Geopolitics in an age of confusion

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




John Agnew


liberalism, geopolitcs, Geography, History, American studies, Political science

Subject Categories

Other Geography


The present study on geopolitics is not about what is but about how we know what is. It attempts a tentative, beginning exploration of the emergence of a certain form of geopolitical truth. Specifically, it attempts to understand the formation of mainstream American geopolitical knowledge in order to explain why mainstream American geopoliticians think and act the way they do. It does so by examining the intense relationship between geopolitics, philosophy, and culture by means of meticulous historical and philosophical reconstruction of various periods in twentieth-century America.

In the very month before the outbreak of World War I Swedish political scientist Rudolph Kjellen placed geography in service of the state with his concept of geopolitics.$\sp{\*}$ Meanwhile, America was wracked by debates about the direction of liberalism. Those on the Right, Left, and Center argued vehemently, often violently, over the role of the individual and the nation-state and over the function of capitalism and international economic organization. Geopolitics was in the air. Liberalism was in the air. Mainstream American political, business, and intellectual elites seized on geopolitics as a way of promoting their domestic agendas and their own liberal ideology. Pluralists opposed compelling alternative conceptions of geopolitical sovereignty to mainstream liberal versions of spatial organization.

The story of geopolitics in twentieth-century America, however, unfolds as the history of the triumph of mainstream liberal conceptions of sovereignty. The result has been a stagnant liberalism and a century of ideological and, hence, geopolitical confusion.

ftn$\sp{\*}$Die Grossmachte der Gegenwart.


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