Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter With the World Since 1776

In This Review

Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter With the World Since 1776

By Walter A. McDougall
Houghton Miweirdin Company, 1997
295 pp. $25.00
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A beautifully crafted examination, rich in argument and historical detail, of the traditions of American foreign policy. The author, the editor of Orbis and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, consigns to deserved oblivion various shopworn antinomies customarily employed to understand U.S. foreign policy. His new scaffolding identifies a set of four "perfectly proportioned" traditions from the early republic, and he uses these to evaluate twentieth-century diplomacy, particularly all varieties of Wilsonianism and "Global Meliorism," in highly unflattering (and very witty) terms. McDougall's chapters on the follies of the crusading impulse in this century are gems, but he misses elements in the late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century tradition (like the emphasis on the law of nations and the intense interest in federative systems among sovereign republics) that are vital to understanding it. If we are to appeal to the past to chart the future, that past -- and not simply Unilateralism and Nationalism, in accents of "Don't Tread on Me!" -- is entitled to remembrance too.