Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Chapter 28: The Power of Words

Chapter 28: The Power of Words

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy:

How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest


McDougall Book Jacket

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).





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Chapter 28: The Power of Words:

321-22: Raymond Haberski, Jr., God and War: American Civil Religion Since 1945 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University, 2012), pp. 84-97 (quote p. 94). See Peter L. Berger and Richard John Neuhaus, eds., Against the World for the World: The Hartford Appeal and the Future of American Religion (New York: Seabury, 1976). On Carter’s religiosity: Gary Scott Smith, Faith and the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush (New York: Oxford University, 2006), pp. 293-324 (quote p. 299); Kenneth E. Morris, “Religion and the Presidency of Jimmy Carter,” in Gastón Espinosa, ed., Religion and the American Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush (New York: Columbia University, 2009), pp. 321-52; David L. Holmes, The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Truman to Obama (Athens: University of Georgia, 2012), pp. 143-72.  The one Bible verse in Carter’s inaugural was the famous commandment in Micah 6:8: “what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”

322, ¶ 1: Kandy Stroud, How Jimmy Won: The Victory Campaign from Plains to the White House (New York: William Morrow, 1977), p. 419. The eastern establishment’s first choice was in fact Florida Governor Ruben Askew, but his strong support among Jews was in fact unwanted baggage in the immediate wake of the OPEC embargo. Richard A. Melanson, American Foreign Policy since the Vietnam War: The Search for Consensus from Nixon to Clinton (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2000), pp. 96-97. Georgia crony Jody Powell allegedly threatened to quit if Carter turned foreign policy over to Vance and Brzezinski, but stayed on as White House chief of staff.

322-23: Even the genocides of the 1930s and 1940s did not advance human rights for some thirty years because their memory was suppressed (in the case of the Ukrainians) or repressed (in the case of the Holocaust). Jews and Gentiles alike shrank from the Shoah in horror, guilt, or shame until the 1970s and 1980s when the Holocaust Memorial movement began. See Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999).  Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2000), writes: “One might go so far as to claim that it was not World War II and genocide, but anti-colonialism and decolonization, that really broke the international lawyers’ long-term apologia for the state and its projects” (p. 195).

322-23 cont.: Senator Henry Jackson’s chief advisor was none other than Dorothy Fosdick, the daughter of Social Gospel pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick. She played the beloved bubbe (grandmother) to such rising Jewish powerhouses as Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Elliot Abrams, and Paul Wolfowitz. See Fosdick, Staying the Course: Henry M. Jackson and National Security (Seattle: University of Washington, 1987) and Robert G. Kaufman, Henry M. Jackson: A Life in Politics (Seattle: University of Washington, 2000).

322-23 cont.: When Max Frankel of the New York Times queried Ford on whether the Soviets had the upper hand through an agreement that legitimated their dominance over eastern Europe, Ford got confused. Instead of stating that the democracies now expected the USSR to relinquish its domination in accordance with Helsinki’s Basket Three, he replied as if that had already happened: “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.” He then made things worse by claiming, “I don’t believe the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union.”

323: See Sarah B. Snyder, Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network (New York: Cambridge University, 2011) and Daniel Thomas, The Helsinki Effect: International Norms, Human Right, and the Demise of Communism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 2001). Carter’s Notre Dame Speech at:  See also David F. Schmitz and Vanessa Walker, “Jimmy Carter and the Foreign Policy of Human Rights: The Development of a Post-Cold War Foreign Policy,” Diplomatic History 28 (Jan. 2004): 113-43.

323-24: The historical literature on what I called “global meliorism” in Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World Since 1776 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997) is even vaster and more depressing now as it is was then. But for two good introductions see James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition have Failed (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University, 1999) and Douglas J. Macdonald, Adventures in Chaos: American Intervention for Reform in the Third World (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1992). A fascinating contretemps on Carter’s achievements arose from Walter Russell Mead’s “The Carter Syndrome,” Foreign Policy, no. 177 (January/February, 2010), pp. 58-64, the rebuttals by Carter and Brzezinski themselves in no. 178 (March/April, 2010), pp. 10-12, and Mead’s gracious retreat from his caricature of Carter’s “weakness and indecision.”

