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date: 26 March 2017

240 Years of Foreign Policy Moods in a Democracy Which Grew into a Superpower: What it Means for IR Theory?

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.

In 1952, Frank L. Klingberg identified U.S. foreign policy moods since 1776 as alternating between an average of 21 years of introversion and 27 years of extroversion. The last extrovert phase had started in 1940, and it changed to introversion by 1968. By 1989, extroversion had returned. In 2016, it looks like introversion is back again. This is an excellent record of projection that calls for increased research by scholars.

In 1985, Jack Holmes related Klingberg’s moods to American Liberalism and argued that mood changes were required by tendencies of introversion and extroversion to reach extremes too far removed from the realist interests a nation must pursue. Frank Klingberg was kind enough to write the preface of my 1985 work, and we continued to meet annually at conventions to explore research possibilities through the last two decades of his life. Although he was from the liberal pre-WWII generation, and Holmes was from the realist post-WWII generation, both scholars shared a common interest in American foreign policy moods since 1776 and the need for research by the community of scholars.

What do these moods mean? They consider one liberal democratic country while it grew from a peripheral power to a superpower over 240 years, and additional research regarding other countries would be beneficial. Given the concentration of major U.S. foreign policy assertiveness during extrovert phases, as well as surprises and changes during mood transitions, moods need to be researched until they become part of the regular conversation regarding American Foreign Policy and International Relations (IR) theory. The evidence is strong and has been developed mostly by the two authors, Klingberg and Holmes. Klingberg deserves full credit for the original research and idea. The evidence has been expanded and placed in context by Holmes, who analyzed Klingberg’s original idea as two different liberal preferences of the American people and related it to interests of nations. Additional researchers are needed to enrich the literature.

What does this add to IR theory? It strengthens the idea of liberalism insofar as it has remained the dominant belief system of the United States throughout its history. When mood only changes every 21 to 27 years, promoting regular research is difficult. A particular challenge is to cover the entire 240 years, which has witnessed the growth of the United States from a fledgling power to a superpower. It takes realism to explain why the changes from introvert to extrovert and vice-versa occur at such regular intervals. Introversion is tried and taken to the extreme, then extroversion is tried and taken it the extreme. Liberalism remains in control, but realism cannot be ignored. A major contribution is that long cycles and the long-term are important. Democracy, institutions, and leading figures point toward constructivism. In the case of moods, it might not be which IR theoretical construct is most important as it is that they work together and reinforce one another.