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Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World [Paperback]

Walter Russell Mead , Richard C. Leone
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 6, 2002 0415935369 978-0415935364 1st
"God has a special providence for fools, drunks and the United States of America."--Otto von Bismarck

America's response to the September 11 attacks spotlighted many of the country's longstanding goals on the world stage: to protect liberty at home, to secure America's economic interests, to spread democracy in totalitarian regimes and to vanquish the enemy utterly.

One of America's leading foreign policy thinkers, Walter Russell Mead, argues that these diverse, conflicting impulses have in fact been the key to the U.S.'s success in the world. In a sweeping new synthesis, Mead uncovers four distinct historical patterns in foreign policy, each exemplified by a towering figure from our past.

Wilsonians are moral missionaries, making the world safe for democracy by creating international watchdogs like the U.N. Hamiltonians likewise support international engagement, but their goal is to open foreign markets and expand the economy. Populist Jacksonians support a strong military, one that should be used rarely, but then with overwhelming force to bring the enemy to its knees. Jeffersonians, concerned primarily with liberty at home, are suspicious of both big military and large-scale international projects.

A striking new vision of America's place in the world, Special Providence transcends stale debates about realists vs. idealists and hawks vs. doves to provide a revolutionary, nuanced, historically-grounded view of American foreign policy.

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Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World + Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World Since 1776 + American Diplomacy: Sixtieth-Anniversary Expanded Edition (Walgreen Foundation Lectures)
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

America is perceived as not having a foreign policy tradition, contends Mead (Mortal Splendor: The American Empire in Transition), a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. In fact, Mead contends, there are actually four contrasting schools of foreign policy: a "Hamiltonian" concern with U.S. economic well-being at home and abroad; a "Wilsonian" impulse to promulgate U.S. values throughout the world; a "Jeffersonian" focus on protecting American democracy in a perilous world; and a bellicose, populist "Jacksonian" commitment to preserving U.S. interests and honor in the world. As Mead's detailed historical analysis of the origin and development of these schools shows, each has its strengths and faults if Wilsonians are too idealistic, Jacksonians are too suspicious of the world but each keeps the other in check, assuring no single school will dominate and that a basic consensus among them will be achieved, as was the case during the Cold War. As the Cold War ended, however, and the world became more complex, consensus ended. Hamiltonians and Wilsonians saw the opportunity to mold the economy and morality of the world in the U.S. image, but Jeffersonian doubt about foreign action in places like Bosnia, and Jacksonian popular suspicions of organizations like the WTO soon challenged such grandiose plans. Mead worries that U.S. foreign policy is too unfocused today and suggests we could learn much from the interactions in the past of the four schools, a complex history he ably unfolds. 8 pages of photos not seen by PW. (Nov. 8) Forecast: With foreign policy at the forefront after September 11, this could help shape discussions of U.S. response; expect serious interest.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

A senior fellow for foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, Mead (Mortal Splendor: The American Empire in Transition) follows in the footsteps of Walter McDougall in Promised Land, Crusader State (Houghton, 1997). Like McDougall, he points out that the United States contrary to the received wisdom was awash in diplomacy from its birth throughout the supposedly isolationist 19th century. But Mead sets himself a broader task. Why, he asks, does the United States still suffer from a reputation for na?vet? despite its meteoric ascent to world power? The author traces European puzzlement at Americans' stubborn independence, aversion to state power, and obsession with commerce. Like other historians, Mead discerns several schools of thought that vie for supremacy within the American diplomatic tradition: Hamilton's preoccupation with commerce, Jefferson's watchfulness over the Republic's founding principles, Jackson's obsession with military strength, and Wilson's pursuit of a just world order. The beneficial interplay of these principles, says Mead, has yielded the most successful foreign policy in history. Largely celebratory and sure to be controversial, this work belongs in all library collections. James R. Holmes, Ph.D. Candidate, Fletcher Sch. of Law & Diplomacy, Tufts Univ., Medford, MA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1st edition (September 6, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415935369
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415935364
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #164,621 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Walter Russell Mead is the James Clark Chase Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College and Editor-at-Large of The American Interest. From 1997 to 2010, Mr. Mead was a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, serving as the Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy from 2003 until his departure. Until 2011, he was also a Brady-Johnson Distinguished Fellow in Grand Strategy at Yale, where he had taught in the Yale International Security Studies Program since 2008.

