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Hans Morgenthau and The Purpose of American Politics

  • Richard Ned Lebow
Extract

Hans Morgenthau's The Purpose of American Politics was published in 1960, at the end of the Eisenhower administration and on the eve of the civil rights movement and military intervention in Vietnam. It is Morgenthau's first attempt to author a book primarily about the United States, exploring opposing American political traditions and their implications for foreign policy. In the process, he comments on past and present domestic and foreign crises and the ways they are refracted by Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian understandings of the national purpose. Morgenthau is drawn to the Hamiltonian approach, which is realist in its assumptions; but he is nevertheless sympathetic to the Jeffersonian emphasis on freedom, which differentiates America, in his view, from other countries. The book represents Morgenthau's coming to terms with America, lauding the purposes for which the country was founded, but the overall argument is pessimistic. Morgenthau contends that America has lost its sense of purpose, on the home front and abroad. When read next to his Scientific Man vs. Power Politics, published in 1946, the book reveals a significant shift in his intellectual and political orientations.

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NOTES

1 See Hartmut Behr's essay in this issue.

2 Hans J. Morgenthau, The Purpose of American Politics (New York: Knopf, 1960), p. 134.

3 On this point, see Vibeke Schou Tjalve, Realist Strategies of Republican Peace: Niebuhr, Morgenthau, and the Politics of Patriotic Dissent (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

4 Morgenthau, Purpose of American Politics, pp. 19–21.

5 Ibid., pp. 24–30, on horizontal and vertical mobility.

6 Ibid., p. 56.

7 Ibid., pp. 77–83, 266–68.

8 Ibid., pp. 219, 274–92, 302.

9 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Harvey C, Mansfield and Debra Winthrop, ed. and trans. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), II.1.2., pp. 409–10.

10 Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist with Letters of “Brutus,” Terence Ball, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), esp. no. 10; and Tocqueville, Democracy in America, esp. I, 2.2, p. 169.

11 Morgenthau, Purpose of American Politics, pp. 237–43.

12 Ibid., pp. 61–63, 243–45, 249–52.

13 Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations (New York: Knopf, 1948).

14 Richard Ned Lebow, The Tragic Vision of Politics: Ethics, Interests, and Orders (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), ch. 6.

15 Morgenthau, Purpose of American Politics, p. 166.

16 Ibid., p. 332.

17 Herz, John, “Idealist Internationalism and the Security Dilemma,” World Politics 2, no. 2 (1950), pp. 171201 .

18 Morgenthau, Purpose of American Politics, pp. 167–77, 528–29.

19 Ibid., pp. 171–77.

20 Ibid., p. 185.

21 Ibid., pp. 188–96.

22 G. John Ikenberry, After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order After Major Wars (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001).

23 Morgenthau, Purpose of American Politics, pp. 206–209, 328–29.

24 Fred Greenstein, The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994) for the beginning of Eisenhower revisionism.

25 Louis B. Zimmer, The Vietnam War Debate: Hans J. Morgenthau and the Attempt to Halt the Drift into Disaster (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2011); and Campbell Craig and Fredrik Logevall, America's Cold War: The Politics of Insecurity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2009).

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Ethics & International Affairs
  • ISSN: 0892-6794
  • EISSN: 1747-7093
  • URL: /core/journals/ethics-and-international-affairs
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