Michael H. Hunt, Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy (London: Yale University Press, 2009).
The author makes an argument that carries on fresh insights on the role of ideology within American foreign policy. Published in 1987, Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy, is clearly influenced by the rise in cultural history as a discipline in the 1970s. He begins his book with bordering the discussions on US foreign policy between George Kennan and William Appleman Williams. The former argued for a realism that was supposedly based on what Mead calls a continental approach to foreign policy: balance of power and national interest. Kennan sees ideology as an aberration and seeks to limit its influence on foreign policy, advocating for a professional class to handle foreign policy, isolating it from the democratic process and thereby limiting the effects of moralism and legalism and allowing “coolly analytic experts who in their collective wisdom grast the ‘realities’ of international affairs…” to steer the ship of state.
Keenan’s assessment is dismisses the democratic process’s influence as problematic, rather than seeing it as a moral and cultural force for good. He also assumes that elite policy makers are immune to biases. Thus the great realist critic of ideology ironically takes realism as his ideology. Williams, on the other hand, tied the national interest to economics, “a tool used by the grandees of American capitalism to maintain their economic power and with it their sociopolitical control.” While Hunt argues that the grain of conventional wisdom about the sources of foreign policy decisions in the U.S. with the suggestion that they are driven by ideology — historians should ‘attempt to understand ideology in relation to a cultural system’.
In this action, he successfully achieves his aim of providing a new approach to analysing ideology in foreign relations. His book is an accomplished and interesting to informed the basic questions approach historians ask of US foreign policy that has contributed to the adoption of historical, as a tool of analysis, across a range of historical theories and disciplines.Hunt begins the first chapter by discussing the history surrounding the subject and offers a broad foundation for the following chapters. Then, Chapters 2,3 and 4 discuss three arguments, which are Visions of National Greatness, The Hierarchy of Race, and The Perils of Revolution, that he says effect U.S.
foreign policy from the founding of the country to around World War I. In his second chapter, where he contends Jefferson’s ideas about liberty contributed to the beginning of the embedment of exceptionalism within the American presidency and public rhetoric. The chapter is strong in demonstrating the impact that visions of national greatness had on policy makers and leads successfully into chapter three, where connect with American visions of greatness to the formation of the racial hierarchy.Over a structure which Americans placed themselves at the peak, they ranked the various peoples in the world based on the physical distinctions they made and the ability to adopt democratic institutions. He discusses how this filtered into American foreign policy and describe his evidence in the use of visual sources. In the final of his three arguments, chapter four argues that the American relationship with revolutions has changed throughout the course of its history.
The author encourages the power of national identity in Americans notion of international relations and argues that over a superior perception of themselves, American’s viewed the violent revolutions of the nineteenth century as an expression of the ‘unfortunate traits of foreign people, and the personal failings of foreign leaders.’ He concludes that revolution formed a basis for “policymakers” polarising outlook on foreign policy at the turn of the Twentieth Century and that it broadened the United States outlook on its Foreign Policy. Hunt’s three chapters work well to collect his argument and draw the lines link each theme to the following. In his last two chapters he is able to bring these together to discuss how they continue to influence policy all over the twentieth century and it is good to demonstrate one of his major arguments that these longstanding ideologies have been rooted in American foreign relations from the beginning and continue to play a significant role in foreign policy.
In this, Hunt denies both the traditional and economic historiography of American foreign policy. His disappointment with arguments that America was unprepared for the international role and his rejection of Williams’s economic explanation lead him to discuss the need for a different approach and is a starting point for his argument. From this, he is able to begin to divide his main arguments in a structure which is clear, concise and convincing. However, his omission of any discussion on the definitions scholars have drawn from ideology does detract from the strength of his first chapter. He gives us an example of how a study of ideology in U.S. foreign policy can be illuminating.
He acknowledges that it does not provide the whole picture, but makes a strong case that it is an important part of it.Without it, the reader is left with a rather broad and overarching conception of ideology. Nevertheless, the chapter still works as a platform which he can begin the body of his book. For the most part, his book works well to build on existing historical analyses, whilst building up new approaches and interpretations of the subject.Hunt’s parallels assert that there are three main arguments guiding ideology in U.
S. foreign relations. It is a wise way to define a chapter to each of his three themes to discuss each chronologically. It provides him to demonstrate the set by the order of ideology and its transformation over the course of American history. It is easy to follow from one concept to the next. Particularly his chapter on the racial hierarchy is very impressive as he applies a good range of sources to demonstrate the various ways in which ideas about race have infiltrated American culture and thought.
Similarly, he used the visual sources are a superbly addition and help him in presenting racial representations, and most interestingly, the changing nature of these within different periods. While further discussion of the sources could have been included in the text, his work deserves a thoughtful reading and instead encourages his readers to examine the sources by their own understanding. The inclusion of an afterword in 2009, though a significantly small section of the book, is a satisfying addition which will only enrich the readers understanding of Hunt’s argument. Commended in reviews as a ‘provocative essay’ that would serve as a ‘take-off point for further discussion’ in the 1980s, only with the passage of time can Hunt’s work be fully appreciated for all its successes.
Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy is a penetrating and impressive book and still stands as a core text for scholars of foreign policy after its publication.