What America Owes the World: The Struggle for the Soul of Foreign Policy

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For two hundred years, Americans have believed that they have an obligation to improve the lot of humanity. This belief has consistently shaped U.S. foreign policy. Yet within this consensus, two schools of thought have contended: the "exemplarist" school Brands's term, which holds that what America chiefly owes the world is the benign example of a well-functioning democracy, and the "vindicationist" school, which asserts that force must sometimes supplement a good example. In this book, H. W. Brands traces the evolution of these two schools as they emerged in the arguments of the most important public thinkers of the last two centuries. This book is both an intellectual and moral history of U.S. foreign policy and a guide to the fundamental question of America's relations with the rest of the world - a question more pressing than ever in the confusion that has succeeded the Cold War: What does America owe the world?
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Editorial Reviews

Adam Garfinkle
[Brands] achieves. . .an illumination of the direct and indirect power of political journalism, by showing how. . .[several] magazines have influenced public policy over the years. . . .Brands. . .does incline slightly leftward. . . .And some fairly important figures go missing. . . .Nevertheless, it isn't easy to pack so much, and so well, into just over 300 pages.
New York Times Book Review
Adam Garfinkle
[Brands] achieves. . .an illumination of the direct and indirect power of political journalism, by showing how. . .[several] magazines have influenced public policy over the years. . . .Brands. . .does incline slightly leftward. . . .And some fairly important figures go missing. . . .Nevertheless, it isn't easy to pack so much, and so well, into just over 300 pages. -- The New York Times Book Review
From the Publisher
"Brands's keen sense of intellectual evolution and knack for vivid summary...[are] enhanced by a judicious use of quotations from his principals. The writing is unfailingly clear, often lyrical....students of foreign policy should count themselves lucky to have What America Owes the World at hand." Adam Garfinkle, New York Times Book Review

"[This] book tells even the most learned historian of United States Foreign relations something new and worthwhile about commentaries on the American role in the world in the years since 1861." Robert D. Schulzinger, The Journal Of American History

"Brands's keen sense of intellectual evolution and knack for vivid summary...[are] enhanced by a judicious use of quotations from his principals. The writing is unfailingly clear, often lyrical....students of foreign policy should count themselves lucky to have What America Owes the World at hand." Adam Garfinkle, New York Times Book Review

"...vigorous, informal, and eminently readable prose, sparse footnoting, and an admirable focus on handful of principal theme....confidently and intelligently guided tour through a gallery of interesting and important thinkers." Journal of Economic History

"...this is a valuable contribution to the intellectual history of American foreign policy for upper-division undergraduates and above." Choice

"...vigorous, informal, and eminently readable prose, sparse footnoting, and an admirable focus on handful of principal theme....confidently and intelligently guided tour through a gallery of interesting and important thinkers." Journal of Economic History

"...this book is a welcome addition to the literature and should find a place on the reading lists of all who endeavor to teach the intellectual history of American foreign policy formulation." William C. Widenor, The Historian

"...a competent, clearly written, succinct summary of the arguements and anxieties of many opinion shapers in the history of American foreign relations. Larry Grubbs, Southern Historian

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521630313
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2013
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,413,888
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The exemplarists started the debate when John Winthrop proclaimed that the Puritan settlement on the Atlantic's western shore would be a model for the entire world. If the experiment in government by the godly succeeded, its light would illumine humanity; if it failed, all would know. Yet unalloyed exemplarism wasn't a necessary consequence of Puritanism per se. A more vigorous vindicator than Oliver Cromwell would be difficult to conceive. Had Winthrop and associates enjoyed the capacity to do what Cromwell did, they never would have left England. For Winthrop, exemplarism was the refuge of the weak.

    inhabitants of Britain's North American colonies wrested sovereignty from London, they were in no position to impose their notions of politics, social order, or anything else on the world at large. To be sure, they leaned heavily on neighboring Indians and somewhat more lightly on the French, Dutch, and Spanish they encountered in the colonial borderlands. Yet without a national government, Americans had no foreign policy distinct from Britain's, and so small was their voice in the formulation of British policy that few bothered to raise it.

