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    Reading the international mind: international public opinion in early Twentieth Century Anglo-American thought

    Wertheim, Stephen (2018) Reading the international mind: international public opinion in early Twentieth Century Anglo-American thought. In: Bessner, D. and Guilhot, N. (eds.) The Decisionist Imagination: Democracy, Sovereignty, and Social Science in the 20th Century. New York, U.S.: Berghahn Books. ISBN 9781785339158.

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    Mid-twentieth century IR realists rejected “public opinion” as a guide for political decisions. Yet realists exaggerated their break with preceding generations, who invoked “public opinion” but did not take it literally. This paper proposes a genealogy of the concept employed by Anglo-American explicators and architects of international society before the advent of decisionist IR theory. In the nineteenth century, liberal internationalists held up public opinion against the great-power Concert of Europe, claiming that public opinion both enforced and legitimated international law. The opinion they cherished was not mass preferences but rather accumulated custom or corporate will, as they, being enlightened men, interpreted it. Then, during World War I, the principal drafters of the League of Nations Covenant redeployed the language of public opinion in support of world organization. Like the lawyers, they meant “public opinion” more paternalistically than literally, but now the main interpreters of public opinion would be politicians in League councils, not legal scholars or judges. By claiming the mantle of public opinion, the League’s creators occluded competing schemes for world order — schemes either more serious about the armed enforcement of collective security or more literal in their appeal to public opinion. When mid-century realists reacted against public opinion, then, they upheld the tradition of elite judgment. But by abandoning the discourse of public opinion, they made elite judgment sound undemocratic and illegitimate, opening the tradition to challenge from beyond and ultimately within realism.


    Item Type: Book Section
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): Public opinion, international law, international thought, international organization, League of Nations, First World War, World War I
    School: School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > History, Classics and Archaeology
    Depositing User: Stephen Wertheim
    Date Deposited: 18 Sep 2018 12:50
    Last Modified: 15 Aug 2022 17:51


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