Digital

Exclusive online content

War Liberals

By: Patrick J. Garrity
May 28, 2013

With the exception of World War II and the early Cold War era, a significant component of the educated American elite has been more opposed to war compared to American non-elites, and still is today. In an important essay in the January-February issue of The American Interest, "War and the Intellectuals," Harvard University Professor Stephen Rosen explores why this might be so.

One obvious answer is that the educated elites are smarter than the great unwashed and therefore have a greater appreciation for the costs and risks of war. (They certainly think they are smarter.) Another obvious answer is that today's educated elites are "the radical product of the 1960s," the spirit of which captured American universities and turned them into bastions of opposition of the militaristic, repressive, racist, and sexist national security state.

In fact, Rosen argues, the disagreement over the use of force can be traced to opposing cultures that have been present in America since colonial times, beginning with the tension between New England's college-educated clerics, the most highly educated group in the colonies, and uneducated frontier preachers. Popular American culture, to which the frontier preachers appealed, was in large part the product of the Scots-Irish people and their culture. That culture emerged on the violent frontiers of the British Isles and flourished along the violent frontiers of the American borderlands. As a result, argues Rosen, the Scots-Irish are more prone to favor the use of force whenever they feel threatened. Broadly speaking, they are populist, deeply suspicious of elites (whether plutocrats or intellectuals) and, say their critics, clannish and xenophobic. (The Scots-Irish would reply that they are patriotic.) Here Rosen follows the general analysis of historian David Hackett Fischer and political scientist Walter Russell Mead (who identified this as the "Jacksonian" strain in American foreign policy).

To skip forward and simplify Rosen's analysis for our purposes: by the end of the 19th century, the elites of New England (and those who identified with them) began to conceive themselves as disinterested intellectuals, the natural and deserving leaders of society, a role their Puritan ministerial forbearers once claimed. The ideas of the New Intellectuals, in turn, formed the core of the First New Left. They "pledged loyalty to a cosmopolitan [rather than Christian] ideal that legitimized the independent intellectual by justifying their unwillingness to subordinate themselves to the national majority."

Moving beyond Rosen's argument, I would add that the political component of the First New Left—the Progressives—sought to bring about what they regarded as those fundamental political changes necessary to resolve what they believed to be the crisis of modern industrial capitalism. The constitutional system of the American Founders, devised for a rural, agricultural society and based on the principle of natural rights, was regarded as completely inadequate to the task. The rule of experts through an administrative state was a necessary component of that change—in their minds, their control of the levers of power was essential for the common good, not merely to satisfy their own ambitions.

Rosen (drawing on the work of the late political scientist Samuel Huntington) assembles a variety of contemporary quotes to illustrate the continuity of trendy intellectualism: Martha Nussbaum of the University of Chicago denouncing "patriotic pride" as "morally dangerous" and arguing for the superiority of cosmopolitanism, giving "allegiance...to the worldwide community of human beings"; Princeton's Amy Gutmann writing that it was "repugnant" for Americans to learn that they are "above all, citizens of the United States"—our primary allegiance "should not be to the United States or to some politically sovereign community," but to "democratic humanism"; New York University's Richard Sennett decrying "the evil of a shared national identity," calling the erosion of national sovereignty "basically a positive phenomenon"; University of California San Diego's George Lipsitz believing that "in recent years refuge in patriotism has been the first refuge of scoundrels of all sorts."


* * *


From the progressive intellectual's perspective, war, whatever its material costs and benefits, arouses the Scots-Irish populist nationalism and threatens the cosmopolitan ideal and the project of disinterested rule by experts. In the event of armed conflict that touches on the nation's sense of honor or security, the Jacksonians reflexively demand that intellectuals serve the nation, not their consciences, and subordinate themselves to the will of the (inexpert) majority. "War, therefore, was dangerous for the educated elite not because of what it might do abroad to the national interests of the United States but because of what war did to the elites' social and political position at home," Rosen writes.

The exceptions were a brief time in World War I, at least for some intellectuals (about which, more below), and the period from the start of World War II to the early Cold War. The fascist and communist threats meant that cosmopolitanism had to be defended by war. The intellectuals' fear of American military nationalism did not disappear but, under the circumstances, most accepted the use of force as a legitimate and necessary instrument of American foreign policy. Rosen asserts that they constituted the core of what became the American foreign policy establishment of Ivy League academics and Ivy League-educated "corporate internationalists," who devoted themselves to national service in World War II and the early Cold War. Their willingness to serve came about in large part because, for the moment, they were able to exert significant influence over American foreign policy.