    John Winthrop, the author of the Declaration of Independence agreed that Americans were uniquely placed to set a pattern for the earth's less favored denizens. In describing the causes compelling the colonies to separation from Britain, Jefferson expressed a view regarding the nature of government that at least implicitly held America forth as a beacon to the world. In Jefferson's phrasing, all men, not simply Americans, possessed unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And when any form of government, not just Britain's peculiar mix of crown and parliament, became destructive of the people's welfare, they were justified in abolishing it. Thus the American revolution became an exemplary blow for liberty everywhere.

    citizens of a small country far from the focus of international affairs. But such was American self-confidence that independence had hardly been secured before certain individuals and factions began arguing for a more ambitious program. When the French went to war in 1793 to preserve their revolution, Jefferson showed a slight vindicationist streak. He and his followers sympathized with France's predicament, and although the Republicans hardly applauded the bloody turn events in France had taken, they judged the general direction of the revolution worthy of American support. Jefferson saw republican France's battle with the monarchies of Europe as part of the abiding struggle between freedom and slavery. The "liberty of the whole earth," he said, depended on the outcome of the European contest. Americans could not stand idle. James Madison likewise cheered the French for their efforts at "compleating the triumphs of Liberty." With Jefferson, Madison contended that right and virtue required the United States to honor its obligations under the Franco-American treaty of 1778 and succor France in that ally's hour of need.

    reasoning. The Federalists denied that the fate of France should be identified with the fortunes of liberty. But even granting that premise they denied, equally vehemently, that the United States ought to take an active part in the French struggle. At Hamilton's urging, President Washington declared neutrality in the European war. Hamilton went to some lengths to defend the dubious argument that the French revolution had voided the 1778 treaty. By overthrowing the monarchy with which the American government had concluded the pact, Hamilton said, the French people themselves had nullified it.

    troubles enough of its own, and therefore shouldn't shoulder the burden of other people's problems. Instead it should concentrate on setting an example. Such a course would yield the greatest benefit, to foreigners as well as to Americans.

They will see in us a people who have a due respect for property and personal security, who in the midst of our revolution abstained with exemplary moderation from every thing violent or sanguinary instituting governments adequate to the protection of persons and property; who since the completion of our revolution have in a very short period, from mere reasoning and reflection, without tumult or bloodshed, adopted a form of general Government calculated, as well as the nature of things would permit, to remedy antecedent defects, to give strength and security to the nation, to rest the foundations of Liberty on the basis of Justice, Order and law.

    address, a matter unsurprising in light of Hamilton's large role in writing the piece. "Observe good faith and justice toward all nations," the retiring president counseled. "Cultivate peace and harmony with all." In this way would the United States simultaneously serve the cause of America and of humanity. "It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period a great nation to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence."

    distant from the affairs of foreign countries, Washington said. Adherence to any single power would disqualify America in the eyes of that power's rivals. More perniciously, it would corrupt the example. "History and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government." Entanglement abroad inflamed faction at home. "Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people to surrender their interests."

    institutions on its own. "Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?"

Why indeed? Jefferson asked during his own presidency. Responsibility and Napoleon tempered Jefferson's enthusiasm for things French, and, having pronounced Americans all Federalists as well as all Republicans, he proceeded to follow Federalist advice. The republican experiment in France had fizzled, as evidenced by Bonaparte. Prospects elsewhere appeared dim. Under the circumstances, Jefferson declined to stake American safety on the success of revolution abroad.

    of war between Britain and France threatened to draw the United States more fully into Europe's affairs than even the most ardent vindicator could desire. With France and Britain both violating American rights, securing the survival of republicanism in its North American birthplace posed sufficient challenge to Americans. Alone of the nations, America preserved the values of equality and self-rule that some day would revolutionize human society; in the future, Americans might export these values once more. But for the moment they must concentrate on keeping them safe at home. Jefferson's embargo, which in a sense was exemplarism carried to an extreme, demonstrated how thoroughly he had adopted the exemplarist philosophy. Though the embargo brought thunderous abuse upon his administration, Jefferson urged his compatriots to tend their own business in a world bent on destruction. "A single good government," he wrote, "thus becomes a blessing to the whole earth."

    More tangled in the coils of European power politics even than Jefferson, Madison longed for the opportunity to cultivate America's garden in peace. Like Jefferson, he had underestimated the difficulties of transplanting republicanism to foreign soil. With the mature Jefferson he held that setting a good example for other nations would satisfactorily discharge America's obligations to the world. "The free system of government we have established is so congenial with reason, with common sense, and with a universal feeling, that it must produce approbation and a desire of imitation," Madison wrote. "Our country, if it does justice to itself, will be the workshop of liberty to the Civilized World, and do more than any other for the uncivilized."

