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From the author of the immensely influential and best-selling Of Paradise and Power—a major reevaluation of America’s place in the world from the colonial era to the turn of the twentieth century. Robert Kagan strips away the myth of America’s isolationist tradition and reveals a more complicated reality: that Americans have been increasing their global power and influence From the author of the immensely influential and best-selling Of Paradise and Power—a major reevaluation of America’s place in the world from the colonial era to the turn of the twentieth century. Robert Kagan strips away the myth of America’s isolationist tradition and reveals a more complicated reality: that Americans have been increasing their global power and influence steadily for the past four centuries. Even from the time of the Puritans, he reveals, America was no shining “city up on a hill” but an engine of commercial and territorial expansion that drove Native Americans, as well as French, Spanish, Russian, and ultimately even British power, from the North American continent. Even before the birth of the nation, Americans believed they were destined for global leadership. Underlying their ambitions, Kagan argues, was a set of ideas and ideals about the world and human nature. He focuses on the Declaration of Independence as the document that firmly established the American conviction that the inalienable rights of all mankind transcended territorial borders and blood ties. American nationalism, he shows, was always internationalist at its core. He also makes a startling discovery: that the Civil War and the abolition of slavery—the fulfillment of the ideals of the Declaration—were the decisive turning point in the history of American foreign policy as well. Kagan's brilliant and comprehensive reexamination of early American foreign policy makes clear why America, from its very beginning, has been viewed worldwide not only as a wellspring of political, cultural, and social revolution, but as an ambitious and, at times, dangerous nation.


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From the author of the immensely influential and best-selling Of Paradise and Power—a major reevaluation of America’s place in the world from the colonial era to the turn of the twentieth century. Robert Kagan strips away the myth of America’s isolationist tradition and reveals a more complicated reality: that Americans have been increasing their global power and influence From the author of the immensely influential and best-selling Of Paradise and Power—a major reevaluation of America’s place in the world from the colonial era to the turn of the twentieth century. Robert Kagan strips away the myth of America’s isolationist tradition and reveals a more complicated reality: that Americans have been increasing their global power and influence steadily for the past four centuries. Even from the time of the Puritans, he reveals, America was no shining “city up on a hill” but an engine of commercial and territorial expansion that drove Native Americans, as well as French, Spanish, Russian, and ultimately even British power, from the North American continent. Even before the birth of the nation, Americans believed they were destined for global leadership. Underlying their ambitions, Kagan argues, was a set of ideas and ideals about the world and human nature. He focuses on the Declaration of Independence as the document that firmly established the American conviction that the inalienable rights of all mankind transcended territorial borders and blood ties. American nationalism, he shows, was always internationalist at its core. He also makes a startling discovery: that the Civil War and the abolition of slavery—the fulfillment of the ideals of the Declaration—were the decisive turning point in the history of American foreign policy as well. Kagan's brilliant and comprehensive reexamination of early American foreign policy makes clear why America, from its very beginning, has been viewed worldwide not only as a wellspring of political, cultural, and social revolution, but as an ambitious and, at times, dangerous nation.

30 review for Dangerous Nation: America's Place in the World from Its Earliest Days to the Dawn of the Twentieth Century

