Although the founders of the United States premised its political order explicitly upon principles of liberty and equality, both they and succeeding generations tragically failed to realize in practice the promise of those ideals. Instead, racial constructs positing Anglo-Saxon supremacy and nonwhite primitivism patterned white Americans' thinking so that they could institute a system of chattel slavery within the world's first flourishing democratic republic. The sheer magnitude of that hypocrisy may seem stunning today, but it demonstrates how Americans, like all people, have been willing to distort ideals to make them conform to baser interests.
It is comforting to imagine that interests and values naturally coincide, but that is a facile and dangerous illusion to entertain. A striking example of this capacity for self-delusion came at the turn of the twentieth century, when Americans believed that they had discovered an intellectually satisfying solution to the contradiction between liberal democratic equality and racism when they used social Darwinism as an overarching rubric explaining the nature of social and moral progress. In this chapter, I show how American leaders relied on a conception of American national identity as being both Anglo-Saxon and democratic to formulate the normative basis of U.S. foreign policy before and after the Spanish-American War. American leaders mixed racist assumptions with liberal-democratic values in a way that amazingly led them to define their nation as a paragon of virtuous progress worthy of global leadership. By reviewing the actual policy debates surrounding the war and placing them within their broader cultural context, I show how this paradoxical admixture of civic and racial national identities demonstrably influenced U.S. foreign policy during this crucial episode.