    States and helped move Jefferson and Madison to exemplarism also touched off a series of revolutions throughout the western hemisphere that prompted the further development of vindicationist arguments. Sympathy for French republicans during the 1790s had included a desire on the part of many to send American aid, official or otherwise, to France, but even the most enthusiastic American supporters of liberte recognized the limits of American assistance and understood that help from the New World would probably play no more than a marginal role in freedom's struggle for survival in the Old. The situation of the Latin American republics was different. They were closer to home. They were smaller. Their fate, while of concern to the great European powers, was not of such significance as to trigger a war to the death among the great powers. Consequently, Americans could entertain the idea of strongly influencing, perhaps determining, the Latin Americans' future.

    the revolutionary regimes. Henry Clay argued for early recognition. In 1818 Clay, then speaker of the House of Representatives, averred that the United States couldn't but have "the deepest interest" in the independence of Latin America. The countries of the south, he said, once free, would "be animated by an American feeling and guided by an American policy." They would "obey the laws of the system of the New World, of which they would compose a part, in contradistinction to that of Europe." The Latin American governments had taken the United States as their inspiration. "They adopted our principles, copied our institutions, and, in some instances, employed the very language and sentiments of our revolutionary papers." Now they looked to the United States for assistance. The least the United States could do was adopt a "just neutrality" between the struggling nations and their colonial overlords. This required immediate diplomatic recognition.

    countries of the western hemisphere should and did form a realm separate from that of Europe. In a much noted speech at Lexington, Kentucky, Clay urged the formation in the two Americas of "a sort of counterpoise to the Holy Alliance"; this counterpoise would comprise those hemispheric states pledged to "national independence and liberty." American support for such a realm of democracy must begin with "the force of example and moral influence," but it mustn't stop there. In the cause of Latin American independence, the United States should employ "all means short of actual war."

    compelled the exemplarist Monroe to develop a riposte, a fresh controversy complicated the issue. In 1821, Greek nationalists rebelled against the local enforcers of the writ of the Ottoman sultan. The Greek war for independence deeply moved large numbers of Americans. The well-educated elite, versed in the Greek classics, felt a natural affinity for the birthplace of Western culture; the wider body of Americans who knew Plato only second-hand nevertheless understood that American democracy echoed Athenian precursors. The overwhelming majority of Americans who subscribed to the Christian faith interpreted the struggle by the Greek Christians against the Muslim Turks as a tenth Crusade.

    appealed to Americans for support. They solicited donations, consulted with the aging Jefferson for advice on establishing a government, and followed American precedents in writing a constitution. They also forwarded a proclamation justifying their struggle to Edward Everett, the editor of the influential North American Review and a long-time supporter of Greek independence. Everett published the manifesto, which, after praising the United States for embracing the ideals enunciated by the ancient Greeks, appealed to the Americans for assistance. "It is for you, citizens of America, to crown this glory in aiding us to purge Greece from the barbarians.... It is surely worthy of you to repay the obligations of the civilized nations and to banish ignorance and barbarism from the country of freedom and the arts."

    wake Americans to the obligation their country had to take an active role in humanity's salvation. The Greek appeal "must bring home to the mind of the least reflecting American the great and glorious part which this country is to act in the political regeneration of the world." Everett called for swift recognition by the United States of the revolutionary government in Greece. And individual Americans, in their capacity as private citizens, could do more. From England, Germany, and France, brave young men had gone out to join the Greeks in their epic contest; Americans might do the same. Those unable to offer their bodies to the cause could contribute their wealth. Every form of assistance counted. "The experience of our own revolutionary war is so recent that we ought to have felt how precious would be any aid from a distant land, however insignificant in amount. Who does not know that there were times in our own revolutionary war when a few barrels of gunpowder, the large guns of a privateer, a cargo of flour, a supply of clothing, yea, a few hundred pairs of shoes for feet that left in blood the tracks of their march, would have done essential service to the cause of suffering liberty?" American communities should follow the example of London, which had taxed itself to support the freedom struggle. "Let Boston appropriate ten thousand dollars for the same object; New York and Philadelphia and Baltimore and the cities of the South in proportion to their means will heartily unite in the cause."

    stopped shy of calling for volunteers or passing the collection plate to back the Greeks, but the Massachusetts congressman, later twice secretary of state, thought the support provided by diplomatic recognition a necessity. The heroes of Hellas deserved no less. Webster, then at the top of his oratorical form, declaimed:

