Thinking Globally Lecture: James Sparrow on Ralph Bunche and Postwar Internationalism

Prof. James Sparrow (UChicago - History) discusses postwar theories of international society through the example of US statesman and scholar Ralph Bunche.

The CIS 50th Anniversary Thinking Globally dialogue series brings together acclaimed scholars to discuss the global stakes and global scale of contemporary research.

In this lecture, Prof. James Sparrow  (UChicago – History) discusses “Ralph Bunche and the Art of the Statesman.”


In his classic critique of liberal designs for international politics grounded in rational planning, Hans Morgenthau, founding father of modern realism, called for a return to the “art of the statesman.” Yet even as the Manichean logic of the Cold War pushed American statesmen away from prudent realism and toward unlimited universalistic commitments, one practitioner of realism emerged in the most unlikely of places: Ralph Bunche, UN Director of Trusteeships in the age of decolonization (1946-1971). No more devoted and creative practitioner of the art of balancing power can be found in this period. That Bunche did so from within the UN, and on behalf of the least powerful emerging nations within the international state system, was of great consequence for realism, decolonization, and democratic world politics. This talk will explore some of those consequences as they resulted from Bunche’s thought and statecraft.

James Sparrow is Associate Professor of History and Master of Social Sciences in the College at the University of Chicago. His research interests include modern US politics the mutual constitution of social categories, democratic publics, and state formation. His book, Warfare State: World War II Americans and the Age of Big Government, was published by Oxford University Press in 2011 and Boundaries of the State in US History, co-edited with William J. Novak, and Stephen W. Sawyer
 was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2015. His current projects include a sequel to Warfare State tentatively titled “Sovereign Discipline: The American Extraterritorial State in the Atomic Age,” and an intellectual history titled “New Leviathan: Rethinking Sovereignty and Political Agency after Total War.”

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