324: Burton Kaufman and Scott Kaufman, The Presidency of James Earl Carter (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 2006), p. 7; Daniel J. Sargent, A Superpower Transformed: The Remaking of American Foreign Relations in the 1970s (New York: Oxford University, 2015), p. 233. In Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era (New York: Viking, 1970) Brzezinski predicted that the technological trends, especially computerization and surveillance techniques, would soon enable transnational elites, “highly internationalist or globalist in spirit and outlook,” to control and manage the whole human race (p. 59).

324-25: Judith Stein, Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University, 2010), pp. 225-61 (quotes, p. 226-27); Sargent, A Superpower Transformed, pp. 229-260. Carter clung to the belief that Trilateralism was the answer and that the “economic locomotives” of Germany and Japan would pull the United States out of recession if all parties could cooperate. He called his attendance at the 1979 G-7 in Tokyo “the most important summit ever held.”

325: James A. Bill, The Eagle and the Lion: The Tragedy of American-Iranian Relations (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1988), Carter toast p. 233; Kenneth M. Pollack, The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America (New York: 2005); David Farber, Taken Hostage: The Iran Hostage Crisis and America’s First Encounter with Radical Islam (Princeton, 2005); Gaddis Smith, Morality, Reason, and Power: American Diplomacy in the Carter Years (New York: Hill and Wang, 1986), p. 188, noted pithily that “President Carter inherited an impossible situation and he and his advisers made the worst of it.”

325-26: Jefferson Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New York: The Free New Press, 2010), p. 303. Carter’s cultural pessimism was much in vogue in the mid-1970s. Recall, for instance, Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (New York: Norton, 1978); Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, 1976); Robert Bellah, The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in a Time of Trial (New York: Seabury, 1975); Robert Nisbet, The Twilight of Authority (New York: Oxford University, 1975); and Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (New York: Morrow, 1974). But American masses were not, by definition, receptive to the vogues of elites, which meant Carter was 180 degrees off-course in political terms.

326-27: Carter’s “Malaise” Speech:

327 ¶ 1: Sargent, Superpower Transformed, pp. 261-299; Morris Berman, Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2012), pp. 3-41.

327-28: Cowie, Stayin’ Alive, pp. 1-19 (quote, p. 3). Two outstanding studies of the decline and fall of the American working class are Robert O. Self, All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s (New York: Hill and Wang, 2012), and Steve Fraser, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power (New York: Little, Brown, 2015). See also Stein, Pivotal Decade, pp. 225-61; Walter L. Hixson, The Myth of American Diplomacy: National Identity and U.S. Foreign Policy (New Haven: Yale University, 2008), pp. 254-55. William Steding, Presidential Faith and Foreign Policy (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014), pp. 87-101, argues that Reagan “switched the locus of original sin from the individual to the institution,” thereby granting Americans a blanket absolution (p. 93).  John Patrick Diggins, Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History (New York: Norton, 2007), p. 116, thinks Reagan “disarmed his opponents by never showing the slightest sign of inner conflict about the truth of what he was saying.”  As T. S. Eliot said, people “cannot bear very much reality, and the art of politics is our best proof of it.”

328: Haberski, God and War, pp. 98-117. Carter’s percentage of Catholic votes in 1980 was twenty points lower than in 1976 and he captured just 45 percent of the Jewish vote, the Democrats’ worst showing in fifty years.

328-29: David Eisenhower alerted me to Reagan’s practice of self-consciously restaging events in order to erase their effects. Wilentz quote in The Age of Reagan: A History, 1978-2008 (New York: HarperCollins, 2008), p. 137.

329-30: See, for example, the strange new respect for their subject accorded by such important scholars as Wilentz and Diggins. On Reagan revisionism generally see Charles Ponce de Leon, “The New Historiography of the 1980s,” Reviews in American History 36, no. 2 (2008): 303-14. On Reagan’s personality see Kissinger, Diplomacy, p. 764; Peggy Noonan, When Character was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan (New York: Viking, 2001).

