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Every Citizen a Statesman

The Dream of a Democratic Foreign Policy in the American Century

David Allen

ISBN 9780674248984

Publication date: 01/10/2023

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The surprising story of the movement to create a truly democratic foreign policy by engaging ordinary Americans in world affairs.

No major arena of US governance is more elitist than foreign policy. International relations barely surface in election campaigns, and policymakers take little input from Congress. But not all Americans set out to build a cloistered foreign policy “establishment.” For much of the twentieth century, officials, activists, and academics worked to foster an informed public that would embrace participation in foreign policy as a civic duty.

The first comprehensive history of the movement for “citizen education in world affairs,” Every Citizen a Statesman recounts an abandoned effort to create a democratic foreign policy. Taking the lead alongside the State Department were philanthropic institutions like the Ford and Rockefeller foundations and the Foreign Policy Association, a nonprofit founded in 1918. One of the first international relations think tanks, the association backed local World Affairs Councils, which organized popular discussion groups under the slogan “World Affairs Are Your Affairs.” In cities across the country, hundreds of thousands of Americans gathered in homes and libraries to learn and talk about pressing global issues.

But by the 1960s, officials were convinced that strategy in a nuclear world was beyond ordinary people, and foundation support for outreach withered. The local councils increasingly focused on those who were already engaged in political debate and otherwise decried supposed public apathy, becoming a force for the very elitism they set out to combat. The result, David Allen argues, was a chasm between policymakers and the public that has persisted since the Vietnam War, insulating a critical area of decisionmaking from the will of the people.


  • Illuminating…Allen tells an elegiac tale of the attempt to make U.S. diplomacy more democratically accountable. At a time when long-held foreign policy pieties on everything from free trade to military interventions have come unstuck, Allen’s book also serves as a guide—a record of efforts to democratize foreign affairs and their pitfalls.

    —Andrew Lanham, New Republic


  • David Allen is a historian of US foreign relations and a former fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School. He previously taught at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University, and his research appears in the International History Review and Journal of Cold War Studies. He writes regularly for the New York Times.

Book Details

  • 344 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press