Between Virtue and Power: The Persistent Moral Dilemma of U. S. Foreign Policy

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In this survey of U.S. history, John Kane looks at the tensions between American virtue and power and how those tensions have influenced foreign policy. Americans have long been suspicious of power as a threat to individual liberty, Kane argues, and yet the growth of national power has been perceived as a natural byproduct of American virtue. This contradiction has posed a persistent crisis that has influenced the trajectory of American diplomacy and foreign relations for more than two hundred years.

Kane examines the various challenges, including emerging Nationalism, isolationism, and burgeoning American power, which have at times challenged not only foreign policy but American national identity.  The events of September 11, 2001, rekindled Americans' sense of righteousness, the author observes, but the subsequent use of power in Iraq has raised questions about the nation’s virtue and, as in earlier days, cast a deep shadow over its purpose and direction.

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Editorial Reviews

Lloyd Gardner
"This is a penetrating, sweeping book that wrestles with questions of how power is used to advance national policy. It offers an explanation of the American political tradition, and like works by Morgenthau and Hofstadter contributes to our understanding of ourselves."—Lloyd Gardner, Rutgers University
Joseph S. Nye
“An illuminating survey of two centuries of efforts to come to terms with the struggle between virtue and power in American foreign policy. Important and convincing.”—Joseph S. Nye, Jr., author of Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics
American Historical Review - Walter L. Hixon
"This book is a useful synthesis for the most part of selective secondary literature."—Walter L. Hixon, American Historical Review
Publishers Weekly
Kane presents an impressively nuanced vision of the difficult choices faced by American leaders over generations of international conflict. This book offers a narrative in which the philosophical ideals of the nation's founders and successive presidents are compromised and mutated by the necessity of protecting American interests around the world. The presentation is dense, but the prose and arguments remain clear and fluid, even when Kane delves into something as unwieldy as the complex repercussions of Jay's Treaty of 1795. Kane finds a perfect case study for his chosen dichotomy in the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, who struggled to reconcile his vision of world peace with the horrors and consequences of WWI, and whose attempts to balance diplomacy and military force are echoed in ensuing presidencies: Roosevelt overcoming "the inertial force of nonentanglement" in order to preserve democracy, Carter attempting to work the levers of soft power in the name of human rights. Kane is admirably resistant to paint heroes and villains-even the polarizing presidency of George W. Bush is given the rigorous, cold-eyed assessment of the scholar rather than the partisan.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300137125
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 10/21/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

John Kane is professor, Department of Politics and Public Policy, Griffith University, Brisbane, and author of The Politics of Moral Capital. He lives in Queensland, Australia.

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