330: Paul Kengor, “Religion and the Presidency of Ronald Reagan,” in Gastón Espinosa, ed., Religion and the American Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush (New York: Columbia University, 2009), pp. 355-92, and Kengor, God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2004); Kissinger, Diplomacy, p. 764; Smith, Faith and the Presidency, pp. 325-363 (Moomaw and Buchanan, pp. 325-26; Wills, p. 361); John Patrick Diggins, Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History (New York: W. W. Norton, 2007), pp. 191-218; John Lewis Gaddis, “Morality and the American Experience in the Cold War,” in Cathal J. Nolan, ed., Ethics and Statecraft: The Moral Dimension of International Affairs (London: Praeger, 1995): 171-94; Preston, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith, pp. 574-600 (“enigmatic syncretism,” p. 580). Reagan speech in Dallas: 

And in Decatur, Alabama:

330-31: Reagan Inaugural Address (Jan. 20, 1981): The Great Communicator himself testified in his Farewell Address: “I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation – from our experience, our wisdom and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries”:

The text is at:

331: Kirron K. Skinner, Martin Anderson, and Annelise Anderson, Reagan in His Own Hand: The Writings of Ronald Reagan That Reveal His Revolutionary Vision for America (New York: Free Press, 2001). John Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University, 2005), pp. 342-79 (quote, p. 351). Derek Leebaert, The Fifty-Year Wound: The True Price of America’s Cold War Victory (Boston: Little, Brown, 2002), pp. 491-537, says Reagan, who took the long view of just about everything, spied the Soviet Union dying and decided to help it through euthanasia. At the beginning few people shared his “ash heap” appraisal of Communism, but in 1982 documents leaked by a KGB defector-in-place (code named “Farewell”) persuaded the CIA’s Bill Casey that the Soviet economy was on its last legs.  For NSDD 32 (May 20, 1982) see:

331-32: A. Glenn Mower, Jr., Human Rights and American Foreign Policy: The Carter and Reagan Experiences (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1987), p. 25, quotes the 1982 State Department Reports on Human Rights Practices to the House Committee on Foreign Relations: “Human rights is <sic> at the core of American foreign policy because it is central to America’s conception of itself…. Human rights is not something added to our foreign policy, but its ultimate purpose: the preservation and promotion of liberty in the world….” Whereas both administrations promoted the vision, Reagan merged it with geopolitics and did not include Carter’s emphasis on economic and social rights.  A measure of the incompleteness of the Reagan recovery is net U.S. international investment, which fell sharply during the last two decades of the 20th century whereas Britain’s had increased sharply over the two decades prior to 1914.  That meant Americans were mortgaging their future twice over, while tolerating ever increasing inequality.  See Charles S. Maier, Among Empires: American Ascendancy and Its Predecessors (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2006), pp. 238-84.  The turning point for American labor unions was the PATCO strike of 1981.  For a gripping account of it see Joseph A. McCartin, Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed America (New York: Oxford University, 2011).  Of course, Reagan’s confrontation with unions was anticipated by that of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher beginning three years before.  On the economy generally see Anthony S. Campagna, The Economy in the Reagan Years: The Economic Consequences of the Reagan Administration (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1994), pp. 183-97.  The Gini Coefficient, which measures the share of national income among percentiles of the population, shows that “all fifths except the highest fifth lost ground from 1979 to 1989” (p. 184).

333: Jim Castelli, The Bishops and the Bomb: Waging Peace in a Nuclear Age (Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, 1983). After 1950 the debates over nuclear strategy came to be dominated by civilian strategists such as Hermann Kahn, Bernard Brodie, Albert Wohlstetter, and Henry Kissinger. Niebuhr’s successor at Union Theological Seminary, John C. Bennett (a Presbyterian from Ontario), upheld Christian Realism and endorsed nuclear deterrence.  Likewise Princeton theologian Paul Ramsay applied principles of discrimination and proportionality to argue in favor of counter-force targeting since a war that killed 25 million people as collateral damage, while appalling, was not nearly as bad as a war that automatically killed 250 million city-dwellers!  In 1983 the Catholic bishops and Pax Christi Movement revived the debate.  Its final report preached a “preferential option for peace” and condemned nuclear weapons as inevitably violating discrimination and proportionality.  Reagan opposed the report and was supported by old Ramsay, who made a scathing critique of the Catholic bishops just before end of the Cold War and his own death in 1988.  See Kevin Carnahan, Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Ramsey: Idealist and Pragmatic Christians on Politics, Philosophy, Religion, and War (Lanham, Md.: Lexington, 2010).  On the Reagan administration’s foreign relations see Colin Dueck, Hard Line: The Republican Party and U.S. Foreign Policy since World War II (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 2010); Raymond L. Garthoff, The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1994); Beth A. Fischer, The Reagan Reversal: Foreign Policy and the End of the Cold War (Columbia: University of Missouri, 1997); Coral Bell, The Reagan Paradox: American Foreign Policy in the 1980s (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University, 1989).