The Vietnam War—which began as a project of the Best and Brightest—destroyed that arrangement because, after the assassination of John F. Kennedy (a Harvard graduate), it shifted control of foreign policy back to the broader public through the agencies of Presidents Lyndon Johnson, the quintessential Scots-Irish American, and the anti-intellectual Richard Nixon. "Ever since," according to Rosen, "the American elite aversion to the use of force has returned to its traditional pre-World War II position, with the denouement of the Vietnam War being the pretext, but not the reason, for it." Each subsequent American military action, and particularly the war in Iraq, has activated the same antibodies in the intellectual community.


* * *


One can certainly quibble with elements of Rosen's argument, besides the fact that he holds a Ph.D. from Harvard himself and teaches there; that the World War II foreign policy establishment's godfather was Henry Stimson (Yale and Harvard Law) who was an associate of the nationalist anti-intellectual intellectuals Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge (both of Harvard); that although LBJ graduated from Southwest Texas State Teachers' College, his domestic program was directly in line with the progressive vision; that Richard Nixon was a Duke Law School graduate (close enough to the Ivy League for government work) who employed Henry Kissinger (Harvard Ph.D. and faculty member) and who hankered after the approval of intellectuals; and that George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush have impeccable Ivy League credentials. Rosen is well aware that a degree from a prestigious university is not, at least not yet, a guarantee of ideological conformity. There are obviously competing intellectual traditions, some of which may deliberately align with, and try to shape, patriotic, nationalist cultural strains.

For our purposes, we will explore one dimension of Rosen's argument about intellectuals: that their approval, or disapproval, of the use of force depends to a first order on their sense of whether war helps or hinders the prospect of the disinterested rule of the experts, and for the cosmopolitan project that ultimately justifies their claims to rule.

Woodrow Wilson's approach to the use of force reflected, and shaped, the divided progressive mind about war. In 1913, as he assumed the presidency, Wilson reportedly said "it would be the irony of fate if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs." That did not mean that he was indifferent to happenings abroad. He believed the historical forces that had created the domestic political and economic crises in the United States at the turn of the century were largely the same as those that had led to the outbreak of World War I. The world was united as never before because of growing economic, political, technical, and psychological interdependence. This complex interdependent world created the conditions for peace and prosperity, but it also left individuals helpless to deal with the larger economic and social forces that were increasingly under the control of narrow, self-interested groups in all nations. Wilson came to believe that these world-historical forces had to be mastered in a comprehensive fashion. America had to reform the world to reform itself. American domestic reform was in turn essential to create the tools and outlook to reform the world.


* * *


To that end Wilson employed force rather freely in the Western Hemisphere—"I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men"—but he was initially a staunch opponent of intervention in the Great War in Europe. In 1914, Wilson said that "every [domestic] reform we have won will be lost if we go into this war. We have been making a fight on special privilege. We have got new tariff and currency and trust legislation. We don't yet know how they will work. They are not thoroughly set."

Wilson was hardly disinterested in the war or its outcome, however. He wanted the United States to serve as an honest broker of a truly internationalist peace once the European powers exhausted themselves in futile combat. The United States would play the essential role as the midwife of history to allow the emergence of a progressive worldwide commonwealth, one in which security would depend on a community of power rather than an unstable, war-prone, nationalistic balance of power. To that end Wilson sought desperately to stay out of the war to husband America's moral and material leverage over the belligerents.

Wilson, the quintessential First New Left intellectual, also feared that American intervention would militarize the country and inflame American passions to the point where he could no longer pursue a sound peace, or progressive domestic order, based on disinterested reason.

You can't handle an armed nation if it is democratic, because democracies don't go to war that way. You have got to have a concentrated, militaristic organization of government to run a nation of that sort.... And you can't do that under free debate. You can't do that under public counsel. Plans must be kept secret. Knowledge must be accumulated by a system we have condemned, because we have called it a spying system. The more polite call it a system of intelligence.

 

Wilson concluded: "you know what the effect of a military nation is upon social questions. You know how impossible it is to effect social reform if everybody must be under orders from the government. You know how impossible it is, in short, to have a free nation if it is a military nation and a nation under orders."


