The National Interest




H. W. Brands

No concept in the history of American foreign policy has been more contentious than the "national interest." Both words in the phrase are troublesome. "National" implies something the entire nation can rally around; hence, the phrase often serves as a summons to patriotism. To oppose, or even question, the national interest pushes the opponent or questioner perilously close to sedition or treason. As for "interest," few terms are more elastic. The inhabitants of any country would have to be dull indeed not to be "interested" in much that goes on in the world; the inhabitants of a powerful, ambitious country like the United States can expand interests almost ad infinitum. Complicating the matter further is the fact that definitions do not necessarily the national interest make. What actually is the national interest is for history to determine. And even history does not always get it right.

For every country, national interest starts with safety of the national territory; for Americans, the arguing started just past that irreducible minimum. And it started early.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Barnes, Harry Elmer. The Genesis of the World War: An Introduction to the Problem of War Guilt. New York, 1926, 1929, 1970.

Beard, Charles Austin, and G. H. E. Smith. The Idea of National Interest: An Analytical Study in American Foreign Policy. New York, 1934.

Beisner, Robert L. Twelve Against Empire: The Anti-Imperialists, 1898–1900. New York, 1968. The debate about the Philippines and empire.

Brands, H. W. The Devil We Knew: Americans and the Cold War. New York, 1993. What we thought, why we fought.

——. What America Owes the World: The Struggle for the Soul of Foreign Policy. New York, 1998.

——. "The Idea of the National Interest." Diplomatic History 23 (1999): 239–261. Reprinted in Michael J. Hogan, ed. Ambiguous Legacy: U.S. Foreign Relations in the "American Century." New York, 1999. Concentrates on the twentieth century.

Brands, H. W., ed. The Use of Force After the Cold War. College Station, Tex., 2000. For and against.

Cole, Wayne S. America First: The Battle Against Intervention, 1940–1941. Madison, Wis., 1953.

Dallek, Robert. The American Style of Foreign Policy: Cultural Politics and Foreign Affairs. New York, 1983.

Divine, Robert A. The Illusion of Neutrality. New York, 1962. Where the isolationists went wrong.

Ehrman, John. The Rise of Neoconservatism: Intellectuals and Foreign Affairs, 1945–1994. New Haven, Conn., 1995.

Gilbert, Felix. To the Farewell Address: Ideas of Early American Foreign Policy. Princeton, N.J., 1961. What Hamilton thought and Washington said.

Graebner, Norman A., ed. Ideas and Diplomacy: Readings in the Intellectual Tradition of American Foreign Policy. New York, 1964.

Grattan, C. Hartley. Why We Fought. New York, 1929.

Haass, Richard N. The Reluctant Sheriff: The United States After the Cold War. New York, 1997.

Hunt, Michael H. Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy. New Haven, Conn., 1987.

Jonas, Manfred. Isolationism in America, 1935– 1941. Ithaca, N.Y., 1966, and Chicago, 1990.

Kaplan, Lawrence S. Jefferson and France: An Essay on Politics and Political Ideas. New Haven, Conn., 1967. The roots of Republican foreign policy.

McDougall, Walter A. Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World Since 1776. Boston, 1997.

Merk, Frederick, and Louis Bannister Merk. Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History; A Reinterpretation. New York, 1963. A response to Albert K. Weinberg's Manifest Destiny.

Morgenthau, Hans Joachim. Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. New York, 1948, 6th ed., New York, 1985. The bible of Cold War realism.

Smith, Tony. America's Mission: The United States and the Worldwide Struggle for Democracy in the Twentieth Century. Princeton, N.J., 1994.

Weinberg, Albert K. Manifest Destiny: A Study of Nationalist Expansionism in American History. Baltimore, 1935. A classic.

Williams, William Appleman. The Tragedy of American Diplomacy. Rev. ed. New York, 1962. By the father of Cold War revisionism.

See also Anti-Imperialism ; Continental Expansion ; Doctrines ; Imperialism ; Neutrality ; Open Door Interpretation ; Public Opinion ; Wilsonianism .

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