I cannot say, sir, that they will succeed; that rests with Heaven. But for myself, sir, if I should tomorrow hear that they have failed, that their last phalanx had sunk beneath the Turkish scimitar, that the flames of their last city had sunk into ashes, and that naught remained but the wide melancholy waste where Greece once was, I should still reflect, with the most heartfelt satisfaction, that I have asked you in the name of seven millions of freemen, that you would give them at least the cheering of one friendly voice.

    tide of emotion for Greece. Against the vindicationist approach of Clay and Everett and Webster, such exemplarists as John Randolph of Virginia resisted American involvement in affairs so far from the United States. Randolph thought the Greeks should look to America's example rather than America's assistance, diplomatic or material. "Let us say to those seven millions of Greeks," Randolph declared, "`We defended ourselves, when we were but three millions, against a Power, in comparison to which the Turk is but as a lamb. Go and do thou likewise.'" Diplomatic recognition would lead to exchange of envoys, which would provoke retaliation by Turkey; inevitably the United States would be drawn into the maw. "To entangling alliances we must come, if you once embark in projects such as this."

    came from John Quincy Adams. Monroe's secretary of state, a master (and not overly modest) diplomat who nonetheless recognized the limits of his ability to manipulate the world balance of power, countered the arguments of the vindicators with the single most succinct and compelling exemplarist statement ever. Speaking on the forty-fifth anniversary of American independence, Adams answered any who would have the United States intervene in the affairs of foreign countries, even for the noblest purposes. Once America assumed responsibility for the welfare of others, Adams said, she would endanger the interests of her own people.

Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions, and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own....

    own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force ....

    the ruler of her own spirit?

Adams's statement silenced the vindicators momentarily, but Americans' insatiable land hunger soon afforded them opportunity for rebuttal. While several varieties of material interest provided the principal impetus for the acquisition of Texas, California, and Oregon, uniting the cotton planters, cattle ranchers, fur trappers, and China-traders was an overarching conviction that bringing new territory under the American flag was tantamout to "extending the area of freedom," in the favored phrase of the day.

    The doctrine of Manifest Destiny definitely allowed the possibility that American expansion would happen through the voluntary adherence of America's neighbors to what Congressman Luther Severance of Maine called "our bright and shining example as a pattern republic." Indeed, the desire of Texans to annex themselves to the United States seemed to confirm the power of the American example. The high priest of Manifest Destiny, John O'Sullivan, denounced the very idea that America's example required any armed assistance. "Nothing upon earth, or above or below the earth, can be farther from the genius and principles of this Republic than the acquisition of territory by military conquest," O'Sullivan asserted. "The attempt would be as monstrous as it would be new in our history, and short-lived indeed would be the power and influence of those who should undertake it. They would be looked upon as the worst of traitors, striking at the life of their country and laying the foundation for its speedy and certain ruin."

    Destinarians weren't above giving destiny a hand. The more self-conscious of these vindicators described democratic expansion, by force if necessary, as a defensive measure. Senator Daniel Dickinson of New York characterized the Oregon issue as a contest "between two great systems, between monarchy and republicanism." Only one system, Dickinson said, would survive. The American Review adopted a similar position, accusing the British, in the matter of Oregon, of deliberately and threateningly throwing up barriers to "the progress of republican liberty." The New Orleans Jeffersonian Republican, asserting the necessity of taking Texas, claimed that unless American sovereignty was pressed to the Rio Grande, there would develop on the country's southwestern frontier an influence "highly dangerous to our prosperity and inimical to the spread of Republican institutions."

    expansionism more forthrightly. The New York Herald declared:

American patriotism takes a wider and loftier range than heretofore. Its horizon is widening every day. No longer bounded by the limits of the confederacy, it looks abroad upon the whole earth, and into the mind of the republic daily sinks deeper and deeper the conviction that the civilization of the earth -- the reform of the governments of the ancient world -- the emancipation of the whole race, are dependent, in a great degree, on the United States.

Others, not quite ready to take on the redemption of Europe and Asia, nonetheless conceived an American obligation to regenerate Mexico. Numerous commentators deplored Mexican "misgovernment" and advocated strong measures of reform, including war and perhaps annexation. "I would not force the adoption of our form of Government upon any people by the sword," Senator Herschel Johnson of Georgia said at the outset of the conflict with Mexico. "But if war is forced upon us, as this has been, and the increase of our territory and consequently the extension of the area of human liberty and happiness shall be one of the incidents of such a contest, I believe we should be recreant to our noble mission if we refused acquiescence in the high purposes of a wise Providence." The Boston Times applauded the prospect of American conquest of Mexico, deeming it a wonderful boon to the degraded Mexican people.

