Racial Darwinism, Nationalism, and War: The Philosophical Foundations of Theodore Roosevelts Foreign Policy

Welch, Alexander, Government - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Ceaser, James, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Milkis, Sidney, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

The early twentieth century saw drastic changes in American foreign policy, as the United States assumed its place in world affairs to a degree never seen before in the young nation’s history. Although some of this shift can be explained by America’s augmenting military and economic power, some of it can also be explained as a “scientific” and philosophical phenomenon drawn from various strands of Social Darwinism. Drawing from a mix of primary and secondary sources, I argue that Theodore Roosevelt’s imperialistic foreign policy was influenced by the “racial science” of his day, a “science” born out of Social Darwinism. As such, I identify the key characteristics of the dominant racial philosophies (including narratives and myths) of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and trace them back to biological Darwinism. Next, I identify the unique elements of Roosevelt’s personal philosophies and distinguish them from other prominent thinkers of the day. Finally, I examine Roosevelt’s record as president, particularly in the realm of foreign policy and tie his actions to these abstract concepts. My essay shows, in short, that abstract notions like Manifest Destiny, the Aryan Narrative, and Social Darwinism were instrumental in forming Roosevelt’s worldview and were carried out during his presidency. American action in Cuba, the Philippines and Japan can be explained, to some degree, by hard power politics, but to Roosevelt, these missions took on a philosophical dimension that seems to be understated in the literature.

MA (Master of Arts)
Theodore Roosevelt, Social Darwinism, Spanish-American War, Foreign Policy
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