Theses Doctoral

The Discovery of the “Free World”: A History of U.S. Foreign Policy

Slezkine, Peter

On May 9, 1950, President Truman declared that “all our international policies, taken together, form a program designed to strengthen and unite the free world.” My dissertation is the first history of the “free world,” a crucial concept that identified the object of U.S. leadership, drove the country to seek global preeminence, and shaped the American understanding of the Cold War. For much of the nineteenth century, American policymakers had envisioned a globe divided into a “new world” of freedom and an “old world” of tyranny.

In 1917, Woodrow Wilson proposed a new global dichotomy, arguing for the creation of a trans-Atlantic coalition of democracies against aggressive autocracies whose very existence threatened the survival of freedom everywhere. A revised version of this logic prevailed during the Second World War. But it was only after the start of the Cold War in the late 1940s that American policymakers embraced the concept of an enduring and extra-hemispheric “free world.” Their efforts to lead, unite and strengthen this spatially defined “free world” prompted a massive expansion of American foreign policy and fundamentally transformed the country’s position in the international arena.

Geographic Areas


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2026-10-26.

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Stephanson, Anders
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 27, 2021