333-34: Peter J. Westwick, “‘Space-Strike Weapons’ and the Soviet Response to SDI,” Diplomatic History 32, no. 5 (Nov. 2008): 955-79.

334-35: Kirron K. Skinner and Annelise Anderson, eds., Reagan: A Life in Letters (New York: Free Press, 2003), pp 737-41; Ronald Reagan, An American Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990), pp 592-604; Lou Cannon, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990), p. 792. For a brilliant synthetic interpretation of the last years of the Soviet system see Stephen Kotkin, Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1970-2000, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University, 2008).

335, ¶ 1: Diggins, Ronald Reagan, p. 427; Richard Pipes, Vixi: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University, 2003), p. 165 (Sears Roebuck quote); Reagan, An American Life, pp. 707-8 (wisdom quote).

335, ¶ 2: Jack F. Matlock, Jr., Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended (New York: Random House, 2004), pp. 304-12 (quote, p. 312).

335-36: Thatcher quoted by Edwin Meese III, With Reagan: The Inside Story (Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1992), p. 173. The neo-conservative line was argued by Peter Schweizer, Victory: the Reagan Administration’s Secret Strategy that Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union (New York: Atlantic Monthly, 1994). The modest interpretation is presented by Matlock, Reagan and Gorbachev, pp. 3-26; Kissinger, Diplomacy, pp. 801-3, which cites Kennan’s X-article, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” Foreign Affairs 25, no. 4 (1947):  566–582.  Martin Anderson and Annelise Anderson, Reagan’s Secret War: The Untold Story of His Fight to Save the World from Nuclear Disaster (New York: Crown, 2009); stresses Reagan’s bias for peace.

336: Reagan Farewell Address (Jan.11, 1989): and its exegesis in Richard M. Gamble, In Search of the City on a Hill: The Making and Unmaking of an American Myth (London: Continuum, 2012), pp. 141-63 (quote, p. 161).

337: Gil Troy, The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University, 2009).


Obama’s World: The Global Civil Religion Aborts

339-40: A biography of Gerardus Mercator comprises one of the chapters in the beautiful book by Jerry Brotton, A History of the World in 12 Maps (New York: Penguin, 2014), pp. 218-59 (dedication quoted on p. 255).

340-41: Helle Porsdam, ed., Civil Religion, Human Rights, and International Relations (Cheltenham, Eng.: Edward Elgar, 2012), p. 12, claims “human rights have already become an ‘international civil religion of sorts today.” Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Belknap, 2014), describes at length the origins of contemporary inequality. The Protestant declension is developed at length in James Kurth, “The Protestant Deformation and American Foreign Policy,” Orbis 42: 2 (Spring 1998): 221-39 (quotes, pp. 236-38), and Kurth, “The Protestant Deformation,” The American Interest 1:2 (Dec. 2005): 4-16.   Milbank quoted in Richard Bishirjian, The Conservative Rebellion (Gainesville, Fla.: American Academy, 2015), p. 143.  In the 1920s Van Wyck Brooks wrote that “as the old jug of Puritan wine finally cracked, its liquid ran to earth as rank commercialism, and its vapors floated up into airy transcendentalism”: Jim Sleeper, “American Brethren: Hebrews and Puritans,” World Affairs 172, no. 2 (Fall 2009): 46-60 (quote, p. 54).

