Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest
The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest

A fierce critique of civil religion as the taproot of America’s bid for global hegemony

Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Walter A. McDougall argues powerfully that a pervasive but radically changing faith that “God is on our side” has inspired U.S. foreign policy ever since 1776. The first comprehensive study of the role played by civil religion in U.S. foreign relations over the entire course of the country’s history, McDougall’s book explores the deeply infused religious rhetoric that has sustained and driven an otherwise secular republic through peace, war, and global interventions for more than two hundred years. From the Founding Fathers and the crusade for independence to the Monroe Doctrine, through World Wars I and II and the decades-long Cold War campaign against “godless Communism,” this coruscating polemic reveals the unacknowledged but freely exercised dogmas of civil religion that bind together a “God blessed” America, sustaining the nation in its pursuit of an ever elusive global destiny.




The original draft of this book contained 172 pages of endnotes, which had to be shed in the name of economy. Thanks to the Internet, readers can access them here. Unfortunately, of course, the author had to substitute page and paragraph numbers for the original superscripts in the text, but in most cases it should be clear which sentences in a given paragraph match up with which sources.

Paragraphs appearing in their entirety on a single page are identified by the page number (e.g., p. 122). Paragraphs divided between two pages are identified by those pages (e.g., pp. 92-93). Paragraphs that share a page with another complete paragraph are identified by the page number and paragraph number (e.g., p. 103, ¶ 1).

Please click on the links below to access endnotes by chapter:


Epigraphs and Introduction

Chapter 1: Why the Bush Blunders?

Chapter 2: Why the Imperial Overstretch?

Chapter 3: Why the American Heresies?

Chapter 4: A Divine-Right Republic in the Family of Nations

Chapter 5: Washington’s Farewell Address

Chapter 6: Thomas Jefferson and the Utopian Temptation

Chapter 7: John Quincy Adams and the Problem of Neighborhood

Chapter 8: Manifest Destiny

Chapter 9: European Revolutions and American Civil War

Chapter 10: The Gilded Age: Last Years of Orthodoxy

Chapter 11: ¡Cuba Libre!

Chapter 12: The Progressive Social Gospel

Chapter 13: Benevolent Assimilation

Chapter 14: Twentieth Century Trends

Chapter 15: Wilson’s War

Chapter 16: Wilson’s Peace

Chapter 17: Modern Explosions

Chapter 18: The Progressive Republican Denouement

Chapter 19: Roosevelt the Isolationist

Chapter 20: Roosevelt the Interventionist

Chapter 21: World War II: The Great Masquerade

Chapter 22: Roosevelt the Failed High Priest

Chapter 23: The Cradles of Cold War Theology

Chapter 24: High Priestly Prayers

Chapter 25: Impossible Dreams

Chapter 26: Age of Aquarius

Chapter 27: A Purgatory in Time

Chapter 28: The Power of Words