In This Review

Special Providence: The Secret Strengths of American Foreign Policy
Special Providence: The Secret Strengths of American Foreign Policy
By Walter Russell Mead
345 pp, Alfred A. Knopf, 2001

In this fine, lively book, Mead provides a history of America's approach to the world. Most important, he identifies four sets of ideas driving U.S. foreign policies in a framework more sophisticated than the usual contrast of realism and idealism. Mead pulls all this off by associating each set of ideas with a personality. "Hamiltonians" link a strong government with strong businesses, and they support free trade. "Wilsonians" emphasize America's democratic mission in the world. "Jeffersonians" are more protective of American values at home. "Jacksonians" emphasize military and economic readiness for possible conflict. (This interesting structure could also apply to a British version built around Peel, Gladstone, and Palmerston.) Mead's classification then leads to a second point: the United States has thrived precisely because of the fruitful tension among these ideas -- a complex but robust fusion facilitated by the American constitutional scheme of shared powers. The downside is that he simplifies the actual people (such as Jefferson) and their ideas, pulling them out of their context and boxing some later leaders into categories that do not quite fit. But this price is worth paying for readers, who will profit from a fresh and well-written introduction to American foreign policy traditions.