Open Door Interpretation - William appleman williams



"Williams displayed great intellectual courage. Reflecting on the prerequisites for achieving individual or collective change, at least in our understanding of the world but also ideally in our actions to change it. Williams liked to pair 'intelligence and courage.' … His own record of intellectual courage is more complicated than it appears at first glance. Clearly he risked—and received—much criticism for challenging the intellectual orthodoxies of the 1950s, including what is usually called 'consensus' history. … Yet Williams was also intelligent and coura geous enough to look beyond radical cant. …

"When attempting to categorize Williams as a critic of U.S. foreign policy, it is easiest to say what he was not. He was not a Wilsonian. Since Wilsonians have dominated discussion of foreign policy since World War II, this stance left Williams vulnerable to another epithet.

Because he dissented from the Wilsonian 'imperialism of idealism,' he was stigmatized as an isolationist economic determinist and conspiracy theorist.

"Williams's relationship to what is usually called 'isolationism' is very complex. One of his greatest contributions was to deny over and over and over again that the United States was an isolationist nation until world power was thrust upon it in 1898 or 1917 or 1941 or 1945. On the contrary, the United States was expansionist from the outset, and the British, Spanish, French, Mexicans, and Native Americans certainly did not think the country isolationist. … Unfortunately, Wilsonian diplomatic historians, pundits, and officials still seem to think that the continent was more or less empty at the end of the eighteenth century and destined to be absorbed by the small country on the Atlantic coast (though, less candid than their forebears, they shun the term 'Manifest Destiny'). Accordingly, they presume that significant foreign policy only began in fits and starts during the 1890s.

"While repeatedly repudiating two centuries of American expansionism, Williams also criticized the United States for trying to be a 'world unto itself.' In his view, the internationalists' definition of internationalism was narrow and self-serving. They continually offered and often forced American solutions onto other nations yet only rarely acknowledged that the United States could learn lessons from abroad. This provincial internationalism was neither intelligent nor courageous."

—From Leo P. Ribuffo, "What Is Still Living in the Ideas and Example of William Appleman Williams? A Comment," Diplomatic History 25, no. 2 (spring 2001): 310, 312–313—



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