Michael Desch

Michael Desch
  • University of Notre Dame
  • Director of the Notre Dame International Security Center (NDISC) and Professor of Political Science
  • Residential Fellow (2012-2013)
  • “The Professionalization of Social Science and the Decline of Public Intellectualism: The Case of National Security Studies”

Michael Desch is Director of the Notre Dame International Security Center (NDISC) and Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. He specializes in international relations, U.S. foreign policy, American national security policy, political thought, and world politics.

His most recent monographs include Power and Military Effectiveness: The Fallacy of Democratic Triumphalism (2008), Civilian Control of the Military: The Changing Security Environment (1999), and When the Third World Matters: Latin America and U.S. Grand Strategy (1993), along with numerous scholarly articles and chapters and many broader-interest publications. He is a member of the Editorial Board and Associate Editor of International Security and served as Editor-in-Chief of Security Studies.

Before joining the faculty at Notre Dame, Professor Desch was the founding Director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs, he was the first holder of the Robert M. Gates Chair in Intelligence and National Security Decision-Making at the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University (2004-2008), and he served as Assistant Director and Senior Research Associate at Harvard’s John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies (1993-1998). He is the recipient of major grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Richard M. Lounsbery Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. His numerous awards and fellowships include an Earhart Foundation Faculty Fellowship and a John M. Olin Faculty Fellowship in Social Science, as well as the University of Notre Dame’s Frank O’Malley Undergraduate Teaching Award, a Letter of Commendation for Distinguished Teaching Performance from Harvard’s Extension School, and the George Bush School Award for Distinguished Service and Leadership (2008).


  • Cult of the Irrelevant: The Waning Influence of Social Science on National Security

    Princeton University Press, 2019

    Michael Desch

    Desch Cult Crop

    To mobilize America’s intellectual resources to meet the security challenges of the post–9/11 world, US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates observed that “we must again embrace eggheads and ideas.” But the gap between national security policymakers and international relations scholars has become a chasm.

    In Cult of the Irrelevant, Michael Desch traces the history of the relationship between the Beltway and the Ivory Tower from World War I to the present day. Recounting key Golden Age academic strategists such as Thomas Schelling and Walt Rostow, Desch’s narrative shows that social science research became most oriented toward practical problem-solving during times of war and that scholars returned to less relevant work during peacetime. Social science disciplines like political science rewarded work that was methodologically sophisticated over scholarship that engaged with the messy realities of national security policy, and academic culture increasingly turned away from the job of solving real-world problems.

    In the name of scientific objectivity, academics today frequently engage only in basic research that they hope will somehow trickle down to policymakers. Drawing on the lessons of this history as well as a unique survey of current and former national security policymakers, Desch offers concrete recommendations for scholars who want to shape government work. The result is a rich intellectual history and an essential wake-up call to a field that has lost its way.

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  • Public Intellectuals in the Global Arena: Professors or Pundits?

    Notre Dame Press, 2016

    Michael Desch

    Desch Public Intellectuals Crop

    What is a public intellectual? Where are they to be found? What accounts for the lament today that public intellectuals are either few in number or, worse, irrelevant? While there is a small literature on the role of public intellectuals, it is organized around various thinkers rather than focusing on different countries or the unique opportunities and challenges inherent in varied disciplines or professions. In Public Intellectuals in the Global Arena, Michael C. Desch has gathered a group of contributors to offer a timely and far-reaching reassessment of the role of public intellectuals in a variety of Western and non-Western settings. The contributors delineate the centrality of historical consciousness, philosophical self-understanding, and ethical imperatives for any intelligentsia who presume to speak the truth to power. The first section provides in-depth studies of the role of public intellectuals in a variety of countries or regions, including the United States, Latin America, China, and the Islamic world. The essays in the second section take up the question of why public intellectuals vary so widely across different disciplines. These chapters chronicle changes in the disciplines of philosophy and economics, changes that “have combined to dethrone the former and elevate the latter as the preeminent homes of public intellectuals in the academy.” Also included are chapters that consider the evolving roles of the natural scientist, the former diplomat, and the blogger as public intellectuals. The final section provides concluding perspectives about the duties of public intellectuals in the twenty-first century.

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