Revolution and World Order: The Revolutionary State in International Society

By David Armstrong | Go to book overview
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2 State and People the American Revolution

The inclusion of the United States in a study of the interaction between revolutionary states and international society requires some preliminary explanation. Sober-minded and moderate individuals such as Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Hamilton sit somewhat uneasily in the company of Robespierre, Trotsky, Castro, Khomeini, and Gaddafi. Their primary international goal was to win the right for their state to enter the society of states as a respectable member, not to overturn it. On achieving that aim they and their successors did not seek to export their revolution but at first tried to keep themselves free from political entanglements with the outside world. Later, as the United States rose to a pre-eminent position during the twentieth century, it often appeared to symbolize conservatism and counter-revolution rather than revolutionary change. Indeed, the United States—'imperialism' and 'the Great Satan' of Marxist and extremist Islamic demonology —came to be regarded as the principal enemy and leading target of many contemporary revolutionary movements.

Yet while there are clearly important differences between the United States and the other countries considered in this study, there are also some striking similarities. Throughout its history certain recurring features have appeared in America's approach to foreign relations, some of which are characteristic of revolutionary states generally. These include a belief in the universal significance of the American revolution and a sense of mission imparted by this belief, an underlying suspiciousness, occasionally verging on paranoia, about the intentions of foreigners, an idealistic optimism about America's potentialities which can sometimes lead to a readiness to exaggerate the capacity of limited means to achieve overly ambitious ends, a tendency to adopt a combative and self-righteous posture towards foreign rivals, a deep-seated distrust of traditional modes of conducting international relations, and a propensity

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