  1. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Canfield

    Dangerous Nation is a fantastic look at the development of U.S. foreign policy. Beginning with its roots in colonial times, volume one of a two part writing traces this transformation from the days of George Washington through the end of the twentieth century. The book was written by an intellectual who does not hide his predilection for a muscular U.S. foreign policy. Written by historian, professor, and former State Department official Robert Kagan, Dangerous Nation was seemingly born to do aw Dangerous Nation is a fantastic look at the development of U.S. foreign policy. Beginning with its roots in colonial times, volume one of a two part writing traces this transformation from the days of George Washington through the end of the twentieth century. The book was written by an intellectual who does not hide his predilection for a muscular U.S. foreign policy. Written by historian, professor, and former State Department official Robert Kagan, Dangerous Nation was seemingly born to do away with the perception of a “hands-off, non interventionist, Washington and Jefferson-endorsed” strain in American foreign policy. In this respect, Dangerous Nation certainly reflects Kagan’s neoconservative leanings and desire to see a robust, idealistic American foreign policy carried out around the globe. He does not dwell too much on the details of any specific war, instead quickly walking his readers through the evolution of U.S. foreign policy from its days as a young republic to a powerful, world class nation. Its thesis is that as countries’ sense of their power and influence expand, they “discover” new outlets through which their economic and military weight can be exercised. Abuses both toward a nation or other weaker nations, which a country might have looked away from when it was not in a state of preparedness to push back, become intolerable once the means exist for a country to assert its view of the right. These can take the form of interventions, possibly guided by self-interest of humanitarian motivations, which would have been unthinkable in a country’s stage of defenseless infancy. His writing makes it clear that he looks more fondly on wars carried out for matters of honor and humanitarianism as opposed to conflicts fought largely over dollars and cents. Wars undertaken out of what the book quotes Carl Schurz calling “disinterested benevolence” seem to be the idealistic Kagan’s cup of tea. Kagan makes the case that Washington and other Founding Fathers statements against entangling alliances is often misunderstood. To hear him tell it, these were largely admonitions to stay out of such alliances until-and only until-America could stand on its own two feet and had the military and economic heft to back up talk with action. These were not, the book argues, statements that should be viewed as set in stone from century to century. In fact, the pro-French/pro-British arguments between Anti-Federalists and Federalists, especially potent with the outbreak of the French Revolution, are said to be the lens through which Washington’s own Farewell Address ought to be viewed. The entangling alliance he really wished to avoid, according to Dangerous Nation, was one with the much too rabidly democratic revolutionary France. The War of 1812 is painted as a key moment in America’s coming of age as a confident, independent nation-state. The analogy is made that War Hawks like Henry Clay were comparable to the generation that produced men like Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge. The War Hawks’ parents and grandparents were Revolutionary War veterans, and they sought to live up to these men’s example by engaging in a war of their own for national honor. They, like T.R. and Lodge’s generation, viewed war as key to preventing Americans from “going soft,” and likely felt that by taking the fight to a mighty country like Britain could live up to the brave example set by their forefathers. This is the sort of insightful nugget Kagan is so good at inserting. John Quincy Adams looms large in the gap between the War of 1812 and the North/South war of 1861. His time as Secretary of State under James Monroe, then as president in his own right before finishing up as a fiery anti-slavery crusader in the House of Representatives, receives ample paragraph space. J.Q.A’s shaping of the country’s expansionist foreign policy, as well as the moralistic tone he brought to that arena, mark him as an important figure in its development. Although not without flaws of his own, Adams comes across as one of the book’s most pivotal figures and a patriotic individual students of U.S. history could do worse than to study closely. Controversies like America’s role (or lack of role) in the Greek struggle for independence and Louis Kossuth’s trip across the country are just one of many fascinating foreign policy-related kernels peppered throughout Dangerous Nation in analysis of the years before the Civil War. Andrew Jackson and his rise of white-centric democracy receives mention as well, but the lack of foreign policy relevance to much of the Jacksonian Democracy’s accomplishments means Kagan leaves out a lot of domestic happenings from this important era. The book compares the antebellum North’s strategy to contain slavery and keep it from spreading into the newly acquired western territories to George Kennan’s Cold War era policy toward the Soviet Union. And, as during the Cold War, this strategy had both critics-Cotton Whigs who were more than okay, thank you very much, with turning a profit from slave-produced products-and supporters like abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison who sometimes wanted to go even further beyond containment. Much is made of Southern-backed filibustering efforts in the Caribbean to potentially gain new, pro slavery states. The slave uprising on the French held island of Haiti, led by Toussaint L’Ouverture and allegedly done in the name of freedom and inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution, terrified Southerners with visions one of their main fears becoming a reality so close to their own shores. Actual domestic slave uprisings, such as the Denmark Vesey episode, in addition to the potential for one in Cuba, caused Southerners to clamp down on any criticism of their institution as the middle of the nineteenth century approached. This resulted in the seizing of abolitionist literature headed toward the South via the U.S. mail, angering even moderate Northern opinion. This contrasting of two societies growing further apart did not end with institutions of a Congressional gag rule on anti-slavery petitions or worries over what was waiting in the mail. The rapidly expanding, pro-capitalist North is