On January 20, a new American President will appear on the East Portico of the Capitol to speak, among other things, to the question: What lies ahead in foreign policy? The question will be posed not merely by the advent of a new administration; in greater degree than at any time since 1945, Americans are questioning the concepts which in recent years have shaped their country's role in world affairs.
The questioning reflects more than concern about specific issues. As James Reston pointed out in a recent column, there is a mood of unease in the country which cannot be wholly explained in terms of differences over individual policies-foreign or domestic. Nor is this mood confined to the United States. We see a somewhat similar phenomenon in other countries of the developed world.
This unease is characteristic of periods in which an old era begins to die before a new one has been born. Teilhard de Chardin speaks of "great unrest which . . . springs from a nobler and deeper cause than the difficulties of a world seeking to recover some ancient equilibrium it has lost. . . . What we are up against is the heavy swell of an unknown sea which we are just entering from behind the cape that protected us. . . . We are, at this very moment, passing through an age of transition."
This transition has many aspects, of which the social and cultural may be the most important. But it also has a political dimension. It reflects the breakup of a world order in which the nature of power and authority has seemed reasonably clear in the developed world. After the political and economic revolutions which convulsed that world in the first half of the nineteenth century, peoples looked increasingly to the nation-state to meet their security and economic needs-and to provide a set of values which would give meaning to their lives. Within the nation-state, they looked increasingly to the central government as the symbol of national identity and the fountainhead of power
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