History as Containment
An Interview with Arno J. Mayer
greg grandin
greg grandin: Your work in the early 1960s focused on the emergence
of a “new diplomacy” after the First World War, locating its origins in the
struggles between “the forces of order and the forces of movement” in Eu-
rope and the United States over how best to respond to a number of chal-
lenges and threats. Those included the rise of mass politics at home and
Leninism abroad, as well as nationalist movements contesting imperial and
colonial rule. Your comparative approach was certainly ahead of its time,
considering that “transnationalism” is very fashionable in diplomatic his-
tory circles today. But what seems truly innovative is the close attention
you paid to the relationship between domestic and international factors in
generating interstate tensions and conflicts.
arno j. mayer: I’m not sure what I was doing was that new. It was in-
formed by a commitment to comparative history. Most diplomatic histo-
rians will tell the story of the foreign policy and diplomacy either of one
country or between two countries, but it seemed to me that the world which
emerged from the First World War could no longer be dealt with in that
way. It makes no sense to look at just France and Germany, for example,
because both were embedded in larger configurations—social, economic,
cultural, political, and so forth. And there was also my attention to, as you
say, the relationship between domestic and foreign considerations.
gg: It was the road-not-taken by subsequent diplomatic historians, who
tend to focus their debates on whether politics, economics, or, more re-
cently, culture, have primacy in driving international relations. Yet by
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