compared favorably to the slower progressing, planter-dominated South. This disparity made it difficult for the country to speak with one voice on any matter of importance, much less foreign policy. These regional differences continue to be crystallized as the Civil War approaches, with even non abolitionists coming to view the South as wielding a pro-slavery policy on the nation out of proportion to that bloc's actual strength in numbers. The North/South war itself receives little in the way of attention, with the eras just before and just after it given the bulk of focus. Kagan repeatedly refuses to be distracted by domestic events which would have made for further gripping reading, maintaining his focus on the book’s overall objective of analyzing America’s changing approach to overseas policy. The attention paid to post-Civil War foreign policy is a credit to the book. The years from the end of the Civil War until the close of the nineteenth century are zeroed in on as being of particular importance to the country’s changing outlook toward the international community. The pro-expansionist Republican Party of this era contrasts with its more isolationist Democratic counterpart, and the unconventional observation is made that this is due to the South’s own experience with invasion and Reconstruction at the hands of the North. Owing to this (and not necessarily out of sympathy for the non white overseas populations who were at the receiving end of U.S. intervention) they were the party arguing more forcefully against any form of intervention. With no more Latin American islands or countries to conquer for the purposes of expanding slavery's reach, the idea of an expansionist foreign policy had lost all of its luster for the South. The circumstances surrounding the overthrow of Hawaii's Queen Liliuokalani are examined in the context of America becoming an increasing Pacific power, as is the near-explosive butting of heads between the U.S. and Germany over Samoa. The late nineteenth century controversies involving Latin America are not glossed over. The evolving popular view of the Monroe Doctrine, and its application or non application to disputes like an early 1880s border disagreement between Mexico and Guatemala, shed light on small anecdotes of the U.S.’s increasing view of itself as the regional arbiter. An 1894 American blockade of Brazilian rebels on behalf of the country’s government makes for just the sort of often-overlooked pieces of the country’s history that Dangerous Nation does an excellent job of explaining. That Chile at one point had a naval power on par with the U.S. and was viewed as a potential adversary was interesting to note. The amount of pages allotted to the actions of a man like Secretary of State James Blaine make this book stand out as more than a piece of lazy writing. His desire to see an active role for the U.S. abroad, especially in its own hemisphere, had its genesis not only in commercial motivations but out of a conviction that the nation should undertake what he viewed to be its duty to foster regional stability. Blaine is the post-Civil War counterpart to the pre-Civil War John Quincy Adams when it comes to playing an underappreciated role in shaping the sort of foreign policy Kagan admires. The outcry, both official and unofficial, over late 19th century anti-Jewish policies in Russia underscored the awkwardness of America’s post-Civil War foreign policy. At a time when many African-Americans in the South were still receiving second class treatment, many Americans and former Confederates in particular were hesitant to lend the country’s strong moral voice to condemnation of another country’s treatment of a minority group. Kagan uses the incoming presidency of William McKinley in 1897 to demonstrate how far back partisan games in foreign policy politics go. The outgoing Grover Cleveland was considered a conservative Bourbon Democrat, promoting a platform of limited government at home and (thanks to his largely Southern constituency’s clear desire for it) limited adventurism abroad. Although he deviated from this from time to time, Cleveland stuck to it when it came to the growing Cuban independence issue. The reports of terrible reconcentrado camps, where guerrilla rebels fighting against the Spanish were often sent and suffered abuse at the hands of the Spaniards, coupled with the oft-professed American desire to side with freedom fighters against corrupt European powers to pressure Cleveland to intervene. Aside from a few diplomatic maneuvers, he did not do so. With the U.S. not far removed from a depression, the new commander-in-chief McKinley-who had seen his share of war during service for the Union in the Civil War-wanted to keep a laser like focus on economic issues. Although Republicans tended embrace humanitarian interventionism, McKinley, like Cleveland before him, was in no rush to go to war with Spain thanks to the economic instability such a move could risk. Yet he was attacked by the same Democrats in Congress who had cheered on Cleveland’s reticence to take up the rebels’ cause with a resort to arms. Once it became an issue they could bludgeon a president of the opposing party with, many Democrats all of a sudden became hawks on the Cuban issue. It is telling of Kagan’s pro-muscular foreign policy bias that he plays down accusations that McKinley’s hand was forced by the Yellow Press reports of Spanish outrages. He writes that because it was so apparent that intervention was necessary, the American people would likely have clamored for war even absent a full court press from the Pulitzer-led press. Spain particularly comes across poorly in the book, appearing to be a third rate European power that, if the quotes in the book are to be believed, was not respected by many contemporaries. If a Spanish newspaper’s assessment of the U.S. with regard to America’s intervention in Cuba is to be taken as representative of that country’s public opinion, however, Spaniards did not seem to hold the U.S. in high regard either. They refer to the U.S. “as a nation of immigrant outcasts and avaricious shopkeepers, without culture, without honor, without a soul.” Such words sum up the esteem in which both these powers held one another. Dangerous Nation is an excellent analysis of U.S. foreign policy filtered through the lens of someone with a clear ideological take on history. As long as this is understood and accepted prior to reading, the book is an informative work. It does not gloss over governmental players who are often given only cursory mentions, and it employs the same strategy when it comes to episodes and small scale conflicts. A highly recommendable read, Dangerous Nation is a great addition to the historical record of foreign policy. -Andrew Canfield Denver, Colorado

