Why did the United States become a global power? Frank Ninkovich shows that a cultural predisposition for thinking in global terms blossomed in the late nineteenth century, making possible the rise to world power as American liberals of the time took a wide-ranging interest in the world. At the center of their attention was the historical process they called “civilization,” whose most prominent features—a global economy, political democracy, and a global culture—anticipated what would later come to be known as globalization.
The continued spread of civilization, they believed, provided the answer to worrisome contemporary problems such as the faltering progress of democracy, a burgeoning arms race in Europe, and a dangerous imperialist competition. In addition to transforming international politics, a global civilization quickened by commercial and cultural exchanges would advance human equality and introduce the modern industrial way of life to traditional societies. Consistent with their universalist outlook, liberal internationalists also took issue with scientific racism by refusing to acknowledge racial hierarchy as a permanent feature of relations with nonwhite peoples.
Of little practical significance during a period when isolationism reigned supreme in U.S. foreign policy, this rich body of thought would become the cultural foundation of twentieth-century American internationalism.
In a deep and wide-ranging analysis of intellectual thought during the quarter century between 1865 and 1890, Frank Ninkovich describes 'the cultural foundation for the emergence of imperialism and globalism' in the United States. The internationalist ideas he chronicles were powerful and enduring influences on the dominant American vocabulary of foreign affairs. Ninkovich's clear and sensible discussion of how culture acts as a 'field of possibility' for innovative domestic and international thinking is impressive. Thoughtful and iconoclastic, this work is one of the best cultural histories of internationalism to date and is a major contribution to the literature on American foreign relations, imperialism, and culture and international affairs.
Ninkovich examines a number of Gilded Age periodicals--including The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Weekly, and The Nation--to explain why the United States embraced imperial policies at the turn of the twentieth century and increasingly internationalist ones thereafter. He finds in their pages the intellectual groundings of a more purposeful, professional, and far-reaching diplomacy. Clearly and wittily written, this book captures a constellation of views on global interconnections at a moment in U.S. history not known for internationalist outlooks. It makes a significant contribution to the history of globalization and especially to the intellectual history of global consciousness.
Bringing a sensitivity both to U.S. intellectual trends and to global developments, Ninkovich explores how globalization has affected the American imagination. He finds that many American liberal thinkers in the last decades of the nineteenth century demonstrated a keen awareness of global transformative forces and their implications for U.S. international affairs, leading them to embrace the idea that the nation's contribution lay primarily in what today would be called 'soft power'--its economic, political, and cultural influence rather than through geopolitics or imperialism. This is a remarkable book, full of insights not just about the past but also about the present.
- 440 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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