Since the beginning of the republic, Americans have viewed their state as a “beacon of liberty.” This self-conception has caused Americans to think that they can be a force for positive change in the world. Over time, their outlook has facilitated increasingly aggressive efforts to democratization other countries, leading many to see America as an imperial power. It is my contention that regardless of other factors, Americans become the most invasive when liberal ideology, the very thing that makes them a “beacon of liberty” overpowers other ideological forces. Only by restoring a balanced debate about the merits of democratization by reintegrating other perspectives on America’s role in the world can they be the force for good they believe themselves to be.
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George H.W. Bush originally presented the United States as leading the “new world order” in a State of the Union address in 1991. After that point it became a term associated with defining America’s new position as the hegemon (Medhurst 2006, 81–101).
Many scholars have called for eliminating these terms due to their inability to truly explain american foreign policy. See for example Walter Russell Mead: “Realist versus idealist; isolationist versus internationalist; protectionist versus free trader: discussion of American foreign policy would be considerably enhanced if these six terms were banned from the language” (Mead 1996, 89).
As Patapan notes: “[Montesquieu] may be said to anticipate modern “constructivistm.” Indeed, it is possible that one of the theoretical sources of constructivism is Montesquieu, via Rousseau’s conception of society…” (Patapan 2012, 326 ft. 28).
When Haitians revolted against French colonists and created a republic, “president after president” refused to recognize the republic or establish diplomatic relations with them (Hunt 1987, 100). Even the French Revolution produced deep divisions among the Founders, some supporting it wholeheartedly and others fearing they French had gone too far (Ellis 1997).
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Alexander Hamilton’s behavior during the Jay Treaty is an excellent example of this perspective. He decided to side with the English, accepting mercantilist trade policy in order to protect America’s relationship with Britain eschewing the free trade option in order to solidify the relationship (Bowman 1956).
There are several other steps involved in the evolution from natural interaction to the creation of the state which Montesquieu discusses as “natural laws.” At first, man is pre-rational. He has the ability the think, but he does not have knowledge. His first thought is about his preservation. He feels his weakness and fears others, leading him to avoid others and seek peace. This is the first natural law. Man also feels his needs, so the second natural law would inspire him to seek nourishment. Even though they fear each other at first, the mutual fear would induce them to approach one another, and they would feel pleasure at the proximity of another being of their species. The pleasure of the opposite sex would induce them to come together; this is the third law. They also eventually gain knowledge which differentiates them from other animals and gives them another reason to come together into society. This is the fourth natural law (Montesquieu 1989).
It should be noted that not all states benefit. Poorer states and states that have bad domestic policies (such as Spain or Poland) may not be benefitted by commercial trade (see Larrère 2000, 352).
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Burns, S. The Capitalist Peace: a New Way Forward for American Foreign Policy. Soc 54, 501–507 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12115-017-0197-7
- American foreign policy
- Capitalist peace theory
- American political development