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The emergence of global power politics: imperialism, modernity, and American expansion 1870-1914

Leigh, Joseph (2020) The emergence of global power politics: imperialism, modernity, and American expansion 1870-1914. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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While the discourse of great power politics is an intellectual commonplace of International Relations theory, its roots in nineteenth-century conceptions of imperialism have rarely been the subject of any sustained historical analysis. Rather, the prevailing literature on great power competition relies on transhistorical theoretical claims about the permanence of geopolitical rivalry under anarchy, in conjunction with a common imaginary of early modern Europe as the birthplace of modern international politics. In contrast, this thesis locates the origins of a specifically modern condition of global power politics in the strategic and ideological conflicts which drove the New Imperialism, c.1870-1914. With a particular focus on the evolution of the American Empire, it traces the international, societal, and geopolitical transformations which made possible the flourishing of imperial ambitions for world power in the century after the first Industrial Revolution (1780-1815). On this basis, the thesis makes three overarching contributions to the study of International Relations. First, to the debate over the origins of modern international politics, it contributes a sociohistorical account of the novel conceptions of grand strategy, empire, and geopolitics associated with the nineteenth-century transition to modernity. Moving beyond the so-called ‘Westphalian narrative’ of international modernity, it locates the production of a distinctively modern conception of national-imperial expansionism and civilizational hierarchy in the lived unevenness of industrialization and colonialism. Second, to the literature in historical sociology and international security, it contributes an intersocietal approach which challenges the conventional ‘states-under-anarchy’ framework and links power-political competition to the unevenly experienced constraints of global social structures. In so doing, it explains how the international pattern of the industrial revolution — the uneven and combined development of an empire-centered world economy and international order — interacted with emergent ideologies of social progress to shape and legitimize imperial projects of political order building. More generally, the thesis recovers the nineteenth century experience of a globalized struggle among empires as a critical counterpoint to apolitical accounts of globalization.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2020 Joseph Leigh
Library of Congress subject classification: E History America > E151 United States (General)
J Political Science > JK Political institutions (United States)
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Lawson, George

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