341-42: Joseph P. Nye, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (New York: Public Affairs, 2004) and Walter Russell Mead , Power, Terror, Peace, and War: America’s Grand Strategy in a World at Risk (New York: Knopf, 2004) variously describe trade, finance, debt, markets, and the appeal of pop culture and social values as soft and sticky sources of power in contemporary international relations. Other variations of post-Cold War triumphalism include Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York : Free Press, 1992); Michael Mandelbaum, The Ideas That Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy, and Free Markets in the Twenty-first Century (New York: Public Affairs, 2002); John C. Ruggie, “American Exceptionalism and the U.S. Role in the World,” in Morton H. Halperin, et al., eds., Power and Superpower: Global Leadership and Exceptionalism in the 21st Century (New York: Century Foundation, 2007), pp. 17-22 (“More than any other country, the United States was responsible for creating the post-World War II system of global governance” <p. 17>).  Siobhan McEvoy-Levy, American Exceptionalism and US Foreign Policy: Public Diplomacy at the End of the Cold War (New York: Palgrave, 2001), demonstrates how G .H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who otherwise represented entirely different generations, deployed identical exceptionalist rhetoric to exhort Americans to preside over the new world order.

342: Kjell O. Lejon, “Religion and the Presidency of George H. W. Bush,” in Gastón Espinosa, ed., Religion and the American Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush (New York: Columbia University, 2009), pp. 395-429 (“not a Christian war,” p. 413); David L. Holmes, The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Truman to Obama (Athens: University of Georgia, 2012), pp. 197-214; Jeffrey Engel, “A Better World … But Don’t Get Carried Away: The Foreign Policy of George H. W. Bush Twenty Years On,” Diplomatic History 34, no. 1 (Jan. 2010): 25–46; G. H. W. Bush Inaugural Address (Jan. 20, 1989):; G. H. W. Bush State of the Union Address:

342-43: Emily Rosenberg, “Consuming the American Century,” in Andrew J. Bacevich, ed., The Short American Century: A Postmortem (Cambridge: Harvard University, 2012), pp. 38-58. On Clinton’s religiosity, see Raymond Haberski, Jr., God and War: American Civil Religion Since 1945 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University, 2012), pp. 143-92; Holmes, Faiths of the Postwar Presidents, pp. 215-39; Gastón Espinosa, “Religion and the Presidency of William Jefferson Clinton,” in Espinosa, ed., Religion and the American Presidency, pp. 431-75; David Levering Lewis, “Exceptionalism’s Exceptions: The Changing American Narrative,” Daedalus 141, no. 1 (Winter 2012): 101-17 (“The rightward shift,” p. 113); Second Inaugural:

343-44: I use the phrase “resistance to transcendence” ironically because it was coined by Ernst Nolte in Three Faces of Fascism (New York: New American Library, 1969) to describe the meta-political consciousness of European fascists in the 1930s. Kristol quoted in Todd Gitlin, The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America is Wracked by Culture Wars (New York: Metropolitan, 1995), pp. 80-83.

344: Andrew Bacevich, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (New York: Oxford University, 2005), pp. 69-79. For neo-conservatives, writes Bacevich, “America is the one true universal church, the declaration of 1776 tantamount to sacred scripture, and the District of Columbia the Holy See” (p. 78). Donald Kagan and Frederick W. Kagan, While America Sleeps: Self-delusion, Military Weakness, and the Threat to Peace Today (New York: St. Martin’s, 2000), was an excellent example of the obsession that every crisis is another Munich and every enemy is another Hitler.  On the evolving generations of what Irving Kristol called the neo-conservative “persuasion” see Justin Vaïsse, Neoconservatism: The Biography of a Movement, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2010).

344-45: Walter Russell Mead in Mortal Splendor: The American Empire in Transition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), showed stunning prescience when he wrote: “Liberalism has two constituencies and each secretly believes that it is using the other” (pp. 249-50). The first were the idealistic Progressives who promote multi-cultural and multi-gendered tolerance, democracy, and compassion. The others were corporate neo-liberals content to “write off large sections of the work force” so long as social welfare programs greased the skids with “enough money in the ghettoes to keep them from exploding.”  What unites the two constituencies is hostility to democracy.  The first governs through judicial and administrative imposition, the latter through international elites including “central bankers huddling in secret meetings, unelected officials making policy choices binding each of their governments…” (pp. 338-39).

