'Second Nature': Realism's Transatlantic Origins, 1880-1910

30 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2019

See all articles by Matthew Specter

Matthew Specter

University of California, Berkeley

Date Written: September 5, 2019


Beginning in the 1890s as US political elites began to think of the US as a “world power” or “great power” — a status that was considered distinct from a merely continental or hemispheric one. There is evidence for this in the writings of academic intellectuals such as the political scientist Paul Reinsch, the geographer Ellen Churchill Semple, and the historian and publicist Alfred Mahan, as well in the political rhetoric employed by politicians such as Henry Cabot Lodge and Theodore Roosevelt. This semantic and ideological shift in the self-image of the United States has its parallel in similar processes at work in Germany in the 1890s. At that time, German imperialism, long focused on the continent, began to develop a navally-oriented Weltpolitik around which intellectuals elaborated a discourse on the requirements of national greatness and “world empire.” This essay argues that the roots of the American foreign policy realism of the 1930s and 40s can be traced to this transatlantic moment.

Keywords: Lebensraum, Alfred Mahan, Friedrich Ratzel, realism, Ellen Semple, Paul Reinsch, Friedrich Treitschke, Frederick Jackson Turner, Weltpolitik, world power, world politics

Suggested Citation

Specter, Matthew, 'Second Nature': Realism's Transatlantic Origins, 1880-1910 (September 5, 2019). Duke Global Working Paper Series No. 2019/13. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3448699 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3448699

Matthew Specter (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

310 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

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