The Carter Implosion: Jimmy Carter and the Amateur Style of Diplomacy

By Donald S. Spencer | Go to book overview

SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING

Students of very recent U.S. history endure two obvious, confounding, and seemingly contradictory intellectual indignities. On the one hand, they confront a body of literature far too rich to master in a lifetime of concentrated study; on the other, they labor without benefit of the perspective and insights that come from a long accumulation of scholarship. The latter challenge is particularly acute: in a sense there exist for the Carter years few "secondary" sources in the usual meaning of the term. The analyses of contemporary observers are intended often to shape reality as much as to explain it, and that fact speaks volumes about why good historians rarely write well about the most recent years. Perhaps it is not entirely absurd that political scientists jokingly demand twenty-five years of breathing space before historians seize sovereignty over the literature.

If The Carter Implosion has worth, it is as an extended essay applying to the Carter presidency a point of view about statesmanship and diplomacy. Those who find that point of view intriguing may wish to explore the superb body of literature from which it is derived. To my knowledge, Sir Halford Mackinder ( Democratic Ideals and Reality, London and New York: Henry Holt, 1919) introduced not only the term "realities" to the scholarly analysis of international affairs, but also, in a primitive way, the paradigm that has characterized the "realist" school throughout the 20th century. Unfortunately, Mackinder's heirs within his own discipline of "geography" stumbled down an intellectual blind alley during the 1940s; only recently have they begun to recover, largely in the pages of Political Geography Quarterly.

Since World War II, it has been political scientists, historians, and professional diplomats who have defined and extended the intellectual perimeters of the realist approach. Perhaps the seminal works in those fields, respectively, are Hans J. Morgenthau Politics Among Nations ( 6th revised edition, Kenneth W. Thompson , ed., New York: Knopf, 1985), Norman A. Graebner Empire on the Pacific: A Study of American Continental Expansion ( New York: Ronald, 1955), and

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