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Talbot Imlay | February 1, 2023


Event Summary

On February 1, Professor Jennifer Siegel hosted Professor Talbot C. Imlay. Professor Imlay is a lecturer in the Départment des sciences historiques (Department of Historical Sciences) at the Université Laval in Québec, Canada. He is a historian of modern Europe, who received his PhD in history from Yale University. He has written three books, The Practice of Socialist Internationalism: European Socialists and International Politics, The Politics of Industrial Collaboration during the Second World War: Ford France, Vichy and Nazi Germany, and The Fog of Peace: Strategic and Military Planning under Uncertainty with Monica Duffy Toft. Professor Imlay spoke with AGS about his current project on Clarence Streit and his promotion of the Atlantic Union.

Clarence Streit was an American journalist who lived through the two World Wars, into the Cold War. He saw how Europe was often portrayed as the center of the world but disagreed with this notion. Instead, he believed that the Atlantic was the center of the world and should therefore be the center of U.S. foreign policy. Professor Imlay detailed that Streit advocated heavily for the Atlantic Union, where the United States, Europe, and other Atlantic nations would join together in a union under the American constitution. This union would follow the same structure as current American government: legislative branch, executive branch, and judicial branch. This union would inherently be a federalist structure. Professor Imlay emphasized that Streit’s idea, as well as the book that he published on it, came about after World War One, when people were disillusioned with current systems of government. He was plowing fertile ground with federalism.

Professor Imlay then explained how Streit’s idea gathered followers. The concept of an Atlantic Union attracted pacifists, League of Nations activists, and women in his circle to some degree. He then worked to sell his idea to policymaking elites. Professor Imlay emphasized the porous nature of policymaking, whereupon the public can provide input on foreign affairs. He noted that people who feel they have the responsibility and the resources to shape policy are the ones who can tap into this porousness. He added that possession of money is also helpful in drawing attention to one’s ideas. Streit and his supporters worked to convince Congress of the idea that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) should be converted into the Atlantic Union. They had little trouble selling Congress on the need for national security, but they encountered difficulty in persuading congresspeople that their constituents liked the idea of the Atlantic Union.

Professor Imlay and Professor Siegel closed the conversation was discussing the public policy lessons from Streit’s methods, lessons, and successes. They noted that what policymakers and lobbyists think they want to do may not be what they end up doing. Most importantly, Professor Imlay highlighted that there is no straight line between intentions and results. Policy actors must conscientiously communicate their intentions then follow up accordingly, to keep their idea along the trajectory to reality.

Audience questions investigated how Streit’s Atlanticism and vision for an Atlantic Union was publicly received. Then, students further explored Streit’s intentions when he proposed an Atlantic Union. They asked whether Streit believed that his idea was realistic and if he was aiming to redesign the transatlantic order. Ultimately, Professor Imlay’s thought-provoking presentation blended stories about Clarence Streit’s life and work, while also diagnosing general realities and trends in federalism over time.