McDougall advanced an important national conversation in 1997 with his book Promised Land, Crusader State, which illuminated the history of U.S. foreign policy by placing it in the context of the broader evolution of intellectual and political traditions. In 2006, the historian Robert Kagan followed McDougall’s lead with an influential book titled Dangerous Nation, which interpreted U.S. foreign policy as oscillating between two schools of thought: an “expansionist” school that included presidents such as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt and that had its roots in classic American thought and a “realist” school that sought to limit the United States’ role in the world and had its origins among southern slaveholders and segregationists. McDougall’s latest book, which deserves and rewards a careful reading, is partly a belated riposte to Kagan’s book. Kagan, McDougall maintains, missed both the expansionism of the slaveholders and the foreign policy restraint of their opponents. The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy argues that an American “civil religion,” an evolving set of ideas, began by conceiving of the U.S. role in the world as setting an example of democratic and Christian values. Over time, McDougall maintains, that civil religion has become more interventionist and progressive. As a result, U.S. foreign policy has become more ambitious and less realistic.
In This Review
In This Review
Most Read Articles
The Demolition of U.S. Diplomacy
Not Since Joe McCarthy Has the State Department Suffered Such a Devastating Blow
Turkey’s Endgame in Syria
What Erdogan Wants
The Kurdish Awakening
Unity, Betrayal, and the Future of the Middle East
The Unwinnable Trade War
Everyone Loses in the U.S.-Chinese Clash—but Especially Americans
The End of Asylum
A Pillar of the Liberal Order Is Collapsing—but Does Anyone Care?