The "conquest" which carries peace into a land where the sword has always been the sole arbiter between factions equally base, which institutes the reign of law where license has existed for a generation; which provides for the education and elevation of the great mass of the people, who have for a period of 300 years been the helots of an overbearing foreign race, and which causes religious liberty and full freedom of mind to prevail where a priesthood has long been enabled to prevent all religion save that of its own worship, -- such a "conquest," stigmatize it as you please, must necessarily be a great blessing to the conquered.

    revitalization of that country simply encouraged the apostles of Manifest Destiny to advocate more of the same. An editor for the United States Democratic Review asserted, "Mexico is in a state of suspended animation. She is in fact dead. She must have resurrection. She must be electrified -- restored. This American Republic is strong enough to do anything that requires strength. It is vital enough to inject life even into the dead."

    on heaven to cover their crimes, and Americans intent on expanding their country's domain by any means necessary were no exception. Yet the fulsome nature of the rhetoric oughtn't obscure the fact that millions in the United States, almost certainly a large majority, sincerely believed that by enlarging the sphere of American sovereignty they were contributing to the betterment of the human race.

Where American sovereignty was out of the question, Americans contented themselves trying to roll back the still-encompassing ocean of monarchy. Federalism and its closet monarchists were long dead, and the heirs of Jackson robustly affirmed revolution as an agent of human progress. But as before, they differed regarding the degree of assistance the United States should supply to revolutionaries abroad. A new round of revolutions, in Europe in 1848, demonstrated that the exemplarists and vindicators continued to be as far apart as ever.

    Hungarian nationalist who came to America seeking support for Hungary against its Russian oppressors. A dashing figure and a shameless showman, Kossuth paraded triumphally across the country, holding rallies, raising money, and appealing for an American policy of "intervention for nonintervention," by which he meant American intervention to force Russian nonintervention. He asked President Fillmore to recognize Hungary's independence, to warn the czar against further aggression, and to dispatch American warships to the Mediterranean to keep the Russians in line.

    people. Many observers accepted his claim that upon the fortunes of Hungary hung the future of liberty in Europe. Gamaliel Bailey, editor of the reformist National Era, demanded intervention, taking the Bible rather than Washington's farewell address as his text. "Love thy neighbor as thyself," Bailey exclaimed. "This is the fundamental principle of Intervention." The New Testament preached intervention: Witness the story of the good Samaritan. "The Apostles were Interventionists -- the fathers of the Church were Interventionists -- philanthropists and reformers, all who have written, spoken or acted so as to elevate Humanity, have been Interventionists." Bailey concluded, "Intervention in behalf of Freedom, Justice and Humanity is the maxim of Democracy; Non-intervention, except to limit them, is the demand of Slavery."

    1820s after promoting an anti-Bourbon brand of republicanism, embraced Kossuth literally and rhetorically. "We boast exultingly of our wisdom," Soule declared. "Do we mean to hide it under a bushel, from fear that its light might set the world in flames?" Let the burning begin, he cried, for the fires of liberty would cleanse the earth of corruption. "Onward? onward! is the injunction of God's will as much as Ahead! ahead! is the aspiration of every American heart." The momentum of democracy would shatter all in its path. "Attempt not, therefore, to stop it in its forward career, for as well might you command the sun not to break through the fleecy clouds that herald its advent on the horizon."

    flutterings over Kossuth subsided. While no person of stature opposed the principles Kossuth represented, more than a few questioned whether America possessed responsibility or capacity to impose those principles on a refractory world, especially on a part of the world so far from America's borders. Erstwhile vindicator Henry Clay put the exemplarist case best. The aging Kentucky statesman, his youthful energy gone, confidence in America's future shaken by the deepening sectional schism, life itself ebbing, summoned Kossuth to his bedside. Clay grasped Kossuth's hand and wished him luck. "God bless you and your family! God bless your country! May she yet be free!" But Clay declared that America must not make Hungary's struggle her own. "If we should involve ourselves in the tangled web of European politics, in a war in which we could effect nothing, and in that struggle Hungary should go down, and we should go down with her, where then would be the last hope of the friends of freedom throughout the world?" Intervention was the counsel of imprudence, Clay said. Far better that Americans concentrate on securing liberty and democracy at home -- that "we keep our lamp burning brightly on this Western shore as a light to all nations" -- than to hazard "its utter extinction amid the ruins of fallen or falling republics in Europe."

