This intensively researched volume covers a previously neglected aspect of American history: the foreign policy perspective of the peace progressives, a bloc of dissenters in the U.S. Senate, between 1913 and 1935. The Peace Progressives and American Foreign Relations is the first full-length work to focus on these senators during the peak of their collective influence. Robert David Johnson shows that in formulating an anti-imperialist policy, the peace progressives advanced the left-wing alternative to the Wilsonian agenda.
The experience of World War I, and in particular Wilson’s postwar peace settlement, unified the group behind the idea that the United States should play an active world role as the champion of weaker states. Senators Asle Gronna of North Dakota, Robert La Follette and John Blaine of Wisconsin, and William Borah of Idaho, among others, argued that this anti-imperialist vision would reconcile American ideals not only with the country’s foreign policy obligations but also with American economic interests. In applying this ideology to both inter-American and European affairs, the peace progressives emerged as the most powerful opposition to the business-oriented internationalism of the decade’s Republican administrations, while formulating one of the most comprehensive critiques of American foreign policy ever to emerge from Congress.
Robert Johnson’s book is an important contribution to the historiography of American foreign relations in the interwar period. His claim that the Peace Progressives did in fact articulate a clear and well developed alternative to both Wilsonianism and conservative business internationalism is both original and convincing… In seeking to articulate a foreign policy vision that combined a concern for national interest with the desire to uphold moral principle [the Peace Progressives] went to the heart of a continuing American dilemma and for that reason deserve the place in the history of American foreign policy in the twentieth century to which Robert Johnson has restored them.
The major contribution of Robert David Johnson’s book is to help restore historical contingency to twentieth-century U.S. diplomacy by demonstrating how a loose coalition of ‘peace progressive’ senators presented viable alternatives to Wilsonianism in the 1910s and to corporatism and business internationalism in the 1920s.
The major achievement of this work is to document the development of a cohesive rationale behind the dissenting votes and speeches of the so-called peace progressives in the senate, and the connection between their ideas and antimilitarist and anti-imperialist tradition. What their opponents saw as isolationism the peace progressives viewed an alternative vision of the nation’s international role. That view connects them with not only an older tradition but also with dissent in the Cold War (especially on Vietnam). This is an important book which promotes revision of traditional, episodic treatments of foreign-policy dissent.
Johnson restores [the peace progressives’] foreign policy contributions to their proper place of historical significance. He brings to this work a truly impressive amount of research, fine judgment, and good writing.
Robert Johnson’s book is original and provocative, remarkable in its freshness of conception and thoroughness of execution. It examines the ideas and movements by dissenting Senators—those who were opposed to Wilsonian foreign policy—and offers some startling interpretations. By using the concept of ‘peace progressives,’ Johnson succeeds in illuminating these Senators’ perspectives on American foreign relations which were derived from their Progressive ideology in the domestic context and, when applied to international affairs, were at times even more Wilsonian than Wilson’s policies. Particularly impressive is the book’s examination of the peace progressives’ anti-imperialism during the 1920s and its transformation into isolationism in the 1930s. The book will force a major reevaluation not only of the dissenting Senators but of Wilsonianism as well.
- 464 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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