  2. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    A wonderful look at America's foreign policy from the earliest days of the colonies (yes, the colonies had a foreign policy) to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. Anyone who reads this book may have their views on American history completely altered. The only drawback to this book is that I think he spends way to much time discussing the impact of slavery on American foreign policy. While it certainly played a major role in the shaping of policy in Antebellum America, the time and focus h A wonderful look at America's foreign policy from the earliest days of the colonies (yes, the colonies had a foreign policy) to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. Anyone who reads this book may have their views on American history completely altered. The only drawback to this book is that I think he spends way to much time discussing the impact of slavery on American foreign policy. While it certainly played a major role in the shaping of policy in Antebellum America, the time and focus he spends on it tends to move him away from the foreign policy-theme of his book. Other than that I loved this book and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in pre-20th century American history.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mason

    As I was reading General Rupert Smith’s book, “The Utility of Force”, depressed thoughts began to come into my mind because he noted that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour brought the Americans out of “ISOLATIONSM”. When I read that I had a long deep sigh. I have no idea how people can describe America’s foreign policy as being isolationist during the interwar years; it underwent countless humanitarian interventions within the Western hemisphere, was opposing Japanese imperialism, was a key c As I was reading General Rupert Smith’s book, “The Utility of Force”, depressed thoughts began to come into my mind because he noted that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour brought the Americans out of “ISOLATIONSM”. When I read that I had a long deep sigh. I have no idea how people can describe America’s foreign policy as being isolationist during the interwar years; it underwent countless humanitarian interventions within the Western hemisphere, was opposing Japanese imperialism, was a key component in the world economy, etc., and yet people call refer to America as being isolationist – how the heck did this happen? The description of America’s foreign policy as being isolationist is only a minor crime when compared to the much serious notion that historically America has been an isolationist, non-aggressive and, of course, anti-colonial country. This trope is one that can be found in excellent studies on diplomacy (Henry Kissinger’s “Diplomacy”, for instance), within popular culture and is articulated by intellectuals. Luckily, the book “Dangerous Nation” is here to rectify this problem. In the first half of what will be a two-volume history of American diplomacy, Robert Kagan traces the history of American foreign relations from 1600-1898 and shows that from the Pilgrim fathers onwards America has been an expansionist and aggressive society. He writes: “This colonial America was characterised not by isolationism and utopianism, not by cities upon hills and covenants with God, but by aggressive expansionism, acquisitive materialism, and an overarching ideology of civilisation that encouraged and justified both.” To Kagan, “One can hardly exaggerate the extent to which American leaders, including future leaders of the independent republic had a direct, personal interest in this new phase of territorial expansion.” These colonial elites began to exert a large amount of control over the foreign policy of the colony – as well as the British Empire as a whole – as early as 1750. Expansionist forces in Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts, against the wishes of their British overlords, pushed for expansion into lands west of the Appalachian Mountains and were the eventual course of the British-French war of 1754-1755. The actions of Washington, Franklin and others during this war, and their dreams for America, paints an image of the founding fathers as being staunch imperialists. These imperial dreams were not the only driving factors of American foreign policy, warfare and the search for prosperity was. According to Kagan, war bred war which bred more war; as the colony and the early United States set out to secure frontiers to ensure its own security, even more insecurity was generated and wars to secure the new frontier had to be waged. In addition, when colonists and early citizens of the United States of America began to move into lands controlled by the French, Spaniards and the native population – whom the U.S. government had already signed a treaty expressing that the white man would not spread any further, effectively rendering the treaty in the eyes of the natives as an empty promise – the original land owners would gradually lose control of their lands and, for electoral reasons, the U.S. government would eventually use its limited military assets to ensure that the Anglo-Americans succeeded in their expansion. The legacy of this expansion is made clear by Kagan: “In the 17th and 18th century, [the Americans] purchased their security at the price of the insecurity, and often the ruin, of Pequot, Iroquois, and Narragansett, of French and Spaniards, and by the time of the Revolution, of the British, too.” As made clear by this book, the war against the native population was practically a policy of ethnic cleansing because they were provided with only two options: extermination or the assimilation into a country where you would be treated as dirt. The fact that the United States of America engaged in the ethnic cleansing of an entire people will be a hard pill to swallow but, in order to come to appreciate what they have now, they will have to come to terms with the Indian name for George Washington: “Caunotocarious”, which, as pointed out by Fred Anderson, translates to “town devourer”. While the imperialistic nature of America paints a picture of a nation of crazed monsters, an extremely interesting aspect of the book is the role that liberal ideology played in dictating and justifying American foreign policy. As Kagan notes, American expansion westwards were justified on grounds of freedom and the rejuvenate land that the Natives have squandered by not utilizing its full potential. In addition to this, the young America was getting involved in European affairs, based upon notions of freedom, and provided diplomatic assistance to revolutionary groups who sought to challenge the Conservative movement within Europe and to minorities (the Jews, for instance) who were being persecuted. By 1825, Kagan sees the United States on the epoch of becoming the hegemon of the Western Hemisphere but it never achieved this status, not due to external factors, but to internal divisions over the question of slavery. Hence, the period between 1825 and 1865 (the end of the Civil War) is referred to as “The Foreign Policy of Slavery”. The issue of slavery divided the country, giving it a “split personality”. For most in the North, slavery was to be opposed at all costs; while in the South, it was an institution that had to be protected at all costs. As he writes, “For American slaveholders, no ‘national interest’ was more vital than the prevention of a domestic slave uprising.” Naturally, this division led to the growth of two nations and two foreign policies within one nation. The question of Hawaiian statehood, the annexation of Santo Domingo and the move to bring Texas into the Union were either all deferred or faced strong resistance all due to the fear that it would spread slavery. On the other hand, Slave holders and their allies in the Democratic Party tended to advocate for an aggressive, expansionist foreign policy in order to ensure that free states could not surround them and to influence their slaves, while at the same time they opposed foreign interventions because expressions of morality might lead to severe repercussions at home – i.e. they were attempting to stop a slave revolt. “Dangerous Nation” is one of the most significant works on pre-20th century US foreign policy I have seen and, when combined with its lucid style, I would recommend it for all. The book makes a powerful case for the role of an expansionist liberal-capitalist ideology in controlling US foreign policy and paints the country as an aggressive, militaristic, expansionist country – i.e. America was largely committed to an evangelical crusade for “freedom” with the foreign policy of slavery playing a restraining role.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Billy