During the quarter century after 1850, while the sectional crisis, the Civil War, and Reconstruction consumed the country, few Americans had much thought to spare for international relations. Most vexed themselves instead over the survival prospects of republicanism in America. The Civil War constituted a grand vindicationist project by the North against the South, although only convinced Confederates placed the effort in the realm of foreign affairs. An interested observer might have expected the victorious Unionists, full of confidence and fielding perhaps the world's strongest army, to embark on vindicationist adventures around the hemisphere, or at least the continent, but with the exception of frightening the French out of Mexico, they did no such thing. As would happen fifty years later, fighting a war, even successfully, left Americans psychologically, morally, economically, and politically weary of other people's troubles. It was precisely this fatigue that finally caused Washington to withdraw its troops from the South and return control of that region to its prewar ruling class.

    third quarter of the nineteenth century. Filibusters traipsed across Central America, Southern slaveholders agitated to annex Cuba, and adolescents of "Young America" projected their fantasies abroad. Of substantive matters, Matthew Perry's opening of Japan in 1854 had more to do with American trade than with American ideals, but many Americans, especially those of a vindicationist frame of mind, encountered little difficulty convincing themselves that the first might lead to the second. William Henry Seward, the most Asia-oriented American diplomat of the nineteenth century, said of Japan a few years later that the positive effects of Perry's visit were already evident. The secretary of state expressed particular approval of the efforts the Japanese were "wisely making to accommodate their political and civil institutions and customs to the commercial movements of the age and to the principles and policies established by the law of nations."

    case more strongly. Progressive influences had entered Japan as a result solely of American coercion, Pruyn claimed. "No conviction of public good nor respect for other nations" had opened Japanese doors to the West. Rather, "the silent but no less potent utterances of bayonet and wide-mouthed cannon burst away the barriers of isolation." American strength was required to keep the doors open. "Our foothold here can be maintained only by a firm attitude and with the hand on the sword." Americans had embarked on a noble venture in remaking Japan; their resolve mustn't slacken until the job was finished -- which might take some time. "The entire framework of society and government must be remodeled," Pruyn declared.

    Alaska, a territory he perceived as a natural waystation on the route to Asia. Although most proponents of the purchase stressed the commercial opportunities it afforded, Charles Sumner, the leader of the Senate fight for approval of the Alaska treaty, placed the transaction in broader context. By drawing Alaska under the Stars and Stripes, Sumner said, the United States would accomplish another major step in "the extension of republican institutions," an objective he portrayed as "a traditional aspiration" of the American people. "The Republic is something more than a local policy," he declared. "It is a general principle, not to be forgotten at any time, especially when the opportunity is presented of bringing an immense region within its influence." Sumner saw the removal of the czar's authority from North America as the most recent in a succession of victories for liberty. "We dismiss one other monarch from the continent. One by one they have retired -- first France, then Spain, then France again, and now Russia -- all giving way to the absorbing Unity declared in the national motto, E pluribus unum."

    vindicators' self-confidence smug and unwarranted, especially in light of the travail America had recently experienced at home. Orestes Brownson put the case for a modest exemplarism more succinctly than most. Brownson, a career convert who left the Presbyterian church for Universalism, Universalism for Unitarianism, Unitarianism for his own church, and his own church for Roman Catholicism, touching transcendentalism and socialism along the way, and who reported the multi-stage hegira in various journals of the era, including Brownson's Quarterly Review, accounted the Civil War cause for caution in American foreign affairs. Americans had shown themselves incapable of solving their own problems peaceably, he said, and therefore were in no position to force their views on others. "The Union will fight to maintain the integrity of her domain and the supremacy of her laws within it, but she can never, consistently with her principles or her interests, enter upon a career of war and conquest. Her system is violated, endangered, not extended, by subjugating her neighbors, for subjugation and liberty go not together."

    future, with the slavery controversy now settled. Nor did he question that the country would continue to grow. "The American people need not trouble themselves about their exterior expansion. That will come of itself as fast as desirable." But expansion must result from the attractive power of the American model, not from force. Americans should work on improving their own institutions and leave it to Providence to handle the rest, which Providence would. "Let them devote their attention to their internal destiny, to the realization of their mission within, and they will gradually see the whole continent coming under their system."

