Liberal internationalists can be counted on to explain the complex causes of war as simply “unprovoked aggression,” and eliminating aggression anywhere they saw as the only way to make the world safe for democracy. Regardless of public opinion, diplomats like George Kennan advised the public to allow national leaders to speak for them in “councils of the nations,” Republican presidents replaced Democratic presidents “without the slightest diminution of executive power,” and Congress was seen as an obstruction to liberal progress.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Liberalism’s New World of Freedom
“Since the beginning of this century, American liberalism has made little measurable progress toward two of its most important goals: a more equitable distribution of income and an improved level pf public services. Confronted with the realities of corporate power and the conservatism of Congress, the reforming zeal of the liberal state has been easily frustrated.
This is mirrored in the stymied hopes of the New Freedom by 1916, the stalemate of the New Deal by 1938, and the dissolution of the Great Society by 1966. What is left by these aborted crusades is not the hard substance of reform but rather the major instrument change – the powerful central state. In the process the ideological focus of liberalism have moved from the concepts of equality and democracy to those of centralization and governmental unification.
The liberal search for national unity and an expanding domestic economy could not be separated from the vision of an internationalist order which was “safe from war and revolution and open to the commercial and moral expansion of American liberalism.”
This was a vision shared by Woodrow Wilson and Cordell Hull. To Hull and Wilson and later to Dean Rusk, peace required the restructuring of diplomacy through an elaborate network of collective security arrangements; prosperity demanded the removal of national trade barriers.
Such a vision, as N. Gordon Levin has brilliantly argued, could not contain within it the forces of either revolution or reaction and led almost inevitably to a foreign policy marked by conflict and crisis. Each new foreign policy crisis in turn strengthened the state apparatus and made the “National Idea” seem even more appropriate – a development which liberals, especially of the New Deal vintage, could only see as benign.
Peace and prosperity, political themes of the Eisenhower years, were considered indulgences by Kennedy liberals such as Walter Rostow. Eisenhower’s cautious leadership was considered without national purpose.
To those liberals the American mission could be no less than “the survival and success of liberty.” The “National Idea,” glorified by such transcendent goals, became a Universal Mission, viz., Arthur Schlesinger, Jr’s assessment, “The United States has an active and vital interest in the destiny of every nation on the planet.” Presidents felt mandated not only to complete a mere domestic program but rather, to quote the Kennedy inaugural, “to create a new world of freedom.”
Nevertheless, such missionary rhetoric was eminently compatible with the liberal mission of government problem solving and reform emanating from the top. Setting the tone in 1960 for another liberal return to power, Townsend Hoopes insisted, “Under our system the people can look only to the President to define the nature of our foreign policy problem and the national programs and sacrifices required to meet it with effectiveness.”
After a generation of such fawning rhetoric, it is little wonder that the modern president’s conception of himself bears closer resemblance to the fascist notion of the state leader than even the Burkean concept of democratic leadership. As President Nixon described his role, “He (the president) must articulate the nation’s values, define its goals and marshal its will.”
(The Ideology of the Executive State: Legacy of Liberal Internationalism, Watershed of Empire, Essays on New Deal Foreign Policy, Myles Publishing, 1976, Robert J. Bresler, pp. 2-4)