His book, Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), was widely hailed by reviewers, historians, and diplomats as an important study that will change the way Americans and others think about American foreign policy. Among several honors and prizes, Special Providence received the Lionel Gelber Award for best book in English on international relations in 2002.

Mr. Mead's most recent book, God and Gold: Britain, America and the Making of the Modern World (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), is a major study of 400 years of conflict between Anglophone powers and rivals ranging from absolute monarchies like Spain and France through Communist and Fascist enemies in the twentieth century to al-Qaeda today.

Mr. Mead is also the author of the "Via Meadia" blog at The-American-Interest.com, where he writes regular essays on international affairs, religion, politics, culture, education, economics, technology, literature, and the media. Mead's writings are frequently linked to and discussed by major news outlets and websites such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Harper's, the Washington Post, and RealClearPolitics, as well as by foreign periodicals. He also frequently appears on national and international radio and television programs. He serves as a regular reviewer of books for Foreign Affairs and frequently appears on national and international radio and television programs. In 1997, he was a finalist for the National Magazine Award in the category of essays and criticism.

He is an honors graduate of Groton and Yale, where he received prizes for history, debate, and the translation of New Testament Greek. Mr. Mead has traveled widely in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America, and often speaks at conferences in the United States and abroad. He is a founding board member of the New America Foundation. He is a native of South Carolina and lives in Jackson Heights, New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow. November 19, 2001
Format:Hardcover
Just wow.
Mead contends that American foreign policy has been the most successful foreign policy in history and this book is an exploration of what Americans need to do to continue that success into the 21st century.
Mead begins by exploring the history of American foreign policy from the founding of the republic to the present. He successfully dispels the myth that the United States spent the 19th century in some kind of virtuous isolation and places many of the political and economic events in a foreign policy context.
Just as Mead dispels the myth of virtuous isolation, he seeks a new myth to explain the success of American foreign policy. A myth, he explains, is a way of condensing complex topics into a set of notions which everyone can easily discuss in a reasonably informed manner. His myth is based on our particular strengths as a democracy, the notion that competing schools fight for control over our foreign policy. The result, he claims, is that every portion of our society is represented in our approach to the world.
The next chapters describe each of the schools in turn. Mead ends the text with a cautionary but hopeful note about where America needs to go to maintain its success.
On top of all this substantive discussion, the book is a compelling read. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Re-evaluating America's Foreign Policy History July 26, 2002
Format:Hardcover
Walter Mead's Special Providence belies the historical myth of American foreign policy. Mead challenges the idea that American foreign policy was non-existent or amateurish before World War II. Mead argues and capably supports that the United States has a unique and rich tradition in its dealings in International Relations. Mead asserts that this policy is a product of our American democracy; a form of government that many argue is inferior when dealing in foreign affairs. However as a product of American society, a number of voices and ideals have tempered a policy that has done exceptionally well, judging by our rise to power and status today.
"American foreign policy rests on a balance of contrasting, competing voices and values - it is a symphony - or tries to be, rather than a solo," asserts Mead. Escaping the typical and lacking descriptions of realist versus idealist, Mead illuminates four active voices within America. Each voice is complicated enough that any elaboration I give here will be lacking. However, the names of the schools should give you the idea. The Hamiltonians, Jacksonians, Jeffersonians, and Wilsonians make up the America's collection of competing schools of thought. Mead concedes that the names are not historically accurate. But he makes a strong case, leading the reader to re-evaluate American foreign policy history - providing historical antidotes of each school in action. Mead treats each school with respect and supplies a convincing intellectual argument for each. Special Providence is a delight to read. This paradigm of the four schools provides deeper insight and understanding of American politics in the international arena, and even to a lesser extent on the domestic side. Meads insights are lightly glazed with wit. I found myself laughing out loud numerous times. I recommend this book to anyone with the slighted predilection for international relations or American history.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Mead's Special Providence is at its best in describing the four historical schools of American foreign policy. His framework is apt at explaining the motivations and actions of the major political figures and movements and applies in many cases to domestic policy debates as well. It also rings true with my gut feeling that binary classifications - isolationist/internationalist, hawk/dove, right/left, Democrat/Republican - do not really have a lot of explanatory or predictive power, at least since the end of the Cold War.
