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The Education of an Anti-Imperialist: Robert La Follette and U.S. Expansion (Studies in American Thought and Culture) Paperback – December 19, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

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"...offers a fresh perspective that often surprises with its insights.....a scholarly, readable, and sometimes highly opinionated account of the philosophical journey by La Follette toward an unshakeable belief in anti-imperialism and opposition to U.S. involvement in foreign wars....Even a seasoned historian who has made a focused study of La Follette will find much that is new here....serious research went into the preparation of this book, which is well documented.... Summing up: Highly recommended."--S.K. Hauser, Choice

"In The Education of an Anti-Imperialist, [Drake] describes La Follette's transformation from an unreflective supporter of U.S. policy into an ardent opponent of American imperialism. In effect, Drake traces the impact of critical ideas on one formidable politician's understanding of statecraft....the passage of time has not lessened the value of La Follette's prophetic warning that global leadership 'would make us the object of endless jealousy and hazards, involve us in perpetual war, and lead to the extinction of our domestic liberty.'"--Andrew Bacevich, The American Conservative

"Following close upon the revival of Theodore Roosevelt's reputation by best-selling author Doris Kearns Goodwin's The Bully Pulpit, another fresh and exciting volume brings us TR's nemesis within the Progressive Movement, Wisconsin's own Robert M. La Follette....They parted sharply on U.S. foreign policies, but in ways never clearly understood until The Education of an Anti-Imperialist....[The book] is an intense intellectual history of the most famous Wisconsin politician, how he grew and shifted his opinions dramatically."--Paul Buhle, Wisconsin State Journal

"For diplomatic historians Drake makes a superb contribution to understanding the myriad expressions of American anti-imperialism, and for historians of the Progressive Era the work builds on Nancy C. Unger's 2008 biography Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer."--Michael Patrick Cullinane, The Journal of American History

"In this meticulously researched and wonderfully well-written intellectual biography of the preeminent opponent of the war and of the peace, Wisconsin Senator Robert La Follette, Richard Drake permits us to view the period through very different conceptual lenses [from those of standard accounts].... As useful as Drake's book is for historians, it might most profitably be read by America's political thinkers, political leaders and policy makers."--Edward Rhodes, Political Science Quarterly

"Richard Drake's superb biography of Robert La Follette is a fresh, fascinating, and highly readable account of a great figure in American history. But it is also an important, indeed stimulating, analysis that can instruct our era how this popular U.S. Progressive senator from Wisconsin repeatedly and courageously stood up against his era's reactionary and avidly pro-war politicians."—Walter LaFeber, Cornell University


"This book addresses big themes: republic or empire, progressive politics, freedom and censorship in wartime, and congressional and executive foreign policymaking powers. A vivid portrait of Robert La Follette that shows why he was such a thorn in the side of those who sought to conduct 'business as usual.'"—Susan Brewer, author of Why America Fights


"There are other biographies of Robert La Follette, obviously, but none that probes so deeply into the intellectual development of an American anti-imperialist. This is a very important piece of scholarship that deserves a wide reading."—Lloyd Gardner, author of Three Kings: The Rise of an American Empire in the Middle East after World War II


“Drake has given us . . . an intense intellectual history of the most famous Wisconsin politician, how he grew and shifted his opinions dramatically.”—Wisconsin State Journal


“Drake is skillful at showing the La Follette who admired William McKinley and endorsed the war with Spain in 1898.”—Wall Street Journal

Drawing upon an extensive investigation of La Follette's voluminous correspondence and a close reading of La Follette's Magazine, Drake explains how the progressive politician's critique of big business and monopoly threats to American democracy was extended into a denunciation of American imperialism." He writes, "The cause of authentic democracy in America depended for its ultimate triumph on the success of the country's true patriots in thwarting the imperialistic schemes of our masters of finance and their complaisant politicians. For the protection of their investment abroad, the financial elites were prepared to make America a permanent garrison state connected with right-wing dictatorships around the world for the purpose of supervising wealth extraction from captive populations" (369).--Ron Briley, History News Network.

