistical works that consisted mainly of country descriptions that one finds nowadays in almanacs. For example Joseph Constantin Bisinger published one such work in 1818/1823 titled Comparative Description of the Basic Power or State Forces of all European Monarchies and Republics [Vergleichende Darstellung der Grundmacht oder der Staatskräfte aller europäischen Monarchien und Republiken] (Bisinger 1823). The titles of other statistical works were not less flamboyant.

[3] Stuart Witt wrote a brief and concise discussion of the relationship between statistics and political science. He relates "statistics" to the Latin word "status" that derives from the verb "stare" (to stand), hence "status" referring to "position, posture, situation, condition, and social status" (Witt 1993: 1).

[4] German text: "Statistik und Staatskunst behandelten die Fragen nach der Macht der Staaten und den sie wirkenden Faktoren, wobei die Statistik – dieser zeitgenössische Name soll hier durchgehend gemäß dem Verständnis des 18. Jahrhunderts Verwendung finden – empirisch Kenntnisse über die Machtpotentiale der einzelnen Staaten zusammentrug, während die Staatskunst systematisch-theoretische Maximen über die Macht der Staaten überhaupt erarbeitete, generelle Aussagen über das Wesen und die Inhalte der außenpolitischen relevanten Macht formulierte und Möglichkeiten zur Beeinflussung der Machtverhältnisse, Strategien zur Machtsteigerung oder Machtminderung, erörterte."

[5] The less known scholar Julius August Remer (1738–1803) suggested four categories of power: size, population, wealth, as well as the ability of the country to combine its strengths for undertakings (Klueting 1986: 59–60).

[6] Klezl himself considers statistics to be applied mathematics. He argues for the reintegration of statistics into political science [Staatswissenschaft], partially because statistics cannot generate its own data, it needs the data from somewhere else. He also points out as a possible argument that one needs expertise in the field where the data is coming from. He criticizes the contempt against statistical methods by scholars that are not so strong in mathematics, the same way he criticizes the uncritical faith in the usage of statistics by mathematical experts (Klezl 1940: 15, 17–18, 20).

[7] This short review was concerned only with articles that were explicitly featured as statistical. Other articles may, of course, also contain tables with numbers to support whatever arguments, but they were excluded from this analysis.