America was thrust into the world some 30 years ago. That jolting experience generated in America a degree of unity concerning foreign affairs unusual for a democratic and pluralist society. Largely as a consequence of that shock, America's foreign policy came to enjoy for a quarter of a century the advantage of broad popular support and of a seeming sense of direction.
Throughout much of that time, America's involvement in world affairs was characterized by an increasingly activist internationalism, by an idealistic optimism, and by a strong dose of populist Manichaeanism. The activist internationalism was in part a reaction to widely shared guilt feelings about America's earlier rejection of the League of Nations, and-as if to erase the past-America now became the most active promoter of international undertakings. The idealistic optimism combined a strong faith in the eventual emergence of a world of united nations with an unprecedented degree of popular willingness to share America's bounty with others. The populist Manichaeanism reflected the propensity of the masses to demonize foreign affairs, a tendency easily reinforced by the realities of Hitlerism and then of Stalinism.
Both World War II and the subsequent cold war gave America's involvement in world affairs a clear
All rights reserved. To request permission to distribute or reprint this article, please visit ForeignAffairs.com/Permissions.