* * *


Unfortunately for Wilson, circumstances did not allow the United States to remain aloof. In the winter and spring of 1917, Germany appeared determined to break the military stalemate and impose a decidedly non-progressive order on Europe. As part of that campaign the Germans aimed to dominate the Atlantic shipping lanes and cut the United States off from Europe through unrestricted submarine warfare, and to threaten American security in the Western Hemisphere through an alliance with Mexico. For Wilson to determine the terms of peace, he decided that he had to swallow hard and bring America into the conflict as an associate—not an ally—of Britain and France, about whose strategic objectives he harbored deep reservations. He could only console himself that history had anointed him as the singular man who could keep the country's wits about it even as it plunged into war. Wilson's aim did not change, although he had to use force to bring it about.

By 1916, even before entering the war, Wilson had come to believe that the community of power should be formalized and embodied in a League of Nations. The League would not be a coalition of the victors to enforce peace on the defeated nations, nor would it impose reactionary regimes and policies on the hapless and demoralized peoples of Europe. In Wilson's view, the United States had "fought to do away with an old order and establish a new one." If there was an attempt to revive the old international order, "sooner or later, you will have just such another war." As Wilson told the Italian Parliament in 1919:

We know that there cannot be another balance of power. That has been tried and found wanting, for the best of all reasons that it does not stay balanced inside itself, and a weight which does not hold together cannot constitute a makeweight in the affairs of men. Therefore, there must be something substituted for the balance of power....

The balance of power was a historical creation; it was subject to change like anything else historical. Just as domestic regulation was required to overcome the narrow, selfish pursuit of economic interests, so too was international regulation needed to replace the balance of power.

 

* * * 


Just as importantly, the Covenant of the League included support for domestic political reform as well as for international action. Wilson's ultimate objective was a lasting peace that would accommodate change and advance democratic institutions and social and economic justice; and a just peace was dependent upon the synchronous proliferation of political democracy and social and economic justice around the world. The League had a dual nature, as Wilson explained to the delegates in Paris in February 1918. It was a practical machine created for the settlement of disputes, as well as a humane instrument in its promise to uplift the world's laboring classes (Article XXIII) and in the willingness of the great powers to assume obligations in the form of mandates over backward areas. The Covenant included "a Magna Carta, a great guaranty for labor...that labor shall have the councils of the world devoted to the discussion of its conditions and of its betterment." This included the establishment of basic rights for working people everywhere. Through its Bureau of Labor, for example, the League would ameliorate the conditions of life and work for men, women and children and draw them "into the field of international consultation."

[T]he standards set up, for standards are stated, are the standards of American labor so far as they could be adopted in a general conference. The point I wish to make is that the world is looking to American to set up the standards with regard to the conditions of labor and the relations between labor and capital, and it is looking to us because we have been more progressive than other nations in these matters, though sometimes we have moved very slowly and with undue caution.

 

Wilson pointed to the world's post-war unrest, such as the threat of revolution in Germany, as being caused by forces even greater than those brought on by the war and its aftermath:

It is due to a universal conviction that the conditions under which men live and labor are not satisfactory. It is a conviction all over the world that there is no use talking about political democracy unless you have also industrial democracy.

You know what this war interrupted in the United States. We were searching our own hearts; we were looking closely at our own methods of doing business. A great many were convinced that the control of the business of this country was in too few hands.... We had not finished dealing with monopolies. We have not finished dealing with monopolies. With monopolies there can be no industrial democracy. With the control of the few, of whatever kind or class, there can be no democracy of any sort. The world is finding that out, some portions of it in blood and terror.

 

* * * 


The League would also support the cause of progressive reform in the United States in various indirect ways. Through the principle of collective, or international, security, the league members could limit the attention and resources given to the traditional instruments of national security. These instruments—large standing armies, navies, monopolistic arms industries and the like—only reinforced the special interests at home. As Wilson stated in 1916:

I believe that, if the world ever comes to combine its force for the purpose of maintaining peace, the individual contributions of each nation will be much less, necessarily, naturally less, than they would be in other circumstances, and that all they will have to do is to contribute moderately and not indefinitely.

 

Wilson thought that this argument was critically important to address the complaints of those on the Progressive Left who believed that commitment to the League would increase American militarism and drain the United States of resources needed to carry out domestic reform.