The humility Brownson displayed was rare in America in the Gilded Age. The archetypes of the era were the Social Darwinists. These American adherents of the ideas of Britain's Herbert Spencer first applied the paradigm of survival of the fittest to domestic life, rationalizing why John Rockefeller was richer than ten thousand of his workers combined. Yet their theories extended readily to the contest among nations. Why was America wealthy and powerful? they asked. Because America was better adapted to survival in the modern period, they answered.

    pirated piece called "Manifest Destiny." In this 1885 essay, Fiske described the preeminence of the United States in the world as the result of a unique melding of Anglo-Saxon racial superiority and American political aptitude. Noting the expansion of Anglo-Saxon influence during the previous three centuries, Fiske predicted a continuation of the trend.

The work which the English race began when it colonized North America is destined to go on until every land on the earth's surface that is not already the seat of an old civilization shall become English in its language, in its political habits and traditions, and to a predominant extent in the blood of its people. The day is at hand when four fifths of the human race will trace its pedigree to English forefathers, as four fifths of the white people in the United States trace their pedigree today.

    the governance of large territory and numbers of people, he held that the American branch of the race had approached nigher to perfection than any other. The key to America's special success lay in the concepts of representative democracy, which ensured a government answerable to the people, and federalism, which provided a balance between local and national interests. The United States, Fiske asserted, had pioneered these twin ideas and developed them to their present superlative condition in America. Together they produced an effect no less revolutionary in politics than the introduction of steam power or electricity in manufacturing.

    influence and institutions across the globe. The United States a century hence, Fiske predicted, would embrace "a political aggregation unmeasurably surpassing in power and in dimensions any empire that has yet existed." American power would flow most readily into the backward regions of the earth, but not even Europe would be exempt. In the face of America's enormous economic productivity -- another manifestation of American national fitness -- the old, tired regimes would give way. "The pacific pressure exerted upon Europe by America is becoming so great that it will doubtless before long overcome all these obstacles." While Americans would benefit, the world would benefit more as the United States spread its empire "from pole to pole" and "from the rising to the setting sun."

    American empire, others were no less ambitious. Josiah Strong, the general secretary of the American Evangelical Alliance and, like Fiske, a regular on the lecture circuit of the expansion-minded, matched his lay brother's confidence, phrase for glowing phrase. To be sure, Strong warned of perils littering the road to America's destiny. Unchecked immigration might swamp the country and dilute its vigor; Romanism or Mormonism might divert the righteous; socialism might enervate the nation's productive forces. But hazards overcome would merely heighten the glory of the victory. And that glory would dazzle even the most optimistic. "I believe it is fully in the hands of the Christians of the United States," Strong proclaimed, "during the next ten or fifteen years, to hasten or retard the coming of Christ's kingdom in the world by hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of years. We of this generation and nation occupy the Gibraltar of the ages which commands the world's future."

    just how the American millennium would arrive. At times they seemed to talk an exemplarist game, suggesting that the force of American example, combined with the smiling oversight of the Protestant Christian God, would suffice to convert the world to American institutions and practices. Yet they thoroughly subscribed to the Algerite notion that luck comes to those with pluck, and that God helps those who help themselves. Considering the means by which the Anglo-Saxons had helped themselves to North America and the other parts of the globe then under Anglo-Saxon sway, the Social Darwinists' vision of a world empire implied vindicationist policies of the most vigorous, not to say brutal, nature.

    that stuck. Fiske and Strong might sometimes soft-pedal the struggle that would be required to reshape the world, in order to make the vision as broadly acceptable as possible. But the entire Darwinian scheme rested on the premise of struggle, as its more blunt-spoken proponents made plain -- and its critics recognized. Max Nordau complained in the North American Review of the advantage Darwinist ideas conferred on the proponents of militarism in an age beguiled by science. "The greatest authority of all the advocates of war is Darwin," Nordau wrote. "Since the theory of evolution has been promulgated, they can cover their natural barbarism with the name of Darwin and proclaim the sanguinary instincts of their innermost hearts as the last word of science."

    inordinately sanguinary, but no one made the struggle for civilization plainer or used blunter speech in depicting it. Sumner, the single most influential Social Darwinist in America, railed at the charitable efforts of persons who dared to tamper with the unfettered operation of free-market capitalism, arguing that melioration merely encouraged the poor in their shiftless ways. "It may be said," he wrote in 1883, "that those whom humanitarians and philanthropists call the weak are the ones through whom the productive and conservative forces of society are wasted. They constantly neutralize and destroy the finest efforts of the wise and industrious, and are a dead weight on the society in all its struggles to realize any better things."

    same dismal view of humanity and the same hard-hearted calculus. Writing during the 1890s, while the great powers scrambled for colonies and spheres of influence across the globe, Sumner summarized the struggle for territory in vivid terms.