    In Dangerous Nation, Washington Post columnist and former U.S. state department employee Robert Kagan makes a case for a new way to interpret the history of U.S. foreign relations. Most scholars contend that America’s foreign policy up until the early twentieth century best be described as “isolationist” in nature, a potential global power which only unleashed its global influence when threatened by two world wars and a fifty year Cold War. Kagan, conversely, argues that the United States pushed In Dangerous Nation, Washington Post columnist and former U.S. state department employee Robert Kagan makes a case for a new way to interpret the history of U.S. foreign relations. Most scholars contend that America’s foreign policy up until the early twentieth century best be described as “isolationist” in nature, a potential global power which only unleashed its global influence when threatened by two world wars and a fifty year Cold War. Kagan, conversely, argues that the United States pushed forth a foreign policy of expansion and global influence from its inception. As the book’s title suggests, other nations recognized this incipient tendency in U.S. foreign policy, especially European absolutists. In a growing era of modernity and liberal democracy, monarchists were wary of both American global potential and the ideals for which they stood. Kagan’s interpretation of the past seems to hinge on his own experiences of the present. For example, on page 158, Kagan’s contention that in the early 19th century’s era of European revolutions, “the United States was unavoidably a protagonist in this Cold War-style global confrontation” reveals an interpretation of the past fixed solely in a modern mindset. This statement seems less surprising considering Kagan’s former role in the U.S. State Department during the Reagan administration. Superimposing a Cold War framework onto a conflict revolving around monarchies, not to mention completely devoid of nuclear weapons, is bad enough. Realizing that Cold War frameworks, at least to many policy experts, are no longer relevant in today’s terrorist-focused foreign policy, makes even Kagan’s “modern” framework seem dated. In other words, basing one’s interpretation of the past is one thing; basing it on a neo-con’s experiences of the 1980s seems a little, well, one sided. Kagan’s summary of slavery’s role in shaping early nineteenth century is more likely to win applauds from modern diplomatic historians. In his seventh chapter “The Foreign Policy of Slavery,” Kagan takes the most pressing domestic issue of America’s first seventy years and shows out it affected the outlook of foreign policy makers. Revolutionaries turned statesmen of no lesser stature that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were quite wary of the slave uprising in Haiti—an event wholly under-appreciated by American historians—and according to Kagan (on page 185), this event produced “an acute national vulnerability that was recognized in both the North and the South.” The latter of these groups were, for obvious reasons, more concerned with black uprisings, especially those in close proximities of Spanish settlements. This threat, Kagan convincingly argues, helped to influence the aggressive foreign policy of early American statesmen. Some theoretical background would add much to Kagan’s easily accessible summary of U.S. Foreign Relations. For example, he is astute to point out that George Washington’s now famous warning against engaging in European “entangling alliances” simply implied staying out of the realm of European military enterprises; Washington was more concerned with westward expansion, especially the Ohio territory. Indian removal in the west prompted a whole new realm of land-based foreign policy that sea-led European Empire did not have to deal with regularly. Kagan would have been better served by noting the classics in U.S. foreign policy to actually flesh out this observation. For example, what would Frederick Jackson Turner’s (now admittedly antiquated) analysis say about this early westward myopic tendency? Or, conversely, what might a borderlands methodology contribute to Kagan’s overview? These criticisms are not meant to simply point out what Dangerous Nation should have addressed for criticism’s sake; instead, they show an under-appreciation of foreign relation’s historiography. Race relations played a key role domestically, and Kagan hints at its influence on determining the ideas of policymakers. For example, he points out Alexander Hamilton’s flirtation with the idea of freeing Venezuela from Spanish rule—a lofty goal for the young statesman. Yet, Hamilton felt confident of success in any such endeavor, either on the western border or overseas, due to a supposed “natural order” of things. Kagan chalks this up to a liberal-enlightenment worldview, supposedly one best characterized by the influence of Adam Smith’s invisible hand (an idea that permeated America’s entire worldview in the late 18th and early 19th century, not just its economics). But could racism have had more influence on Hamilton’s view of the Spanish instead of his seemingly natural gift for cockiness? Put another way, Hamilton, along with John Adams, supported the abolition of slavery even before the revolution. Yet, how stratified were these men’s racial ideas, and to what degree did they influence foreign policy ideas? Kagan does recognize that Hamilton, the Anglophile, scoffed at the idea of serious Spanish resistance. In Hamilton’s contradictions, other scholars might have looked past a Cold War paradigm to see the complexities that race might have played in nascent U.S. foreign policy. Not Kagan. His view is optimistic, unwavering, and for the most part incorrect.