American leadership in the League would also be spiritually uplifting. Progressive internationalism would recreate the cohesion in the American community that had existed temporarily during and after the Civil War, before the special interests had taken hold. In his February 24, 1919 speech in Boston, Wilson laid out the new, expanded American agenda:

We set this nation up to make men free and we did not confine our conception and purpose to America, and now we will make men free. If we did not do that all the fame of America would be gone and all her power would be dissipated. She would then have to keep her power for those narrow, selfish, provincial purposes which seem so dear to some minds that have no sweep beyond the nearest horizon.

 

There was a more subtle, countervailing benefit to participation in the League: it would serve to impose a more moderate course on American foreign policy, by checking those actions which might otherwise be pursued by a government dominated by special interests, particularly the unilateral use of force. During a discussion with an anti-militarist group in 1916, Wilson reportedly expressed concern that the United States might become more aggressive over time, as its economic power grew, "unless some check was placed upon it by some international arrangement which we hope for." Wilson later told a group of Mexican newspaper editors that the trouble with the Monroe Doctrine "was that it was adopted without your consent.... We did not ask whether it was agreeable to you that we should be your big brother." The Monroe Doctrine's ostensible purpose—to check European aggression in Latin America—did not provide any equivalent restraint on the United States. Wilson's proposed Pan-American Pact was a hemispheric forerunner of the League of Nations—"an arrangement by which you would be protected from us."


* * *


The point to emphasize here is that none of this could have been achieved without using force, by fighting a war to end all wars. Wilson was confident that that the rule of experts here and abroad, experts who shared cosmopolitan idealism and who used international law and internationalist opinion as a means to restrain nationalism, would henceforth cause the willful use of force to wither away.

Wilson's decision to use force in World War I had been anticipated by a small group of public intellectuals who concluded that the pressure of international crises and war actually created new opportunities for domestic change, because it drove the United States to become the leader of a progressive international community. The so-called war liberals argued that a national emergency of large enough scope would finally unify the country behind a program of socialized democracy. John Dewey famously argued that the war constituted a "plastic juncture" in history, "a time," writes historian David Kennedy, inOver Here: The First World War and American Society,

when the world was made momentarily more malleable to the guiding influence of reason. The war presented an opportunity pregnant with "social possibilities," which were not the direct objects of the martial enterprise, but which it might be made to yield. Dewey therefore looked hopefully to the crisis to bring about "the more conscious and extensive use of science for communal purposes," to throw "into relief the public aspect of every social enterprise," to create "instrumentalities for enforcing the public interests in all agencies of production and exchange," to temper "the individualistic tradition" and drive home the lesson of "the supremacy of public need over private possessions."

 

Walter Lippmann, founding editor of the New Republic, argued that

we shall stand committed as never before to the realization of democracy in America.... We shall turn with fresh interest to our own tyrannies—to our Colorado mines, our autocratic steel industries, our sweatshops and our slums. We shall call that man un-American and no patriot who prates of liberty in Europe and resists it at home. A force is loose in America as well. Our own reactionaries will not assuage it with their Billy Sundays or control through lawyers and politicians of the Old Guard.

 

* * * 


As Thomas J. Knock recounts in To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order (1992), a New Republic editorial captured what the war liberals had in mind: "nationalization of all the country's important economic resources, progressive taxation of wealth and war profits, the encouragement of the unionization of labor, the expansion of educational opportunities, and, finally, universal military training." Through such a program the United States "may be able to maintain democracy at home and contribute to the internationalism of the world." Herbert Croly added that, under the stimulus of the war and its consequences "there will be a chance to focus the thought and will of the country on high and fruitful purposes such as occurs only once in many hundred years." At the time of the Armistice, the New Republiceditors hoped to extend the authority of the state that had grown up during the war, in part by recognizing the need to adjust to its larger role in the world.

The whole issue hinges on social control. For forty years and more we have been steadily but too slowly widening the sphere of this control, subordinating the individual to the group and the group to society. Without such control, vastly magnified, we should not have been able to carry on the war. [With peace w]e shall require a subordination of class and sectional interests to the interests of the nation, as well as an adjustment of these to the larger world interests.

 

For his part, Lippmann argued that the United States stood "at the threshold of a collectivism which is greater than any as yet planned by the [American] Socialist Party." The old nationalism must be replaced by a new internationalism: "We are living and shall live all our lives now in a revolutionary world." There would be a "transvaluation of values as radical as anything in the history of intellect." Concepts like liberty, equality, and democracy would have to be reexamined "as fearlessly as religious dogmas were in the nineteenth century." From the rubble of the war would spring forth great founts of invention and progress: "The war and the peace which will follow are the stimulus and the justification."


