The Great American Mission: Modernization and the Construction of an American World Order

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The Great American Mission: Modernization and the Construction of an American World Order
By David Ekbladh
Princeton University Press, 2009
404 pp. $35.00
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In this important book, Ekbladh provides one of the most compelling portraits yet of the liberal ideas that guide U.S. foreign policy. Although the United States has always had a distinctive ideology of development and progress, he argues that a new synthesis of these ideas developed during the progressive movement and in the New Deal years. It was a vision of the United States as global leader, wielding technology and know-how, engaging in large-scale projects worldwide, and encouraging social and political progress abroad. Ekbladh traces its various threads from post-Civil War efforts at reconstruction to early-twentieth-century efforts at nation building in the Philippines and follows it into the 1920s, when the United States attempted to cultivate modern institutions in Latin America and elsewhere through education and the transfer of technology. The American "style" of progress crystallized in the 1940s when New Deal ideas about large-scale planning, groundbreaking technologies, and social transformation (ideas like those behind the Tennessee Valley Authority) emerged as the liberal alternative to fascist and communist models of advancement. The result was a U.S. doctrine of "modernization," enshrined in the Truman Doctrine and the 1949 "Point Four" program of economic assistance to poor countries. Even though the liberal vision of modernization lost appeal amid the trauma of the Vietnam War, as Ekbladh's fascinating account makes clear, it remains deeply embedded in the American imagination.