345, ¶ 1: “Woodrow Wilson took America into the twentieth century with a challenge to make the world safe for democracy. As we enter the twenty-first century, our task is to make democracy safe for the world”: Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad (New York: Norton, 2003), p. 256. Kenneth Minogue, “Christophobia” and the West, The New Criterion 21, no. 10 (June 2003): 4-13 (quotes, p. 12).  The Cold War created bourgeois Olympianism, “a vision of human betterment on a global scale by forging the peoples of the world into a single community based on universal enjoyment of appropriate human rights,” and the end of the Cold War empowered it.  Minogue sees Olympianism as “entangled in a complex dialectic involving elitism and egalitarianism” that rejects all traditional authority and hates community and religion.  It therefore poses as a kind of religion itself while claiming “a cognitive superiority to religion in general” (pp. 9-10).  Its principal target is Christianity because its identification with Western civilization threatens its own imperial project.

345, ¶ 2: Samuel P. Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), pp. 257-91 (quote, p. 270). Under twenty-first century conditions empire “can only be conceived of as a universal republic” that spreads cosmopolitanism, multiculturalism, and human rights: Charles S. Maier, Among Empires: American Ascendancy and Its Predecessors (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2006), pp. 238-95, citing Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2000), p. 166. See also Akira Iriye, “Towards Transnationalism,” in Andrew Bacevich, ed., The Short American Century: A Postmortem (Cambridge: Harvard University, 2012), pp. 121-41; John Lewis Gaddis, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2004), p. 113.

346: George Soros, Open Society (New York: Public Affairs, 2000), pp. 167-207, praised the “global economy that is characterized not only by free trade in goods and services but even more by the free movement of capital.” But the system is deeply flawed. “Economic and political arrangements are out of kilter.  The development of a global economy has not been matched by the development of a global society.  The basic unit for political and social life remains the nation-state” (p. 167).  Hence he concludes that “the current system of global capitalism is an incomplete and distorted form of a global open society” (p. 179).  General William Odom noted that the American empire is really “a voluntary community of sovereign states, most of which have mature constitutional regimes.”  That means the unilateral use of U.S. military power, if not risky, costly, and self-defeating, is simply contradictory because it violates the supranational ideology used to justify it: William E. Odom and Robert Dujarric, America’s Inadvertent Empire (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University, 2004), pp. 5-9.  Stuart J. Kaufman, “Too Cheap to Rule: Political and Fiscal Sources of the Coming American Retrenchment,” FPRI-Temple University Consortium on Grand Strategy, vol 7 (Oct. 2011); “The Gates Farewell Warning,” Wall Street Journal editorial (May 28-29, 2011).

346-47: Aryeh Neier, The International Human Rights Movement (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 2012). Political scientist Colin Dueck concludes that “to engineer the creation of an entirely new democracy, by force, in a foreign land, amid historically and culturally inhospitable conditions, is among the most difficult things that any government could possibly undertake, and breath-taking in its sweeping, idealistic ambition. To do so with a careless inattention to the facts on the ground is even worse.  That such a policy became known as ‘conservative’ is astonishing” (Dueck, Hard Line: The Republican Party and U.S. Foreign Policy Since World War II (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 2010), pp 288-89.  See William Russell Easterly, The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’s Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2001) for just one example of a large and depressing literature.

346-47, cont.: Mark Mazower, Governing the World: The History of an Idea (New York: Penguin, 2012), quote on p. 427). Eric A. Posner, The Twilight of Human Rights Law (New York: Oxford University, 2014), simply calls human rights law a sham. Francis Fukuyama, ed., Nation-Building: Beyond Afghanistan and Iraq (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 2006), Simon Chesterton, You the People: The United Nations, Transitional Administration, and State-Building (Oxford, Eng.: Oxford University, 2004), James Dobbins, America’s Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq and The UN’s Role in Nation-Building: The Congo to Iraq (Santa Monica, Calif: RAND, 2005), and Christopher J. Coyne, After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University, 2008) all critique nation-building.  Coyne’s rigorous analysis of U.S. occupations in which reconstruction, state-building, nation-building, and peacekeeping were attempted demonstrates that their results were woefully uneven and mostly failures.  Ambassador Jack F. Matlock, Jr., Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray – and How to Return to Reality (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University, 2010), p. 212, paraphrases Lord Acton’s famous quote and applies it to Americans: “Power tends to intoxicate; the illusion of absolute power intoxicates absolutely”