* * *


For a majority of First New Left intellectuals, however, Wilson's decision to enter the Great War was a tragedy. It signaled that the president had forgotten or betrayed his earlier insights about the dangers of war. Wilson had thrown in his lot with the forces of business, imperialism, and militarism. The president undoubtedly believed that he could bend these forces to his will, that he could ride the tiger. But Wilson's Progressive critics believed that there could be no compromise: U.S. foreign policy must define itself against capitalist monopoly and the international forces of reaction, or American involvement overseas would simply serve to strengthen the agents of repression at home (as happened during the so-called Red Scare). The government itself was bound to become an agent of repression unless it either separated itself from world politics (the isolationist position) or actively fought oppression abroad (revolutionary internationalism).

Randolph Bourne most famously captured the Progressive/socialist critique of liberal American internationalism based on its willingness to use force. Bourne rejected John Dewey's contention that the war had created a plastic moment during which Progressivism could remake American society and the world. Bourne argued that the war liberals who supported Wilson were seized by "an unanalyzable feeling that this was a war in which we had to be." The "war intellectuals" justified themselves by saying that "only on the craft, in the stream," was there any chance of "controlling the current forces for liberal purposes." But, Bourne observed "how soon their ‘mastery' becomes ‘drift,' tangled in the fatal drive toward victory as its own end, how soon they become mere agents and expositors of forces as they are."

Like other disillusioned Progressives, Dewey himself later judged that the war had encouraged a "cult of irrationality" fed by "an insidious and skilled effort...[that] detach[ed] the volume of passionate energy from its original end"—the Progressives' domestic and international agenda of 1917. "These reactionaries, these constitutional disbelievers in the people," had gained the upper hand. They were now "egging on the intolerance of the populace," putting "a stigma upon all whose liberalizing influence in domestic policies they dread."

The Progressive critique of progressive internationalism and the use of force for progressive purposes pointed the First New Left in different foreign policy directions. Some prominent war liberals, such as Croly and Lippmann, came to advocate a form of isolationism by opposing Senate ratification of the Versailles Treaty. If the allied governments had "not the slightest intention of writing anything but a punitive peace," Croly concluded, "our attitude will necessarily become one of agitation against the League then existing and in favor for the time being of our isolation in foreign affairs."


* * *


But for other anti-war Progressives, the need to oppose the reactionary policies of the victors pointed in a different, more activist direction. In the words of historian Robert David Johnson,

The peace progressives viewed the United States as the leader of an international bloc of weaker states and colonial peoples, perhaps, including Scandinavia, Russia, and Germany, lined up against the victorious, "imperialist" Allies, celebrating the virtues of nationalism and democracy against the reactionary and monarchical states of Western Europe. The peace progressives ruled out military intervention virtually anywhere, but they never precluded the possibilities of either military or economic aid to rebelling subject nationalities, and they promised American moral and possibly diplomatic assistance for virtually every nationalistic colonial revolution.... Both the peace progressives and American supporters of Article XI [of the League Covenant] agreed that the United States should have a right to interfere in the domestic conflicts of the world's weaker states; the two sides disagreed about which faction in the affected nations the United States should support.

 

Anti-war Progressives such as Wisconsin's Robert La Follette feared that the United States would back the wrong side in such conflicts. War grew out of governments' use of their military and naval power to enforce the claims of private interests, he argued. Wilson's preparedness schemes prior to American entry into the war fitted "into the commercial, industrial, and imperialistic schemes of the great financial masters of this country." This group claimed that economic pressures had driven the United States into the war, and that the government alone could deal with the international business interests that would otherwise threaten the peace. Senator George Norris of Nebraska argued that

belligerency would benefit only the class of people who will be made prosperous should we become entangled in the present war, who have already made millions of dollars, and who will make many hundreds of millions if we get into the war.... War brings no prosperity to the great mass of common patriotic citizens. It increases the cost of living of those who toil and those who already must strain every effort to keep soul and body together. We are going into war upon the command of gold.... I feel that we are about to put the dollar sign on the American flag.

 

The league of nations struck this anti-war Progressive group as dangerous—as an instrument of collective repression rather than collective security. La Follette and others argued that the League would permit business interests to protect and expand their exploitation of underdeveloped countries. If the allies wanted to get at the real causes of war, they would put the people ahead of the allure of wartime profits:

Exact from each contracting nation binding covenants with proper guarantees to: First: Abolish enforced military service. Second: Declare, or make no war, except to repel actual invasion of territory, without first submitting the question of war, or no war, to a vote of the qualified electors of the country. Once the matter of making war is under popular control the people will speedily recognize the folly of maintaining instruments for wars in which they have determined never to engage.