  5. 4 out of 5

    W

    I have always found it difficult to write reviews on works that so cogently match my own analysis and theories on historical patterns. That sums up my opinion of this work. Kagan's analysis coherently offers the historical pattern of American diplomacy, foreign affairs, and imperialistic actions and proves the true trend that underlay American actions and thought up through the end of the nineteenth century. The United States has always seen itself as exceptional and this was not just in an isol I have always found it difficult to write reviews on works that so cogently match my own analysis and theories on historical patterns. That sums up my opinion of this work. Kagan's analysis coherently offers the historical pattern of American diplomacy, foreign affairs, and imperialistic actions and proves the true trend that underlay American actions and thought up through the end of the nineteenth century. The United States has always seen itself as exceptional and this was not just in an isolated uninvolved internal method. Americans have continuously wanted to prove their exceptionalism in comparison to the corrupt European culture and government, an idea that has not really changed today. This current of belief underlay many American actions in foreign affairs, and that moralistic tone quite often justified actions to intervene in external affairs, whether directly or indirectly. American leadership acted on expansionist beliefs and involved the US in foreign intervention much more often than traditional scholarship and myth would like to have us believe. They did so for a variety of reasons, one of the primary reasons was that they truly believed that the ideals of the Declaration of the Independence and the Constitution were morally superior to the systems of the rest of the world. As a result, they felt a duty to expand and interact with the world and to show a moral and humanistic leadership. Often, this moral duty fit nicely within the financial or political necessities and gain, but should not be dismissed as a "cover" for such sordid actions. The troubling trend that the US had to overcome was its tolerance of slavery, and the need to sort out its own internal problems before truly becoming the moral "light on the hill." In the end, the Civil War "purged" the US of its sin, according to many American leaders. In summary, one of the best, if not the best, recent works on American foreign relations I have read in the last 20 years. A must, must read!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Scriptor Ignotus

    In recent scholarship on the history of American foreign policy, it seems that the portrayal of America as a ruthless and aggressive imperial power is becoming as much a cliche as the traditional, "schoolhouse" portrayal of American innocence and passivity. Regardless, the story of America as an expansionist power deserves the attention it gets from the academic world, and Robert Kagan's Dangerous Nation is a great contribution to that project. Of particular intest to me was his chapter on the f In recent scholarship on the history of American foreign policy, it seems that the portrayal of America as a ruthless and aggressive imperial power is becoming as much a cliche as the traditional, "schoolhouse" portrayal of American innocence and passivity. Regardless, the story of America as an expansionist power deserves the attention it gets from the academic world, and Robert Kagan's Dangerous Nation is a great contribution to that project. Of particular intest to me was his chapter on the foreign policy of slavery, as Kagan makes a number of interesting connections between the internal balance of power between the slaveholding and free states and the conduct of foreign policy. The idea that the north and the south were essentially conducting separate foreign policies from the 1840s to the 1860s, behaving much like rival powers despite living under the same constitution, is quite an intriguing one. For readers looking for similar "imperial" histories of the United States, I recommend George Herring's From Colony to Superpower, as well as my personal favorite book on the subject, The Dominion of War by Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Frank

    A revisionist history of the USA during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: mainly concerned with American self-image and it's impact on foreign policy. RK's thesis is that the US had an aggressively expansionary vision from the start, and that this vision was mediated by the universalist doctrine encoded in its Declaration of Independence. As soon as it overcame its initial insecurities, the US set out to on their programme, not just from "sea to shining sea", but also aimed at incorporati A revisionist history of the USA during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: mainly concerned with American self-image and it's impact on foreign policy. RK's thesis is that the US had an aggressively expansionary vision from the start, and that this vision was mediated by the universalist doctrine encoded in its Declaration of Independence. As soon as it overcame its initial insecurities, the US set out to on their programme, not just from "sea to shining sea", but also aimed at incorporating Canada, Mexico, the whole of the Caribbean basin, and extending at least as far as Brazil. The smaller nations of Central America probably exacerbated this tendency with the ceaseless efforts of local interest groups to entangle the US in internal power struggles. America turned aside from this intent, not because of any external obstacle, but only when they became preoccupied with the question of slavery. A credible counterargument to the conventional view of early America as passive and isolationist. Early America was, at the very least, passive-aggressive down to the level of its national DNA.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tonya Dreher

    Who wants to read about early American history from a prominent neoconservative intellectual and foreign policy ideologue who cofounded, with Wiliam Kristol, the Project for the New American Century? I think you do, no really, you do.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Loved it from the first chapter. It was perfectly structured and flowed so well. I loved, loved, loved it. great for understanding our nations history and it's early players Loved it from the first chapter. It was perfectly structured and flowed so well. I loved, loved, loved it. great for understanding our nations history and it's early players

  10. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Carr

    Taking on the myth of American isolationism. A great read, shows the capacity for good history to re-imagine how we see ourselves and our history.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Crawford

    This book will be required reading for my kids in high school.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jack

