- Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1 edition (October 30, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375412301
- ISBN-13: 978-0375412301
- Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 42 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #592,185 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World 1st Edition
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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.
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.
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In 2001, I was impressed with Professor Mead's simple but elegant characterization of four schools of thought that influenced the history of American foreign policy. He names each school after a famous proponent of its policies,
1. Hamiltonian: Named for Alexander Hamilton, the goals of this school are to further American commercial interests with the world.
2. Wilsonian: Named for Woodrow Wilson, the goals of this school are the creation of international organizations and legal structures based on law and morality. This school is a strong supporter of such organizations as the League of Nations, United Nations, World Court, etc.
3. Jeffersonian: Named for Thomas Jefferson, this school sought to minimize foreign entanglements (Washington's words, I believe) not only to avoid potential foreign conflicts but also to avoid domestic policy impacts such as maintaining a large and expensive standing military force and accompanying military-industrial complex. This school is based on Jefferson's own libertarian approach to government in both domestic and foreign affairs.
4. Jacksonian: Named for Andrew Jackson, this school is defined less by its policies than by its membership, typically lower and middle class Americans, originally of predominantly Scots-Irish descent, but now expanded to include those from other ethnic groups who are willing to accept their principles of patriotism and code of honor. These are the people who typically from the backbone of our armed forces and, consequently, Jacksonians typically place great emphasis on maintaining a strong military. At the same time, as the group that provides the bulk of our soldiers, they oppose wars they perceive as unnecessary, unwinnable, or not vital to the American interest (which they define as their own interest). Once engaged, however, they will insist that the war be fought to a clear victory with all necessary resources. Limited wars, limited objectives, and limited resources are anathema. Jacksonians use different rules and standards for dealing with fellow Americans, especially fellow Jacksonians, than with the outside world.
Contrasting the four schools, Wilsonians and Hamiltonians strive for world order based on morality and commerce, respectively. Jacksonian and Jeffersonians are suspicious or hostile to these global goals, Jeffersonians in a libertarian sense, Jacksonians in a nationalistic sense.
Mead is careful to point out that this naming convention is convenient shorthand; the schools existed both before and after their namesakes. He also points out that the four schools have overlapped, formed shifting alliances among themselves, and changed their focus over time. For example, the Hamiltonian School shifted from favoring protectionist tariffs to supporting free trade sometime in the mid 20th Century.
Mead also spends a fair amount of time contrasting American foreign policy with Continental realism, aka the Westphalian System, under which European states agreed to deal directly on a government-to-government basis and avoid interfering in each other's internal affairs. In this section, he points out that:
1. Economic issues play a more significant role in American and British foreign policy than in Continental Realism which focuses almost entirely on political and military relationships.
2. Domestic politics differ from international politics. In domestic politics, at least in democracies, a social contract is assumed. The state is assumed to have the best interests of the citizens in mind. In international politics, there is no social contract. National self interest is paramount under the Westphalian system, amorality trumps both morality and immorality.
3. Continental Realism's influence in the US peaked in the Nixon-Kissinger era. The economic and moral elements were not regained until the Carter and Reagan years. Nixon's termination of the Breton Woods international monetary regime was the ultimate withdrawal of the US from the economic aspects of foreign policy. More than anything, the US withdrawal from Breton Woods unified the European governments in their pursuit of an independent monetary authority. The Nixon years also saw the termination of the moral element of foreign policy. Any anti-communist government deserved our support. This amoral approach was reversed by Carter's emphasis on human rights and given a major boost by Reagan's denunciation of the Evil Empire and call to Gorbachev to "tear down this wall". Together, the reentry of the economic and moral aspects of foreign policy led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Mead also describes the history of US foreign policy as one determined primarily by our evolving relationship with Great Britain. He describes four phases of this relationship and of US policy:
1. 1776-1823: The US won its independence from Britain and the two nations then worked and fought to define their economic and commercial relationship.
2. 1823-1914: The US existed in a British-dominated world order, but one within which both nations recognized areas where American concerns needed to be considered, i.e., the Monroe Doctrine to which Britain tacitly subscribed to prevent other European powers from establishing control over newly independent nations in the western hemisphere.
3. 1914-1947: The two world wars and the loss of its empire destroyed the British-dominated world order while the US struggled to decide how to fill the resulting void: Prop up Britain, replace Britain, or let the rest of the world tend to its own problems.
4. 1947-1991: By 1947, it was apparent what Britain would not be able to maintain its dominance of the world order in the face of the threat posed by the Soviet Union. The US stepped into the void. The Cold War era ended with the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991.
So, what did I get out or rereading Special Providence ten years after its publication?
My first reaction was that the four schools really represent different dimensions of power in world affairs. In his 1998 book, We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History, John Lewis Gaddis cites five dimension of power: military, economic, cultural, moral, and ideological. Using these dimensions, the Hamiltonian, Wilsonian, Jeffersonian, and Jacksonian schools emphasized economic, moral, ideological, and military power, respectively. Would using these impersonal terms instead of naming the schools for famous individuals would have avoided some confusion? For example, Jefferson and his supporters strongly supported the initial phases of the French revolution (prior to the terror). However, support of democratic movements abroad is more a Wilsonian policy than one associated with the Jeffersonian-libertarian school as defined by Mead. On the other hand, Mead's naming convention did make me think through this question, which makes it a plus in my mind.
