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Matthew Specter (Universidad de California)

Seeing Like an Empire: History and Myth of the Realist Political Tradition in International Relations and Foreign Policy

Humanities Conference Monday, 3 October 2022, 19:00 hours Madrid

General information:

Venue: Fundación Ramón Areces - salón de actos. Calle Vitruvio, 5. 28006. Madrid.

Free admission. Necessary previous online registration. Limited capacity.

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Based on his new book, The Atlantic Realists: Empire and International Political Thought Between Germany and the United States, Specter offers an overview of his arguments about the tradition known as realism in international relations theory and foreign policy. Realists sometimes trace their origins to precursors in ancient Greece  or early modern Europe. At other times, they emphasize how realists’ sense of the weaknesses of international institutions and norms emerged from the fateful collapse of the League of Nations in the face of fascist powers in the 1930s and ‘40s. But is realism primarily a response to mid-20th century traumas of liberalism? Specter argues that the realist sensibility in international affairs emerged far earlier—in the 1880s and 90s, in a very different context: inter—imperial competition on a global scale for colonies and resources. Through reconstruction of a century-long dialogue between German and US statesmen and intellectuals about the nature of power and space in international affairs, Specter argues that contemporary realism owes a greater debt to imperial ideologies than has been recognized. Some versions of contemporary realism reiterate the naturalization of Great Power privilege that has characterized  the European-dominated world system since the mid-19th century. While many realists today present themselves as foes of American empire, or at least restrainers of its excesses, Specter argues that realists must come to terms with the contexts—imperial, transatlantic, and Eurocentric—that burden realism today. He draws the lesson that the emerging metanarrative of the 21st century—the so-called “return of great power competition” warrants skepticism, and offers an unnecessarily fatalistic vision of global politics.

Monday,  3 October

18:30 h.

Attendees check-in

19:00 h.


Raimundo Pérez-Hernández y Torra
Director de la Fundación Ramón Areces.

19:05 h.

Presentation of the speaker

José María Beneyto   
Catedrático Jean Monnet de la Unión Europea.

19:10 h.

Seeing Like an Empire: History and Myth of the Realist Political Tradition in International Relations and Foreign Policy

Matthew Specter
Instituto de Estudios Europeos. Universidad de California. Berkeley.

  Matthew Specter 

Matthew Specter is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of European Studies at UC Berkeley, Faculty Affiliate at Berkeley’s Institute for International Studies, and Lecturer in History at Santa Clara University. Since 2014, he has served as Associate Editor of History & Theory based at Wesleyan University. He has held fellowships from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History and the American Council on Germany, among others. He received his Ph.D. in History from Duke University in 2006.

Specter is a historian of modern Europe, with expertise in 20th century German political thought and the global history of international thought. He is is the author of two monographs—The Atlantic Realists: Empire and International Political Thought Between Germany and the United States (Stanford UP, 2022) and Habermas: An Intellectual Biography (Cambridge UP, 2010), and has contributed chapters to edited volumes including The Oxford Handbook of Carl Schmitt (2017) and Fascism in America: Past and Present (Cambridge UP, 2023). His articles and reviews have been published in History & Theory, Modern Intellectual History, Constellations, Central European History, the Journal of Modern History, as well as Dissent and the Los Angeles Review of Books.   

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