About the Author

Richard Drake is professor of history at the University of Montana. He is the author of Apostles and Agitators: Italy's Marxist Revolutionary Tradition and The Aldo Moro Murder Case among other works.
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Product Details

  • Series: Studies in American Thought and Culture
  • Paperback: 550 pages
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press; 1 edition (December 19, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0299295249
  • ISBN-13: 978-0299295240
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,419,548 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By William Kostlevy on December 26, 2013
Format: Paperback
Richard Drake has written a long over due account of Robert M. La Follette, Sr.'s gradual emergence as an important critic of American empire. This is a work deeply rooted in primary sources. In many ways far broader than an introduction to "Fighting Bob's" views on empire, the work is the best single study we have of the sources of La Follette's ideas. It also helps us understand why the so-called isolationism of Wisconsin Progressives was a central element in the Progressive vision of a just society. And it demonstrates why current Wisconsin Democrats who claim to stand in the Progressive tradition and yet fail to repudiate the national Democratic Party's wars of aggression have little better claim to the Progressive mantle than Paul Ryan. This is a very important book that I cannot recommend too highly.
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La Follette began as an ardent proponent of President McKinley and, as such, earnestly believed that the suppression of the rebellion in the Philippines was about ensuring the development of democratic self-government, his guiding political principle. As he became increasingly aware of the connection between business interests and foreign policy, he began to develop his critique of the growing American Empire.

Drawing extensively on a variety of primary sources, Drake uses the development of La Follette's political consciousness to reveal the corruption and greed behind the facade of the public guiding principles of American foreign policy, such as the Wilsonian notion of "making the world safe for democracy." The senseless death and destruction of WWI crystallized La Follette's thinking on the matter; the drastic military expansion caused by the war remained permanent and solidified a profit motive for military aggression.

Drake's book, in tracing La Follette's intellectual development, allows the reader to come to La Follette's conclusions as he did. For all hoping to understand the present situation of America in the world, this book is indispensable. La Follette remained steadfast in his faith that an educated democracy could combat the domination of the economy by the business elites of Wall Street. The costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are the hallmark of 21st century American foreign policy coupled with the Great Recession make La Follette's critique more relevant than ever. In his focus on pragmatic reform and truth telling, La Follette eschewed utopian political ideology and offered a true return to the American values of self-sufficiency and freedom. In resurrecting La Follette's anti-imperialist critique, Drake shows how his ghost still haunts American politics--the military-industrial complex and the warfare it demands continues to lead America down a path of no return.
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A wonderful and depressing reflection of our world as it was predicted by a visionary and committed democrat (small d). The first few chapters are a bit of a slog, but hang in there. RLF and a handful of others saw that WWI had changed America forever, and not for the better. The author explains complex ideas very concisely, and has selected a great sampling of the era's important Progressive thinking.
Beware: he predicted a dark future with corporations and the rich in charge, using the military to keep themselves well paid while screwing working Americans. and reading this book makes you squirm with recognition. Reading it changed my understanding. Highly recommended.
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This is a superb and intensely written history of one man's journey from reflexive nationalism to courageous dissent. The issues and forces Fighting Bob wrestled with are the same demons confronting America, and the rest of the world today. Being a Wisconsin native son, La Follette's legacy of political reform and moral courage was part of the sweet air and fresh water or growing up here. Now, we have the bitter vinegar and noxious fumes of corporate and political corruption of a governor and state legislature echoing the very evil La Follette took on at the turn of the last century.

I knew a lot of how La Follette's reforms turned a brutal nation onto a path of a more compassionate domestic policy. I did not know as much about his track record on foreign affairs. Richard Drake's highly informative and completely readable work has filled in the gap in my knowledge. This book about a long ago time of political conflict is timely today. Imagine how the world would have been different if it had heeded La Follette's prescient warnings. Imagine how today's Middle East would be different if it hadn't been sliced up by the whims of empire and corporate greed. Just as oil has flowed from the Middle East, so too has the blood. As in so many issues he confronted, La Follette's impassioned stand against World War I was right. We -- and countless refugees streaming northward -- now bear the burden of the blunders and deceit of Mr. Wilson's and international corporatism's first world war.

This wonderful book is an essential guide to how we got where we now are.
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