His conclusions are also thought provoking though not terribly well developed or convincing. Is the American foreign policy elite really much more out of touch with the American "folk" than it was fifty years ago? Have "Jeffersonian" - constitutionalist, small government - voices really been marginalized since the collapse of the Soviet Union? Does the US democratic system still provide a key advantage over Europe in formulating and executing successful policy? These are all really important questions, but I wish Mead had either left them as such or spent more time arguing his conclusions. The last two chapters are the only weak part of the book.
And, although he can't be faulted for it, I found myself wishing that the book were published later in the George W. Bush administration and, particularly, after September 11. He makes the conventional point that there are different voices in the Bush administration. But, is Bush himself a Hamiltonian (commercialist) in Jacksonian (populist) clothing or the opposite? Also, is our reaction to September 11 the key event that points the way forward for America's post-Cold War role in the world or simply a manifestation of the Jacksonian impulse to fight a total war once provoked?
Despite the weaknesses I noted, the fact that Mead has me thinking about these issues and caring what he would have to say about them shows what a really good bock Special Providence is. I highly recommend it.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding Our Roots September 11, 2002
Format:Hardcover
I really, REALLY liked this book. It made me feel optimistic about the future - that our instincts as Americans (diverse as they are) will serve us well.
We tend to think that Americans are not very good at foreign policy, at least in the manner of Metternich and Talleyrand, and that our traditions lie in staying snug behind our oceans. Special Providence makes the case that, in fact, have been quite successful in international relations and that we have been heartily engaged with the world since independence. "We don't just draw lucky cards, we play the game well."
A consistent thrust in our history has been developing markets, a focus that has set us apart from European style power politics. "Frederick the Great thought about how to snatch Silesia from Austria; Alexander Hamilton thought about how to integrate the infant American economy into the British world system on the best possible terms." This Hamiltonian school has continued from Commodore Perry to NAFTA.
Americans have had a missionary impulse as well, whether for the gospel or democracy. Indeed, the 19th Century missionaries had a positive effect with schools, hospitals, and egalitarianism. Woodrow Wilson personified this tendency. "The European powers sneered at Wilson, but today every one of them conducts foreign policy along Wilsonian lines."
The "Jacksonian" tradition represents our cowboy impulses, our history of being slow to anger, but when aroused, carrying a terrible, swift sword to the enemy. "Jeffersonians" argue that the best way to lead the world is by example, and stay within our own borders.
Each of these four schools has its strengths and has taken the lead at different times in our history. The debates between them have robust and coalitions among them shift.
Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The history that most of us don't know.
Walter Russell Mead tells the story of American foreign policy, which was much more active in our early history than we usually think.
Published 1 month ago by Gary A. Glynn
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read for anyone interested in the US and the world (which should...
Really made me rethink my perspective on US foreign policy. I had fallen for the myth that (in brief) the US was either isolationist or trying to take on the world. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Dad 2 a wee nipper
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting book
This is a very interesting book with a unique perspective in understanding American foreign policy and American political culture in general. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Anthony
4.0 out of 5 stars The book was as represented by the seller
Having recently 'discovered' WRM and his blog, I became interested in this book. I haven't read much of it; but I find his basic premise more than interesting...
Published 19 months ago by Willenergy
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking Analysis
I first read Walter Russell Mead's Special Providence soon after it was published in 2001, just months prior to 9/11. Read more
Published on April 23, 2012 by Leonard J. Wilson
5.0 out of 5 stars Lucid and compelling
I think better cases may be made for what motivates the Hamiltonian view, and I would say that that the Wilsonian view is less beneficent than it claims to be, but the illumination... Read more
Published on May 18, 2011 by Peter Buxton
1.0 out of 5 stars VERY DANGEROUS AND MISLEADING
Made the mistake of buying this @ the recommendation of someone who I "thought" was a "trusted" & "reliable" source. Read more
Published on May 12, 2008 by READERMANWC
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Insightful and a Fun Read
Walter Russell Mead is a fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, a position which makes him more than eligible to write a definitive work on the history and essential character... Read more
Published on March 31, 2007 by TEK
5.0 out of 5 stars Mead Takes a New Angle
In this book Mead argues that American foreign policy has not only changed the world, but it has changed the way the world deals with foreign policy. Read more
Published on April 18, 2006 by Patrick Higgins
4.0 out of 5 stars Mead on Special Providence
This is a clever book by an author who must be brilliant and who clearly is plugged into a great network of information and expertise. Read more
Published on August 20, 2005 by Joseph Ryan
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