[The Ambiguous Legacy: US Foreign Relations in the American Century]

By Fischer, Beth; Hogan, Michael J. | International Journal, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

[The Ambiguous Legacy: US Foreign Relations in the American Century]


Fischer, Beth, Hogan, Michael J., International Journal


Edited by Michael J. Hogan

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, xii, 548pp, US$49.95 cloth (ISBN 0-521-77019-X), US$17.95 paper (ISBN 0-521-77977-4)

This volume seeks to evaluate the record of United States foreign policy over the past 100 years. Its editor, historian Michael Hogan, asked contributors to address topics they considered significant and to trace them throughout the 20th century (p xiiii). To lend coherence to the book, the authors were asked to consider Henry Luce's famous article, 'The American Century,' which first appeared in Life magazine in 1941. Luce was among the first to recognize that the end of World War II would necessitate a significant reorientation in United States foreign policy. The United States would assume the role of great power, he noted, and Americans had to consider carefully how they would use this new power. Luce urged his fellow citizens to abandon their isolationist tendencies and use American power to spread democratic values. America now needed to embrace its power and reshape the world in its own image, he argued.

For the most part, the chapters in this book attempt to determine the extent the world was 'Americanized' during the 20th century. To what extent was it 'the American century,' and, perhaps more importantly, did American influence lead to greater peace, prosperity, and security, as Luce had envisioned?

There is much disagreement about the answers. Some of the authors view the United States role in a positive light. For example, Tony Smith argues that American foreign policy was a unique blend of realpolitik and liberalism, which ultimately exported democratic values around the globe. In a similar vein, Robert Jervis argues that the American century was remarkably peaceful, in large part because of the American emphasis on democratic norms. Geir Lundestad notes that the Americans built an empire through invitation, rather than conquest, and foresees this trend continuing into the next century.

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