Every Citizen a Statesman: The Dream of a Democratic Foreign Policy in the American Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2023)
The surprising story of the movement to create a truly democratic foreign policy by engaging ordinary Americans in world affairs.
No major arena of United States governance is more elitist than foreign policy. International relations barely surface in election campaigns, and policymakers take little input from Congress. But not all Americans set out to build a cloistered foreign policy “establishment.” For much of the twentieth century, officials, activists, and academics worked to foster an informed public that would embrace participation in foreign policy as a civic duty.
The first comprehensive history of the movement for “citizen education in world affairs,” Every Citizen a Statesman recounts an abandoned effort to create a democratic foreign policy. Taking the lead alongside the State Department were philanthropic institutions like the Ford and Rockefeller foundations and the Foreign Policy Association, a nonprofit founded in 1918. One of the first international relations think tanks, the Association backed local World Affairs Councils, which organized popular discussion groups under the slogan “World Affairs Are Your Affairs.” In cities across the country, hundreds of thousands of Americans gathered in homes and libraries to learn and talk about pressing global issues.
But by the 1960s, officials were convinced that strategy in a nuclear world was beyond ordinary people, and foundation support for outreach withered. The local councils increasingly focused on those who were already engaged in political debate and otherwise decried supposed public apathy, becoming a force for the very elitism they set out to combat. The result was a chasm between policymakers and the public that has persisted since the Vietnam War, insulating a critical area of decisionmaking from the will of the people.
Great Decisions, the Foreign Policy Association, and the Triumph of Elitism in the U.S. Foreign Policy Community, International History Review 43 (2021): 701-719
Who decides the national interest in a mass democracy? This article combines international, political, and intellectual history to demonstrate that a significant theoretical and practical debate about the relative power of experts and publics continued within the U.S. foreign policy community well into the Cold War. Arguing that ‘public opinion’ and related concepts should be treated as constructions rather than innate realities, it uses the history of the Foreign Policy Association to show how the rise of a radical ‘elitist theory of democracy’ among political scientists was contested by those in the foreign policy community who believed that broad participation in the making of U.S. foreign policy was both possible and desirable. Great Decisions, an expansive, enduring program that began in Portland, Oregon, in 1955, was the Association’s attempt to prove elitist theory wrong, but its attempt to contest the new political science at scale faltered precisely because it conceived of participation in ways that tended to appeal to white, educated, usually wealthy citizens. With the failure of Great Decisions, the foreign policy community gave up on participation, the assumption becoming widespread that foreign policy was, and could only be, the domain of experts and elites.
Internationalist Exhibitionism: The League of Nations at the New York World’s Fair, 1939–1940, in Jonas Brendebach, Martin Herzer, and Heidi J. S. Tworek (eds.), International Organizations and the Media in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Exorbitant Expectations (New York: Routledge, 2018): 91-116
In 1939 and 1940, a total of 2.1 million visitors passed through the League of Nations Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. As war broke out in Europe, what was the League — widely seen as dying — doing erecting a 100-foot tall building in Flushing, Queens? This article explains how public legitimacy is crucial to international institutions in a world of sovereign states. It shows that the League tried to recast itself in the late 1930s, promoting a technical internationalism that downplayed its failure to prevent war. It demonstrates how that process was a public one, involving cultural diplomacy on a monumental scale. It argues, most importantly, that this process was above all intended to make clear that the League was a product of American traditions, of American statecraft, of American ideals. But as wars raged, the Pavilion flopped. Artistically ignored, it was left to turn derelict, unvisited, a forgotten presence in an empty corner of the grounds.
This volume was reviewed on H-Diplo.
Diplomatic History After the Big Bang: Using Computational Methods to Explore the Infinite Archive (with Matthew Connelly), in Frank Costigliola and Michael J. Hogan (eds.), Explaining the History of American Foreign Relations (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016): 74-101
Facing an “infinite archive” of digitized and born-digital documents — up to two billion emails were sent each year by the Hillary Clinton State Department — how are historians of U.S. foreign relations to cope? Arguing that we face both an profound challenge and a remarkable opportunity, and developed in collaboration with computer scientists and statisticians at Columbia University’s History Lab, this article shows how computational tools can be used to extend, rather than replace, historians’ traditional methods. Outlining techniques such as traffic analysis, topic modeling, and authorship attribution, it explores the promise of big data — and warns of its perils.
This volume was reviewed on H-Diplo.
Realism and Malarkey: Henry Kissinger, the State Department, and Domestic Consensus, Journal of Cold War Studies 17 (2015): 184-219
After the turmoil of Vietnam, Henry Kissinger and the State Department tried to reconstruct a public consensus on foreign policy, and bring it behind détente with the Soviet Union. While scholars have shown that Kissinger tried to do this by making a series of philosophical speeches in 1975 and 1976, this article is the first to show just how quixotic that effort was. To find out why Kissinger’s message seemed not to be getting through, the State Department set up “town meetings” in five cities, asking for public input into foreign policy. What they found horrified them — a rejection of Kissinger, of détente, of realism, of post-Vietnam foreign policy in general. A consensus, if it could be put back together, would have to come around more moralistic conceptions of the U.S. in the world than Kissinger was ever prepared to offer.
The Peace Corps in US Foreign Relations and Church-State Politics, Historical Journal 58 (2015): 245-273
Historians tend to think of the Peace Corps, founded by the Kennedy Administration in 1961, as a symbol of a new, modern, development-oriented foreign policy, secular and striving. But this article shows that it was, in part, a response to the spiritual cold war fostered by Kennedy’s predecessors. Often described in explicitly religious — and explicitly Catholic — language by its supports, the Corps drew on the heritage of missionary and church-service groups, and even intended to contract with them to do its work. But as Catholic organizations were most visibly interested in receiving Peace Corps funds, this proved politically unworkable. The Kennedy Administration struggled to separate the secular and the sacred, as confused definitions of “religion” and a tough constitutional stance narrowed policy options. The Peace Corps fight shaped, and was shaped by, contemporary debates over church and state.