For most of its history, the United States avoided making political and military commitments that would entangle it in European-style power politics. Then, suddenly, it conceived a new role for itself as the world’s armed superpower—and never looked back. In Tomorrow, the World, Stephen Wertheim traces America’s transformation to the crucible of World War II, especially in the months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. As the Nazis conquered France, the architects of the nation’s new foreign policy came to believe that the United States ought to achieve primacy in international affairs forevermore. Scholars have struggled to explain the decision to pursue global supremacy. Some deny that American elites made a willing choice, casting the United States as a reluctant power that sloughed off “isolationism” only after all potential competitors lay in ruins. Others contend that the United States had always coveted global dominance and realized its ambition at the first opportunity. Both views are wrong. As late as 1940, the small coterie of officials and experts who composed the U.S. foreign policy class either wanted British preeminence in global affairs to continue or hoped that no power would dominate. The war, however, swept away their assumptions, leading them to conclude that the United States should extend its form of law and order across the globe and back it at gunpoint. Wertheim argues that no one favored “isolationism”—a term introduced by advocates of armed supremacy in order to turn their own cause into the definition of a new “internationalism.” We now live, Wertheim warns, in the world that these men created. A sophisticated and impassioned narrative that questions the wisdom of U.S. supremacy, Tomorrow, the World reveals the intellectual path that brought us to today’s global entanglements and endless wars.
Stephen Wertheim is a historian of the United States in the world. He is Deputy Director of Research and Policy at the Quincy Institute. He specializes in U.S. foreign relations and international order from the late nineteenth century to the present. In his book, Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy, Wertheim reveals how U.S. leaders first made the decision to pursue military dominance, an objective that for most of American history had looked unnecessary at best and imperialistic at worst. Wertheim regularly writes essays on current affairs. His pieces have appeared in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Guardian, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. In 2020, Prospect magazine named him one of “the world’s 50 top thinkers for the Covid-19 age.” Wertheim has published scholarly articles on a range of subjects, including grand strategy, international law, world organization, colonial empire, and humanitarian intervention. His research on the intellectual origins of the League of Nations won the Fischel-Calhoun Prize from the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. He was previously a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Columbia University; a permanent Lecturer in History at Birkbeck, University of London; a Junior Research Fellow at King’s College, University of Cambridge; and a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Values and Public Policy at Princeton University. Wertheim received a PhD with distinction from Columbia University in 2015. He also received an MPhil from Columbia in 2011 and an AB summa cum laude from Harvard University in 2007.
Robert Jervis is Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics at Columbia University. His most recent book is Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War (Cornell University Press, 2010). His System Effects: Complexity in Political Life (Princeton University Press, 1997) was a co-winner of the APSA’s Psychology Section Best Book Award, and The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution (Cornell University Press, 1989) won the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. He is also the author of The Logic of Images in International Relations (Princeton University Press, 1970; 2d ed., Columbia University Press, 1989), Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton University Press, 1976), The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy (Cornell University Press, 1984), American Foreign Policy in a New Era (Routledge, 2005), and over 150 other publications. Jervis was President of the American Political Science Association in 2000-01 and has received career achievement awards from the International Society of Political Psychology and ISA’s Security Studies Section. In 2006 he received the National Academy of Science’s tri-annual award for behavioral sciences contributions to avoiding nuclear war and has received honorary degrees from Oberlin College and the University of Venice. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1978-79 and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Academy of Political and Social Science and the American Philosophical Society. Jervis chairs the Historical Review Panel for the CIA and is an Intelligence Community associate. His current research includes the nature of beliefs, IR theory and the Cold War, and the links between signaling and perception.