Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The purpose of this study is to determine the extent to which the heritage of political thought shaping European raison d'etat is significant for the theory and practice of post-World War II realism in American foreign policy. Analysis is guided by the hypothesis that the response of postwar realists to the issues raised by an interdependent multistate system differs from the traditional rationale of raison d'etat intended for a Eurocentric international society characterized by common diplomatic objectives and values. Consideration is given to how the continental legacy has been modified and adapted by realist spokesmen to the exigencies of America's postwar foreign policy agenda. An opening chapter examines some of the leading European proponents of raison d'etat (Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Richelieu, and Bismarck). The following four chapters provide a number of case studies by which four prominent American thinkers (Walter Lippmann, Reinhold Niebuhr, Hans J. Morgenthau, and George F. Kennan) can be compared and evaluated with regard to the basic assumptions and principles of raison d'etat. The four general criteria for evaluation include: (1) political philosophy and methods of analysis; (2) conceptualization and definition; (3) realism and moral choice in foreign policy; and (4) contemporary foreign policy developments. A concluding chapter assesses the intellectual orientation of American realism by noting both similarities and differences with respect to how the four American thinkers critique the methods and principles of raison d'etat. Specifically, realist scholars have more often exemplified a "pragmatic" perspective in seeking to reconcile universal moral principles with the necessities of national survival and security. Moreover, the continuing significance of national interest and balance of power illustrates the tension between the persistence of state sovereignty and the need for political realists to forcefully address the emergence of new domestic and transnational variables that have become relevant for the role and responsibilities of American power in world politics.