The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, Enlarged Edition

In This Review

The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, Enlarged Edition

By William Appleman Williams
Dell, 1962
309 pp.
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This influential work by the dean of the Cold War revisionists, first published in 1959, developed a radical critique of American foreign policy. Williams attributed the counterrevolutionary tendency he denounced to a misplaced faith in liberal capitalism, and advised that the United States adopt an "open door" for revolutions. Williams was not a communist, as was sometimes unfortunately alleged, but a radical free-thinker out of the Wisconsin School. Nor was he a realist, though he achieved harmonic convergence with the realists (and the paleoconservatives) on several points: both strains of thought were skeptical of universalism, sought to place limits on the projection of American power, and advised a more accommodating posture toward revolutionary nationalism. Williams was often criticized, and persuasively so, for giving primacy to economic factors in explaining American foreign policy, and his assessment of responsibility for the origins of the Cold War erred on the side of generosity to Stalin's Russia. But there was a certain wisdom in his insistence that America had preached but forgotten how to practice self-determination. We might encourage other peoples to adopt the American system, or join freely in federative systems with them -- but, as Jefferson once remarked, "they have the right, and we none, to choose for themselves."