In a sweeping history of centuries, Ted Widmer's Ark of the Liberties recounts America's ambition to be the world's guarantor of liberty.
The United States stands at a historic crossroads; essential to the world yet unappreciated. America's decline in popularity over the decades has been nothing short of astonishing. With wit, brilliance, and deep affection, Ted Widmer, a scholar and a former presidential speechwriter, reminds everyone why this great nation had so far to fall. It is a success story that America, and the world, forgets at its peril.
From the Declaration of Independence to the Gettysburg Address to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United States, for all its shortfalls, has been by far the world's greatest advocate for freedom. Generations of founders imbued America with a surprisingly global ambition that a series of remarkable presidents, often Democratic, advanced through the confident wielding of military and economic power.
Ark of the Liberties brims with new insights: America's centuries-long favorable relationship with the Middle East; why Wilson's presidency deserves reappraisal; Bill Clinton's underappreciated achievements; how America's long history of foreign policy immediately touches on the choices we face. Fully addressing America's disastrous occupation of Iraq, Ark of the Liberties colorfully narrates America's long and laudatory history of expanding world liberty.
Widmer, a Brown University history professor and former Clinton speechwriter, examines the timely question of how the concept of liberty has influenced the development of America and American foreign policy from pre-Revolutionary days to the present. Widmer argues that liberty was part of the New World's allure for centuries, and that the Puritans' quest for religious freedom led directly to the peculiarly American concept of liberty that he says "was essential to America's modern greatness." While acknowledging many foreign policy fiascos inconsistent with his thesis including the Mexican-American war, the CIA's destabilization of various Latin American governments and the war in Vietnam Widmer argues that overall, American actions have been instrumental in furthering liberty, both nationally and internationally. He places Lincoln's performance during the Civil War, Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations, FDR's leadership during WWII, the Marshall Plan and Kennedy's inspirational Pax Americana on the liberty side of the ledger. The Iraq War is addressed only in a scathing epilogue. Widmer offers a critical, informative and ambitious study that honors the best American impulses without ignoring the times the country has fallen from grace.