    It's a shame that Robert Kagan is known almost exclusively for his neoconservative punditry, because this is an exceptionally thought-provoking work of history. Kagan views early U.S. foreign relations from an unabashed "Cold War Liberal" perspective -- think Harry Truman, JFK, and Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson -- so it's not surprising that he champions the development of 19th-century American liberal-democratic values and condemns various forms of political authoritarianism. He even likens the It's a shame that Robert Kagan is known almost exclusively for his neoconservative punditry, because this is an exceptionally thought-provoking work of history. Kagan views early U.S. foreign relations from an unabashed "Cold War Liberal" perspective -- think Harry Truman, JFK, and Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson -- so it's not surprising that he champions the development of 19th-century American liberal-democratic values and condemns various forms of political authoritarianism. He even likens the Southern "slave power" states that formed the Confederacy to Nazi Germany, a charge that perhaps only the most fervent Confederate apologists would rebuke. As far as large-scale, big-picture explorations of U.S. foreign policy go, *Dangerous Nation* is the most readable and stimulating book I've discovered since reading Walter LaFeber's *The American Age* several years ago. (LaFeber, of course, views United States territorial expansion and military interventions through an entirely different lens). Hopefully Kagan will spend less time on political activism -- his recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president, for example -- and get around to writing the long-waited sequel of this two-volume project as soon as possible.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    This was an excellent revisionist history of American foreign policy from the Revolution to the dawn of the 20th Century. The basic thesis is that previous scholarship that assumed that the United States was isolationist until the Wilson administration is wrong, when you consider the continental expansion as foreign policy (which it was because they were areas controlled by European colonial powers). The Monroe doctrine figures prominently. Half the book is dedicated to the complications of the This was an excellent revisionist history of American foreign policy from the Revolution to the dawn of the 20th Century. The basic thesis is that previous scholarship that assumed that the United States was isolationist until the Wilson administration is wrong, when you consider the continental expansion as foreign policy (which it was because they were areas controlled by European colonial powers). The Monroe doctrine figures prominently. Half the book is dedicated to the complications of the divide between the North favoring a Clay/Quincy Adams American System and the South looking to preserve planter culture and the challenges it posed to two competing visions of what American foreign policy should be. Given what happened in the 1830s-1850s, it is interesting to contemplate what may have been. Were it not for the desire of the South to add Cuba as a slave state, Cuba may have been annexed and entered the union. Hawaii waited to join the union for so long also because of competition between North and South factions.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ronnie

    I don't know where I bought this book...about 7 months ago...I picked it off my shelf as one of my books to read. It is mesmerizing book. It brought me back to when I was I in the Army and the arguments I heard or was part of. The enriching part is that the author brings to life many of the creators of this country. Also a better appreciation of what those words meant to people. It has multiple layers of significance for me as I have an ancestor who was hung for treason against the Crown due to I don't know where I bought this book...about 7 months ago...I picked it off my shelf as one of my books to read. It is mesmerizing book. It brought me back to when I was I in the Army and the arguments I heard or was part of. The enriching part is that the author brings to life many of the creators of this country. Also a better appreciation of what those words meant to people. It has multiple layers of significance for me as I have an ancestor who was hung for treason against the Crown due to the Rebellion of 1837-1838 in Quebec....The most startling aspect of this book is realizing that the first foreign policy failure of this country was in not dealing well with Amerindians. The US was a fledging country yes.....but the natives were already here. The Natives were a foreign entity. Foreign to what the colonists has ever been in touch with....Anyway..its a good read....Troubling also.....

  15. 4 out of 5

    Whitaker

    From the other reviews and blurbs, it will be clear that Kagan adopts a stance that is at variance with conventional wisdom. In his reading of American history, he asserts that American foreign policy has generally always been expansionist instead of isolationist. While I'm not in a position to evaluate the soundness of Kagan's thesis, I did find this to be a very readable and accessible history of America's conduct of foreign policy from its inception to the Spanish-American war at the end of t From the other reviews and blurbs, it will be clear that Kagan adopts a stance that is at variance with conventional wisdom. In his reading of American history, he asserts that American foreign policy has generally always been expansionist instead of isolationist. While I'm not in a position to evaluate the soundness of Kagan's thesis, I did find this to be a very readable and accessible history of America's conduct of foreign policy from its inception to the Spanish-American war at the end of the 19th century. Readers looking for a more neutral, more conventional, or just more even-handed history should look elsewhere. Note that this is the first part of what is intended to be a two volume series.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jacob

