Søren Kierkegaard once said that "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." As applied to public policy in general, and to foreign policy in particular, this is a counsel of despair because it implies that men must govern themselves and shape their policies without really knowing what they are about or why. But if this observation is to be disproved, and the historian unseated as the only proper analyst of human affairs, then men must be prepared resolutely to try to follow Aldous Huxley's advice "to look at the world directly and not through the half- opaque medium of concepts, which distorts every given fact into the all too familiar likeness of some generic label or explanatory abstraction."
In reference to American foreign affairs, and particularly at this time in our history, such an effort is difficult. In all countries foreign affairs are likely to become the object of more emotionalism and irrationality than domestic questions. This is the heritage of history viewed through the lens of nationalism. And today the task of looking outward upon the world with calm objectivity and realism becomes doubly difficult because ours is a world so different from that of even our immediate forebears that neither national experience nor the clichés of political leaders offer easy guidance to the puzzled but conscientious citizen. The effort, however, must be made, and particularly so in an election year when important choices face the voter.
Perhaps it may be useful to begin with an unscholarly oversimplification and to suggest that the United States may be about to enter a fourth period in the history of its foreign policy. The first, of course, was our century- long avoidance of any long-term diplomatic commitments in Europe or elsewhere. Wrongly called a policy of "isolation," it was, in fact, merely a shrewd use of a special historical situation-the nineteenth-century Western European equilibrium of power and the British Navy's domination of the Atlantic-in order to
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