American Hegemony and International Theory at the Council on Foreign Relations, 1953–1954

David M. McCourt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper tells the story of a Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) study group on the theory of international relations held in 1953–1954. The study group took place at a time of intense struggle over the nature and value of international relations as an academic and policy field, with theory a key stake. Funded by the Carnegie Corporation, organized by the CFR, and held at the same time as another theory conference at the Rockefeller Foundation, the group illustrates how central organizations of the American foreign policy establishment acted as the midwives of academic International Relations (IR), and IR theory in particular. Despite its ties to American hegemony, the group did not come together behind a theory designed to guide policy-makers in the exercise of American power. Offering a glimpse into a road to theory not taken, the group asserted the essential limits of all knowledge, and the need for a theoretically pluralist International Relations. The vision of theory it entertained was not thereby defined by powerful academic trends toward behavioralism, positivism, and systems-theory, nor by the Realpolitik-inspired ‘realist’ theory promoted by the Rockefeller group.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)565-588
Number of pages24
JournalInternational History Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 3 2020


  • American hegemony
  • Council on Foreign Relations
  • History of IR
  • IR theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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