A new intellectual history of U.S. foreign policy from the late nineteenth century to the present
Worldmaking is a compelling new take on the history of American diplomacy. Rather than retelling the story of realism versus idealism, David Milne suggests that U.S. foreign policy has also been crucially divided between those who view statecraft as an art and those who believe it can aspire to the certainty of science.
Worldmaking follows a cast of characters who built on one another’s ideas to create the policies we have today. Woodrow Wilson’s Universalism and moralism led Sigmund Freud to diagnose him with a messiah complex. Walter Lippmann was a syndicated columnist who commanded the attention of leaders as diverse as Theodore Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Charles de Gaulle. Paul Wolfowitz was the intellectual architect of the 2003 invasion of Iraq—and an admirer of Wilson’s attempt to “make the world safe for democracy.” Each was engaged in a process of worldmaking, formulating strategies that sought to deploy the nation’s vast military and economic power—or sought to retrench and focus on domestic issues—to shape a world in which the United States would be best positioned to thrive.
Tracing American statecraft from the age of steam engines to the age of drones, Milne reveals patterns of worldmaking that have remained impervious to the passage of time. The result is a panoramic history of U.S. foreign policy driven by ideas and by the lives and times of their authors.
For decades, scholars and public officials have carried on a shopworn debate over whether American diplomacy should be, or has been, "idealist" or "realist" in orientation. Milne (American Rasputin), senior lecturer in modern history at the University of East Anglia, offers a fresh take on an old subject and hopes to change the debate's terms. If he fails, it's still a lively try. Through essays on nine distinctive American thinkers and statesmen Alfred T. Mahan, Woodrow Wilson, Charles Beard, Walter Lippmann, George Kennan, Paul Nitze, Henry Kissinger, Paul Wolfowitz, and Barack Obama he explores the tensions between diplomacy as art and diplomacy as science, as well as arguments about which aspect is primary. Appropriately characterizing his approach as "an intellectual history of U.S. foreign policy," he brings his figures alive, accurately portraying and fairly characterizing them. If there's a problem with the outcome, it's that Milne takes us to yet another binary paradigm. His thinkers and practitioners, despite what they said on the record, were always too subtle and intelligent to get themselves boxed in that way. But Milne's is a helpful, fresh, scholarly scheme, though it's a scheme, as he admits, that may over-organize a messier reality.