347: See for example Francis Fukuyama, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy (New Haven: Yale University, 2006); Robert Kagan, The Return of History and the End of Dreams (New York: Knopf, 2008); Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World and the Rise of the Rest (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008); Robert D. Kaplan, The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate (New York: Random House, 2012); Zbigniew Brzezinski, Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power (New York: Basic Books, 2012); Geir Lundestad, The Rise and Decline of the American “Empire”: Power and its Limits in Comparative Perspective (New York: Oxford University, 2012). As early as 2003 Kaplan cautioned: “In many ways the few decades immediately ahead will be the trickiest ones that our policymakers have ever faced: they are charged with the job of running an empire that looks forward to its own obsolescence.” In 2007 he wrote the trends “make it unlikely America’s global role will be as dominant as it is now.  That could turn out to be a good thing….   There may be nothing healthier for running an empire-of-sorts than to look forward to its own obsolescence.”  In 2012 he iterated: “Rome’s real failure in its final phase of grand strategy was that it did not provide a mechanism for a graceful retreat, even as it rotted from within.  But it is precisely – and counterintuitively – by planning for such a deft exit from an hegemony of sorts that a state or empire can actually prolong its position of strength.  There is nothing healthier for America than to prepare the world for its own obsolescence.”  See Walter A. McDougall, “Is Geography Destiny?” The American Interest (Nov.-Dec. 2012): 70-77, and “The Constitutional History of U.S. Foreign Policy: 222 Years of Tension in the Twilight Zone,” FPRI E-Book (July 2010).

347-48: Holmes, Faiths of the Postwar Presidents, pp. 270-320. The University of Chicago’s distinguished historian of American Protestantism, Martin Marty, testifies that Obama “is unassailably Christian” (p. 320). See also Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (New York: Times Books, 1995) and The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006).

348-49: Obama Inaugural Ceremonies at:

350-51: Colin Dueck, The Obama Doctrine: American Grand Strategy Today (New York: Oxford University, 2015); Mark Moyar, Strategic Failure: How President Obama’s Drone Warfare, Defense Cuts, and Military Amateurism Have Imperiled America (New York: Threshold, 2015).

351: Not surprisingly, Obama’s principles nearly coincide with the European Union’s five core norms – peace, liberty, democracy, rule of law, and human rights – and four lesser norms – social solidarity, anti-discrimination, sustainable development, and good governance. Diane Butler Bass, “The Obama Doctrine: American Civil Spirituality” at:

Mark Movsesian “Is President Obama Reinventing Civil Religion?” at: http//

351-52: Donald E. Pease, The New American Exceptionalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2009), p 38; Helle Porsdam, ed., Civil Religion, Human Rights and International Relations (Cheltenham, Eng.: Edward Elgar, 2012), pp.1-17; Daniel S. Malachuk, “Human Rights and a Post-Secular Religion of Humanity” in Journal of Human Rights 9 (2010): 127-42; and Margit Warburg, Holy Nations and Global Identities: Civil Religion, Nationalism, and Globalization (2009) all speculate about the emergence of a conglomerate of congenial nations uniting around democracy and human rights.

352: Harold Bloom, The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992) saw the perversity of what was likely to come. He called the American Religion a gnostic cult of the self and therefore “not likely to be a religion of peace, since the American self tends to define itself through its war against otherness…. If Woodrow Wilson proves correct, and we were intended to be a spirit among the nations of the world, then the twenty-first century will mark a full-scale returns to the wars of religion” (pp. 264-65).  Andrew F. Krepinevich, Seven Deadly Scenarios: A Militant Futurist Explores War in the 21st Century (New York: Bantam, 2009) offers a scary summary of these threats.