 

For La Follette, there was no need for the elaborate machinery of the League and complicated discussions about international affairs. Wilson' war and his crusade for the League had distracted the president, and the country, from pressing ahead with Progressive domestic legislation. The discussion of international affairs should have been subordinated to the need to preserve economic and political freedom, secure the masses from corporate greed, and protect natural resources and civil liberties.

The forceful intervention of the allies in Russia was seen as an example of how the League might be used. California Senator Hiram Johnson warned that "the first thing contemplated by the League of Nations was to have an American army of half million or thereabouts sent into Russia," and he argued that "in this Russian situation we have exactly the League of Nations. This league has decreed the Russian expedition against our vote." Johnson feared that the League would "expressly or implicitly [commit the United States] to police the world with American boys." It would place American soldiers under foreign commanders. Versailles represented "the most imperialistic document put forth since the world commenced."


* * *


Idaho senator William Borah was perhaps the most famous of the anti-League Progressives. He insisted that American membership in the League would destroy the Monroe Doctrine, eventuate in peacetime conscription, require a giant navy and high taxes, and impose foreign standards on American labor. Borah warned that "the first task of the league of nations will be to take part in the internal affairs of a great nation for the sole and exclusive reason" of defeating the Bolsheviks.

Progressive critics of the allied intervention in Russia did not necessarily signify sympathy for Communist revolution in that country. Borah and Johnson, for instance, agreed that Bolshevism was a pernicious doctrine, but they saw allied intervention as the harbinger of how the League of Nations would function. Status quo powers would suppress weaker nations, put down revolutions, and wage wars without consulting their own elected representatives. Borah hoped that the United States would appreciate that revolutions represented the "legitimate outgrowth and offspring of the injustice and oppression, the hideous, prolonged, and insistent cruelty of the governments which preceded" and that America should come up with a better solution than "killing them off." He claimed that the Wilsonian internationalist program bore a considerable resemblance to the Holy Alliance. It replaced disarmament with a large navy, did away with open diplomacy, and assigned only "a most limited application" to self-determination.

Borah contended that in the postwar world nationalism would rise as a powerful force in international affairs, and he warned that Article X of the League covenant would place the United States on the wrong side of history. Borah interpreted Article XI as sanctioning forceful League intervention in the domestic affairs of states not considered peaceful by the great powers; he said that he would fight against the League as long as that article, the "very acme of tyranny," remained.


* * *


To fast forward: we can see that the arguments of the Progressive critics of the use of force, even when force is used in a so-called Progressive cause, have come to dominate the Second (or Third) New Left in the academy. They and their students now staff many of the highest offices in the current administration. The painful lesson that they have learned over the past century is this: at least at the outset of any use of force abroad, by a president of either party, the country turns a distinctly deeper shade of nationalist red. Flags are waved and, in a public display of remorse for the shabby treatment of Vietnam veterans, the military is feted. Domestic reform suffers, civil liberty is repressed, and cosmopolitanism is mocked. Contrast this state of affairs with those more mature regimes or entities that are truly dedicated to social equality, particularly the European Union, where discussions of war have been all but excluded from polite company. In those unusual circumstances when force might be contemplated, such as in Libya or Syria, Americans, we are told, would be wise to follow the European lead—or to lead from behind, as it were. We would also be wise to respect the authentic cultures of so-called less developed states, which are recovering slowly from the centuries-long repression of Western military might. Otherwise, the progressive administration should try to keep force out of public view as much as possible—through the use of drone strikes and the like—so as not to distract or distort public opinion on the essential matter of nation-building at home.

Rosen, who is ready neither to give up on the intellectual elite nor to cede to their present claims to rule, concludes his interesting essay as follows:

Still, a full argument would try to do justice to the two competing claims of patriotism, that men owe their highest allegiance to their own country, and of cosmopolitanism, the idea that men should be loyal to an abstract ideal not associated with any particular time and place. The possibility that loyalty to the United States might constitute the best hope in practice for uniting those two competing claims deserves full discussion.

 

Indeed. That discussion should begin with what precisely constitutes those abstract ideals—certain self-evident truths, perhaps?—as well as their relationship to this particular regime.