Cover of The Atlantic Realists by Matthew Specter
The Atlantic Realists
Empire and International Political Thought Between Germany and the United States
Matthew Specter


February 2022
328 pages.
from $30.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503603127
Paperback ISBN: 9781503629967



In The Atlantic Realists, intellectual historian Matthew Specter offers a new interpretation of "realism," a prevalent stance in US foreign policy and public discourse since 1945, and the dominant theory in the postwar US discipline of international relations. This boldly revisionist narrative challenges the view of realism as a set of universally binding truths about international affairs, arguing instead that it developed through a dialogue between American and German intellectuals beginning in the late nineteenth century and unfolding throughout the twentieth. Specter uncovers an "Atlantic realist" tradition of reflection on the prerogatives of empire and the nature of power politics that developed through transatlantic exchanges conditioned by two world wars, the Holocaust, and the Cold War. His narrative focuses on key figures in the evolution of realist thought, including Carl Schmitt, authoritarian political theorist and Nazi jurist; Hans Morgenthau, German émigré and founding father of the US realist paradigm in the 1940s and 50s; and Wilhelm Grewe, lawyer for the Third Reich and leading West German diplomat. By tracing the development of the realist worldview over a century, Specter dismantles myths about the national interest, Realpolitik, and the "art" of statesmanship.

About the author

Matthew Specter teaches history and political thought at the University of California, Berkeley and is Associate Editor of the journal History and Theory. His first book was Habermas: An Intellectual Biography (2010).

"One may believe there is little left to know about the realist theory of international relations and its founder Hans Morgenthau. But through the complex figure of Morgenthau, Matthew Specter is able not only to work out the ambivalent pathways of the German mandarins who emigrated to the USA, but also puts the theory of political realism itself into a wholly new light as a transatlantic exchange of ideas between the US and Germany. This dates back to the geopolitical thought and social Darwinistic milieu of both rising industrial powers in the 1880s. A particular gem is the surprising chapter on Wilhelm Grewe—a student of Carl Schmitt, who continued his Nazi career in the Federal Republic unbroken—and here, in postwar Germany, played a role similar to that of Morgenthau in the USA. An original, an illuminating, a brilliant book."

—Jürgen Habermas