    Robert Kagan's book is a challenging one to read. However, it is very fascinating and captivating. It reinforces the notion that the 19th century was the crucial in the development of the American national heritage and ideological perspective. It is a "tour de force" of historical knowledge and implications. Kagan shows how America, from its founding days, was not an isolationist power, but one with a unique ideology. Its messianic and martial character led it to be viewed as dangerous by other Robert Kagan's book is a challenging one to read. However, it is very fascinating and captivating. It reinforces the notion that the 19th century was the crucial in the development of the American national heritage and ideological perspective. It is a "tour de force" of historical knowledge and implications. Kagan shows how America, from its founding days, was not an isolationist power, but one with a unique ideology. Its messianic and martial character led it to be viewed as dangerous by other powers. This is a must read for any student of history or foreign policy wonk. It provides an excellent background for 20th and 21st century policies and actions.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    This is a well written history of 19th century US military and foreign policy focusing on some of the sharper and more aggressive lines of thinking and acting that we taking by representatives of the US (and of the Confederacy). The argument provides a good counterpoint to more traditional views of US policy that tend towards a more glorified and idealized view of the 19th century. Kagan clearly shows how geopolitical perspectives have a long established place in US history, and not just against This is a well written history of 19th century US military and foreign policy focusing on some of the sharper and more aggressive lines of thinking and acting that we taking by representatives of the US (and of the Confederacy). The argument provides a good counterpoint to more traditional views of US policy that tend towards a more glorified and idealized view of the 19th century. Kagan clearly shows how geopolitical perspectives have a long established place in US history, and not just against the Indians. The book also highlights the contingency of US history and how some of our conflicts could have turned out much differently -- such as the Civil War.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Brandy

    Read this for foreign policy class. Waffled between 3 and 4 stars. Very thorough and detailed look at foreign policy from colonial times to the Civil War. Emphasizes the fuzziness separating foreign and domestic policy concerns. Very good survey of the period. However, with such a wide time span that he's trying to cover, Kagan very clearly cherry-picks his evidence, ignoring quite a bit and disregarding some context. He also only really cites secondary sources, which is a bit concerning. Also, Read this for foreign policy class. Waffled between 3 and 4 stars. Very thorough and detailed look at foreign policy from colonial times to the Civil War. Emphasizes the fuzziness separating foreign and domestic policy concerns. Very good survey of the period. However, with such a wide time span that he's trying to cover, Kagan very clearly cherry-picks his evidence, ignoring quite a bit and disregarding some context. He also only really cites secondary sources, which is a bit concerning. Also, what he's suggesting just really isn't all that new - numerous people have written on American expansionism vs isolationism. So yeah. Three stars it is.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Banning Leonard

    A well-written, in-depth look at American foreign policy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Ten years in the making, Robert Kagan describes America’s not-so-isolationist leanings from the country’s founding through the Spanish-American War of 1895. I gave it four instead of five stars, however, because in the last page and a half, Kagan insists on giving his neo-conservative opinion of why America took this stance.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Zach

    I expected to have to wade through the book written by the leading proponent of the Iraqi surge. However, Kagan is no dolt. His history of America is fun to read, and does not ignore or glaze over the ugly inherent in the rise of the US. Yet even in acknowledging US expansionism and aggression, he still manages to find a certain potential, a hope which stemming from our unique, though imperfect, past.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Susie

    Read this a few years ago and found it really interesting. While I may not agree with all of its conclusions (and it is very one-sided and ideologically driven) it did make me want to read more about American foreign policy over the years. It also sparked the Hamilton/Jefferson slash in my mind, which can only be a good thing. Right?

  22. 5 out of 5

    Max Nova

    A very compelling revisionist history of America. Kagan claims that America has always been seen as an aggressive and dangerous nation (hence the title!). He backs it up and I'm inclined to believe him. Should be required reading for all Americans - makes the fact that we're currently embroiled in 3 wars a lot easier to understand and trace back to historical origins. A very compelling revisionist history of America. Kagan claims that America has always been seen as an aggressive and dangerous nation (hence the title!). He backs it up and I'm inclined to believe him. Should be required reading for all Americans - makes the fact that we're currently embroiled in 3 wars a lot easier to understand and trace back to historical origins.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Eleanore

    An interesting and different perspective on the history of US foreign policy. It is both well written and brings to light various events, incidents, and arguments that have often been overlooked by conventional history.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mack

    This is a good account of the first century of American foreign policy and the myths we so dearly hold about ourselves. It is a fascinating and well-paced look in the mirror--something I think Americans do less frequently than we should.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I'm going to finish this f-ing book if it kills me...though it is now packed away in a box somewhere. A fate it definitely deserves... I'm going to finish this f-ing book if it kills me...though it is now packed away in a box somewhere. A fate it definitely deserves...

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mowry

    It's the most thorough, authoritative history of US international relations that I've ever read...it's 416 pages and it only covers pre-colonial to the Spanish-American War! It's the most thorough, authoritative history of US international relations that I've ever read...it's 416 pages and it only covers pre-colonial to the Spanish-American War!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    An incredible look at American foreign policy from colonial days to the Civil War. Explores the myths and truths behind American power. Utterly fascinating.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides

    To be honest I'm not sure if I read this ... but I think I did. To be honest I'm not sure if I read this ... but I think I did.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ted

    An important book... Essential reading for understanding today's challenges. An important book... Essential reading for understanding today's challenges.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ashley Tyler

    I read this book in college

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