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Democracy in ExileDemocracy in Exile

Hans Speier and the Rise of the Defense Intellectual

Daniel Bessner

Narrated by Eric Burgher

Available from Audible

Book published by Cornell University Press

Anyone interested in the history of U.S. foreign relations, Cold War history, and twentieth century intellectual history will find this impressive biography of Hans Speier, one of the most influential figures in American defense circles of the twentieth century, a must-read.

In Democracy in Exile, Daniel Bessner shows how the experience of the Weimar Republic’s collapse and the rise of Nazism informed Hans Speier’s work as an American policymaker and institution builder. Bessner delves into Speier’s intellectual development, illuminating the ideological origins of the expert-centered approach to foreign policymaking and revealing the European roots of Cold War liberalism.

Democracy in Exile places Speier at the center of the influential and fascinating transatlantic network of policymakers, many of them German émigrés, who struggled with the tension between elite expertise and democratic politics. Speier was one of the most prominent intellectuals among this cohort, and Bessner traces his career, in which he advanced from university intellectual to state expert, holding a key position at the RAND Corporation and serving as a powerful consultant to the State Department and Ford Foundation, across the mid-twentieth century. Bessner depicts the critical role Speier played in the shift in American intellectual history in which hundreds of social scientists left their universities and contributed to the creation of an expert-based approach to U.S. foreign relations, in the process establishing close connections between governmental and nongovernmental organizations. As Bessner writes: to understand the rise of the defense intellectual, we must understand Hans Speier.


“Speier began his academic career studying the sociology of knowledge, and after he arrived in the United States, he directed the U.S. government's propaganda effort against Germany. The debates recounted in Bessner's biography between Speier and other officials over how to develop effective campaigns are particularly fascinating in the context of contemporary worries about information warfare.”

Foreign Affairs

“This biography of Hans Speier is of unusual interest. Daniel Bessner illuminates the problems and projects of an entire generation of ‘defense intellectuals’ from World War II to the post-Vietnam era. Bessner argues incisively for the role of ideas in foreign affairs and resists the conclusion that Speier was a creature of American Cold War politics. Highly recommended.”

—Bruce Kuklick, author of Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger

Democracy in Exile is a fascinating and deeply researched account of Hans Speier's rise as leading researcher at the RAND Corporation and his deepening belief that democracy could only survive through, in essence, undemocratic means. Daniel Bessner offers us an important and sobering assessment of the role of intellectuals in building the military-industrial complex.”

—Mary L. Dudziak, author of War-Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences

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University Press Audiobooks