Professor Mead alludes to a parallel between his four schools of thought and David Hackett Fischer's four British Folkways of settlers in America which he cites in his book Albion's Seed:
1. The Puritans from East Anglia who settled in New England
2. The Royalists from the south and west of England, defeated by Cromwell's Puritans in the English Civil War, 1642-51, who settled in Virginia and Maryland
3. The Quakers and their religious kin who settled in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware
4. The Scots-Irish who settled in the Appalachians west of the earlier colonies.
I've tried to map these four groups to Mead's four schools. The only clear correspondence is between Fischer's Scots-Irish and Mead's Jacksonians which is obvious since the Jacksonians are defined as Scots-Irish in origin. The Wilsonians and Hamiltonians both seem to incorporate some elements of both the New England Puritans and the Quakers of the middle colonies. The Jeffersonians seem to have no obvious intellectual connection to any of Fischer's four Folkways; although Jefferson was a Virginian, his philosophy was not at all similar to the defeated Stuart Royalists who settled that colony. Perhaps I have missed something in this comparison; if anyone wants to leave a comment on my review, I'd welcome it.
It also occurs to me that the four schools do not carry equal weight in determining US policy. Currently, I'd subjectively assign weights of perhaps 20%, 20%, 15%, and 45% respectively to the Hamiltonian, Wilsonian, Jeffersonian and Jacksonian schools. However, these weights undoubtedly have changed many times from 1776 to today. It would be interesting to see a well argued description of these evolving weights, but I guess that is really a separate research project. Perhaps Professor Mead will consider it for a future book.
Mead comes up with four schools of US foreign policy thought, named after key characters in US history: Hamiltonian (realist/mercantile), Wilsonian (idealist), Jeffersonian (libertarian), and Jacksonian (populist). These four trends work with and against each other to create policies that have helped lift the US to the top of the international tree, despite looking like the US can't really cope with foreign policy making.
Well written and engaging, it's one of the few books I've had to read for a class that I think I'd've read anyway.
As a "macro" theory, Mead supports the four-way approach by reference to "micro" foundations in U.S. political demography, particularly by citing the work of David Hackett Fischer. Mead's four schools are also reminiscent of the four-way Myers-Briggs typing of personality preferences: Jacksonians as SJs, Jeffersonians as SPs, Hamiltonians as NTs, and Wilsonians as NFs?
Mead's book is clever in at least two other respects.
First, Mead risks little actual analysis and advice regarding real-world foreign policy. His main point about the outside world is that U.S. foreign policy is easier to formulate and implement when the world is simple. Humorist Richard Armour made a similar point when he concluded one of his historical reviews with the observation that the American people of the 1950s were "secure in the knowledge of whom to hate." This continues to be an important point: it illustrates the current usefulness of the Arab Muslim image in building a broad U.S. political movement.
Second, Mead has something for everyone -- at least, for every American. With malice toward none, with charity for all, he has praise for all four of the U.S. schools. He has obviously struggled with his presentation of the Jacksonian school (the militant fundamentalists), which is the one that seems farthest from Mead's roots as an intellectual. Mead credits Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. with helping him be positive about Andrew Jackson himself.
But although Mead disclaims triumphalism, he implicitly evaluates foreign policy in nationalistic terms: gains of territory and other wealth for the U.S., with low U.S. casualties, is the measure of U.S. foreign policy achievement. While he regrets non-U.S. casualties, he warns against trying to make too much of the rest of the world.
By these standards, Mead proclaims U.S. foreign policy a success and thus well conceived, even in the period before the First World War, when traditionally the U.S. was not supposed to be paying much attention to foreign affairs.
This seeming paradox is partly explained by a factor that Mead does not emphasize sufficiently: the private sector's role in expanding U.S. territory. Private American colonization went ahead of the U.S. Government into a large part of what became U.S. lands: the trans-Appalachian area, West Florida, Texas, California, Utah, and Hawaii, among the successful cases.
Mead does note briefly that "before the Civil War Southerners looked to Texas, Central America, and Cuba for more slave states," but he does not tell in any detail the story of private U.S. adventurers' attempted conquests in such areas, or of the U.S. Government's official actions for and against these efforts. The case of the Philippines provides a contrasting example, where the U.S. Government took the initiative in conquering the territory without private American colonization. However, the non-governmental pattern resumed in the 1900s with private Americans' participation in Israeli colonization, creating a Texas-type, lone-star republic, which, although not annexed, has a "special relationship" with the U.S.
These examples illustrate a mechanism by which the U.S. expanded its territory with low U.S. Government troop casualties, and thus had a successful foreign policy by Mead's standard, without the U.S. Government paying as much attention to foreign policy as that success might imply.
Obviously, territorial expansion has generated blowback, which the U.S. Government has often anticipated and tried to avoid or limit. Mead also recognizes the need to deal with this downside of expansionary foreign policy. He describes very effectively how the Hamiltonian and Wilsonian schools offer alternatives for succeeding in the larger world.
We in the U.S. have family, friends, homes, businesses, and cultural interests outside our borders, which we will not want to neglect. Mead's clarifying work is a substantial contribution to helping us think about our approach.