Earth hunger is the wildest craving of modern nations. They will shed their life blood to appease it. It gratifies national vanity and economic expansion both at once. No reasoning can arrest it and no arguments satisfy it. At the present moment the states of Europe are carving up Africa as they carved up America in the eighteenth century. They set about the process ten years ago with most commendable deliberation, and with an attempt to establish rules of order for the process; but they are already snarling and growling at each other over the process, like hungry tigers over their prey.

    because of the conflict it entailed but because it lessened population pressure at home. "When there is plenty of land, the penalties of all social follies, vices, and ignorance are light." Yet, misguided or not, expansionism was changing the face of the globe. It produced "a collision of the civilized and the uncivilized," in which the latter almost always fell beneath the crushing weight of the former. Of the nations beyond Europe and North America, only Japan had managed to join the modern world on terms approaching equality. Predictably, Sumner held that sympathy for peoples and countries that couldn't make the transition was as wasted as sympathy for the domestic poor. "The inevitable doom of those who cannot or will not come into the new world system is that they must perish. Philanthropy may. delay their fate, and it certainly can prevent any wanton and cruel hastening of it; but it cannot avert it because it is brought on by forces which carry us all along like dust upon a whirlwind."

    commonly assumed, was a blessing to humanity. If nothing else, war's great destructiveness too often failed to discriminate between what deserved saving and what required liquidation. Nonetheless, war had played a vital role in the evolution of nations. "While men were fighting for glory and greed, for revenge and superstition, they were building human society. They were acquiring discipline and cohesion; they were learning cooperation, perseverance, fortitude, and patience.... War forms larger social units and produces states.... The great conquests have destroyed what was effete and opened the way for what was viable." States mustn't enter into war lightly, and politicians who proposed-war for partisan purposes were no better than criminals. All the same, wars would come, even to the most honorable nations and individuals. Prudence dictated accepting this fact and making the most of it. "War is like other evils; it must be met when it is unavoidable, and such gain as can be got from it must be won." In any event, war would work its effects regardless of the reasons and intentions of those responsible for starting it. "We must remember that the motives from which men act have nothing at all to do with the consequences of their action."

Sumner went too far with this last statement. Few Americans, at any rate, would have accepted it. During the 1890s, American exemplarists and vindicators remained as divided as ever over the proper role for the United States with respect to the world. While the Social Darwinists and other vindicators made their case boldly and vigorously, the exemplarists weren't about to yield without a fight, as the imminent, and indeed incipient, debate regarding an American overseas empire would demonstrate. But if the exemplarists and the vindicators disagreed on the question of enlightenment versus compulsion in foreign policy, the two sides generally concurred on the more philosophical notion -- and here parted company with Sumner -- that while consequences might not mirror motivations exactly, a significant causal relationship between the two existed.

    it virtually impossible to sustain the belief -- which nearly all of them held -- that they had something unique to offer the world. They intended to do good for their fellow human beings, and they expected their accomplishments to reflect their intentions, at least approximately. Most Americans in the 1890s, following their forebears, accepted that God -- perhaps working through the Darwinian device of natural selection -- had specially blessed their country. Most retained the belief that this blessing imposed on them a special obligation to promote the welfare of the human race. After slightly over a hundred years of national existence, Americans still perceived themselves as harbingers and agents of a better future for the planet. Providence smiled on America, as before. While it continued to do so -- and few forecast frowns -- Americans would continue to have a duty to share their blessings. And they would continue to quarrel over how the sharing might best be accomplished.

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Table of Contents

1 Exceptionalists All! The First Hundred Years 1
2 Brooks Adams: Marx for Imperialists 22
3 Walter Lippmann and a New Republic for a New Era 47
4 When the Future Worked and the Trains Ran on Time: Lincoln Steffens 79
5 Dr. Beard's Garden 109
6 Kennan, Morgenthau, and the Sources of Superpower Conduct 144
7 Reinhold Niebuhr and the Foreign Policy of Original Sin 182
8 God Blinked but Herman Didn't 209
9 On Wisconsin: Madison and Points Left 238
10 The Brief of Norman's Woe: Commentary and the New Conservatism 263
11 It Ain't Over till It's Over - and Not Even Then 297
Notes on Sources 321
Index 327
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