The Imperial Temptation, by Robert W. Tucker and David C. Hendrickson
“The United States could not remain on the margin of universal history, but did not know how to participate fully or determine what its role therein should be.” Thus, the late French political philosopher Raymond Aron writing about the period before World War I. Even in 1900 this was an old subject of debate; it has emerged again with vehemence after the collapse of Soviet power and the Gulf War.
The central issue was, and still is, how deeply America should become involved in foreign squabbles. In the late 18th and 19th centuries a “Jeffersonian” school saw the nation as, in Jefferson’s own words, principally “a standing monument and example.” This position reflected American weakness in the face of the European empires; disgust with European princes and their endless wars; and a real doubt that democracy could ever spread beyond American shores. Toward the end of his life, Jefferson wrote that “whether the state of society in Europe can bear a republican government I doubted . . . and I [still] do now.”
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