Review of International Studies

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Theodore Roosevelt, geopolitics, and cosmopolitan ideals


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The central argument of this article is that Theodore Roosevelt’s worldview was formed at the intersection of geopolitics and cosmopolitan morality. The intellectual roots of his political and foreign policy convictions contributed to a diplomatic style for which the conventional labels of realism or idealism are both inadequate and misleading. Contrary to the stereotypical caricature of Roosevelt as an American architect of realpolitik, or ruthless man on horseback, he held a complex set of beliefs about international relations that transcends familiar academic theorising about either power politics or universal principles of morality. Neither the vision of international anarchy, nor the calculation of state capabilities, do justice to Roosevelt’s sense of the interplay between values and power in foreign policy conduct. Moral principles, Roosevelt claimed, help make clear the inescapable tension between ideals and reality. The moral problem persists, he thought, because foreign policy involves political choices obscured by faulty perception, controlled by national interests, and complicated by multiple purposes and goals. Roosevelt’s more nuanced worldview underscores the need for a revised historiography of international relations, one that builds upon the recognition that realists and idealists were never divided into clearly-identifiable camps either before or after the First World War.

(Published Online August 7 2006)