The Indispensable Nation?

  • Richard Ned Lebow


Americans have been consistently smug about their political system, capitalist economy, social cohesion, and way of life. They have not for the most part questioned the stability of their political and economic institutions since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Their survival, in contrast to the collapse of so many European democracies, and subsequent robust performance in the postwar era, reaffirmed the view of many Americans that providence had blessed them. They were fulfilling their prophecy as “the city on the hill,” a phrase from the Sermon on the Mount used by Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards in 1630 to describe the Massachusetts Bay Colony on the eve of its founding. President Kennedy would refer to Edward’s sermon in his first post-election speech, as Ronald Reagan did on the eve of his presidency.

This smugness also affects foreign policy. In the twentieth century it was most marked in Woodrow Wilson, president from 1913 to 1921, author of the Fourteen Points, and founder of the League of Nations. Son of a Presbyterian minister, he was a deep believer in Caucasian superiority and American superiority over other Caucasians. The country’s God-given mission was to spread democracy, which he believed would eliminate the threat of war.

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© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Ned Lebow
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.King’s CollegeLondonUK
  2. 2.Pembroke CollegeUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  3. 3.Dartmouth CollegeHanoverUSA

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