352-53: David W. Noble, Death of a Nation: American Culture and the End of Exceptionalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2002), foresaw the transcendence of national borders, institutions, and laws. John O’Sullivan, “Gullivers’ travails: The U.S. in the post-Cold War world.” The New Criterion 23:1 (Oct. 2004): 4-13, traced the progress already made by transnationalists (“the Tranzis”) through the media of supra-national organizations such as the EU and WTO; codification of international law bypassing sovereign states; the dramatic increase in NGOs; dramatic spread of economic, social, and environmental legislation; and the emergence of class consciousness among diplomats, lawyers, bureaucrats, and academics pursuing what Jurgen Habermas called “global domestic policy.” Scott M Thomas, “A Globalized God: Religion’s Growing Influence in International Politics,” Foreign Affairs 89, no. 6 (Nov.-Dec. 2010): 93-101; Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (New York: Free Press, 2012), agrees with Bloom that American religion is incorrigibly gnostic, thus retaining a place for God as a destination or destiny even as the Bible is cast away.   Global governance has already advanced to the level of second-order integrals inasmuch as its institutions already represent “multi-multilateralism” through international organizations and inter-governmentalism: Anne-Marie Slaughter, A New World Order (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 2004).  Parag Khanna, How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance (New York: Random House, 2011) predicts the imminent New World Order will be run by multinational corporations praised as indispensable partners in governance, especially for “meta-diplomacy” issues like hunger, poverty, disease, water, and global warming.

353: Robert Strausz-Hupé, Democracy and American Foreign Policy (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1995), pp. 173-74. Philip Bobbit, The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History (New York: Knopf, 2002), pp. 213-42; and Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-first Century (New York: Knopf, 2008), pp. 85-124.

353-54: William H. McNeill, “Mythistory, or Truth, Myth, History, and Historians,” Presidential Address to the American Historical Association, December 1985, published in American Historical Review 91, no. 1 (Feb. 1986): 1-10 (“intelligible,” p. 10); McNeill, “The Care and Repair of Public Myth,” Foreign Affairs 61, no. 1 (Fall 1982): 1-13; McNeill, “Introductory Historical Commentary” Geir Lundestad, ed., The Fall of Great Powers: Peace, Stability, and Legitimacy (Oslo: Scandinavian University, 1994), pp. 3-21 (“I think we should,” pp. 18-19). The three explosions boggle the mind. Consider that an exajoule (EJ) equals one quintillion (1018) joules.  The United States alone consumes around almost 100 EJ per year.

354: J. R. McNeill and William H. McNeill, The Human Web: A Bird’s-Eye View of World History (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003), pp. 315-18.

355: Herman Melville, Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land (New York: Hendricks House, 1960 <1876>), p. 434.

355-56: Carl Jacob Burkhardt, Reflections on History (Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1979 <1943>, pp. 186-88; Christopher Dawson, “The Christian View of History,” in C. D. McIntire, ed., God, History, and Historians: An Anthology of Modern Christian Views of History (New York: Oxford University, 1977), pp. 28-45 (quotes, pp. 38-39, 41).

356, ¶ 1:This paragraph contains my own brief summation of a far more sophisticated analysis by Ronald Beiner, Civil Religion: A Dialogue in the History of Political Philosophy (New York: Cambridge University, 2011), pp. 1-83. Please do not attribute my remarks to him. J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton, 1975), p. 545.

356, ¶ 2: David Gelerntner, Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion (New York: Doubleday, 2007), quotes pp. 1, 5. The book embarrassed liberal internationalists and neo-conservatives alike, hence it attracted little notice. But Richard M. Gamble, “The Allure of ‘Demonic Patriotism,’” Modern Age (Winter 2008): 81-84, and Christopher Levenick, “Apologia Americana,” National Review (Aug. 13, 2007): 43-44, published scathing reviews.  Maritain cited by Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University, 1996), pp. 193-242 (quote, p. 219).

356-57: John Patrick Diggins, Why Niebuhr Now? (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2011), pp. 95-117; C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (Orlando, Fla.: Harcourt, 1988 <1960>), p. 27; Walter A. McDougall, “Meditations on a High Holy Day: The Fourth of July”:

Richard M. Gamble exposes the danger of civil religion with this simple parable.  Say I own a house.  I love my house.  I repair and improve it and intend to leave it to my wife and children.  I will defend my house and may in extremis kill for it.  But if I announce that my house has a mission to change everyone else’s house – especially if word gets around there are plenty of guns in my house – the neighbors will most likely grow worried.  Pynchon, Mason & Dixon (New York: Henry Holt, 1997), p. 350, cited by David Dark, The Gospel According to America: A Meditation on a God-Blessed, Christ-Haunted Idea (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2005), pp. 77-82 (quote, p. 82).


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