Intellectualism in U.S. Diplomacy

  • Charmley, John (Co-Investigator)

Project Details


Historians and journalists such as Richard Hofstadter and Susan Jacoby have decried the reality of 'anti-intellectualism' in American society, culture, and politics. Yet intellectuals have played a vital and underappreciated role in shaping US diplomacy - from Alfred Thayer Mahan to Paul Wolfowitz. This monograph, titled World Makers: Intellectualism in American Diplomacy, explores the varied reasons why US government has proved so amenable to input from academia, think-tanks, and freelance intellectuals and examines the careers of eight intellectuals who authored influential geopolitical doctrines: Alfred Mahan, Woodrow Wilson, Charles Beard, Walter Lippmann, George Kennan, Paul Nitze, Henry Kissinger and Paul Wolfowitz. The introduction to the book first discusses the varying ways in which the 'intellectual' has been defined, and proposes criteria that allow us to identify a foreign policy intellectual. It secondly examines the historical circumstances that have allowed intellectuals - broadly conceived - to influence US diplomacy from 1890 to the present; focusing on the proliferation of US colleges through the nineteenth century, pioneering attempts to utilise the academy such as Robert La Follette's "Wisconsin Idea," the professionalization of US higher education inspired by the achievements of Germany's research universities, and the strong links forged between academia, think-tanks and government through the progressive era, two world wars, and into the Cold War and beyond. It thirdly compares the US experience of welcoming intellectuals into policymaking with that of the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China - the four nations that have displayed a global ambition comparable to the United States in recent history.

The core of the book constitutes eight chapters on the individuals named above. These chapters are not discrete biographical studies, but are designed to probe the way in which successive generations of intellectuals reacted, to some degree, to the ideas presented by their predecessors. Woodrow Wilson's moralistic internationalism was conceived partly as a response to Alfred Mahan's hard-headed calculation of national interest. Charles Beard's isolationism railed against the naïve hopelessness of Wilson's League of Nations and argued that the plight of poor Americans was being ignored by the elitist Anglophiles of the north-eastern seaboard. The pragmatic Walter Lippmann reacted against Wilson's Panglossian vision for international affairs and Beard's insularity and lack of foresight. In later years, neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz pilloried Henry Kissinger for his amoral realism and his lack of affinity for traditional American values. These chapters, based on fresh archival research in the United States - including some wonderful material from George Kennan's recently released diaries at the Seeley-Mudd library in Princeton - are designed to gauge the influence exerted by these intellectuals. But the wider purpose is to set out a grand debate on the three foreign policy doctrines - realism, isolationism, and variants on liberal internationalism - that have vied for dominance at the apex of US government.

The book's penultimate chapter examines the influence exerted by the intellectuals currently employed by the Obama administration - Anne-Marie Slaughter, Samantha Power, James Steinberg, and Susan E. Rice, to name but four - and concludes with a discussion of the intellectual types - the political scientist of political historian; the generalist or specialist; the fox or the hedgehog, as Isaiah Berlin would have it - that have contributed most usefully to US foreign policy-making. The book's core purpose is to identify the intellectual attributes that combine most efficaciously in the making of US foreign policy. It cautions that the making of foreign policy requires a cognitive flexibility that too often eludes academics with theories to prove.
Effective start/end date1/09/1131/03/12


  • Arts and Humanities Research Council: £53,387.00