Foreign Policy. “In the annals of forgetfulness there is nothing quite to compare with the fading from the American mind of the idea of the law of nations.”
Grenada. “We might have benefited from a weekend’s pause in which we could have considered our interests rather than merely giving in to our impulses.”
The mining of Nicaraguan harbors. “A practice of deception mutated into a policy of deceit.”
Iran–Contra. “The idea of international law had faded. But just as important, in the 1980s it had come to be associated with weaknesses in foreign policy. Real men did not cite Grotius.”
As the era of totalitarianism recedes, the time is at hand to ask by what rules we expect to conduct ourselves, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan writes in this pellucid, and often ironic, examination of international law. Our founding fathers had a firm grasp on the importance and centrality of such law; later presidents affirmed it and tried to establish international institutions based on such high principles; but we lost our way in the fog of the Cold War.
Moynihan’s exploration of American attitudes toward international law—those of presidents, senators, congressmen, public officials, and the public at large—reveals the abiding reverence for a law of nations and the attempts for almost two hundred years to make international law the centerpiece of foreign and strategic policy. Only in the last decade did a shift in values at the highest levels of government change the goals and conduct of the United States.
Displaying a firm grasp of history, informed by senatorial insights and investigative data, elegantly written, this book is a triumph of scholarship, interpretation, and insight.
In this erudite yet immensely readable brief history of American internationalism in the twentieth century, with its far-ranging and provocative discourses on the issues to which that internationalism has given rise, [Moynihan] deplores [the] trends against which Wilson warned… He takes the long view; he converses on easy terms, across the centuries, with the great thinkers of the past; and his discourse is informed by an exalted sense of what it is to be an American.
An elegant and persuasive history-cum-argument about international law… [It] is not only a forceful elucidation of the subject; it is a cri de tête of a man who often sees things more accurately than others.
On the Law of Nations is thoughtful and timely, even as Moynihan himself is the refutation of the claim that the United States produces no politicians capable of expressing original thought in their own unghosted words.
Leave it to the senior senator from New York, whose career has been one long and exhilarating assault on conventional wisdom, to bring order to the chaos with an old but still provocative idea: let there be law… In this richly textured, idiosyncratically written (no ghostwriters here), but compelling book, Senator Moynihan argues that international law, often regarded as our century’s answer to alchemy, is in fact a powerful tool for stability and justice.
An impassioned and well-reasoned plea for a return to the rule of international law… Sure to raise hackles—and hopes—in D.C. and beyond.
Since we live in a period of presidents capable of invading small, weak nations without warrant in our own Constitution or international law, Senator Moynihan’s book could not be more necessary and timely. It is a cry of alarm—but a cry that is deeply reasoned, informed by our finest traditions and imbued with moral fervor. We might have to go back to John Quincy Adams to find another member of Congress capable of such a work.
‘Introducing international law into discussion,’ writes Pat Moynihan, ‘almost invariably sets off a reaction.’ This book is no exception. It is a learned, witty, and politically savvy defense of the subject, and an important contribution to thinking about the post–Cold War world.
The book will have a notable and useful impact in the continuing debate over the role of morality, law, and organization in American foreign policy and what we stand for in the world. It is a pleasure to read for wit and passion; it gilds the philosophic pill and makes erudition seem fun… To those watching the general collapse of Communist ideology and feeling privileged to be present at yet another creation, it is a cautionary tale warning against the excessive optimism of naive moralisms and the naiveté of self-proclaimed ‘realists’ whose ignorance has cost us too much already.
- 211 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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