America the Virtuous
The Crisis of Democracy and the Quest for Empire
Urged on by a powerful ideological and political movement, George W. Bush committed the United States to a quest for empire. American values and principles were universal, he asserted, and should guide the transformation of the world. Claes Ryn sees this drive for virtuous empire as the triumph of forces that in the last several decades acquired decisive influence in both the American parties, the foreign policy establishment, and the media.
Public intellectuals like William Bennett, Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Michael Novak, Richard Perle, and Norman Podhoretz argued that the United States was an exceptional nation and should bring "democracy," "freedom," and "capitalism" to countries not yet enjoying them. Ryn finds the ideology of American empire strongly reminiscent of the French Jacobinism of the eighteenth century. He describes the drive for armed world hegemony as part of a larger ideological whole that both expresses and aggravates a crisis of democracy and, more generally, of American and Western civilization.
America the Virtuous sees the new Jacobinism as symptomatic of America shedding an older sense of the need for restraints on power. Checks provided by the US Constitution have been greatly weakened with the erosion of traditional moral and other culture.
“Ryn (Catholic Univ.) does not like neoconservatives. He does not even like the term. Instead, he refers to the conservative intellectuals who have secured prominent positions in the media and in the Pentagon as the "new Jacobins." Like the Jacobins of old, they possess a dangerous arrogance that will lead their nation to disaster… Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.”
—R. A. Strong, Choice
“An important contribution for those interested in the intense post 9/11 debate on US foreign policy.”
—David C. Jordan, University of Virginia
“Claes Ryn paints a truly alarming portrait of the new Jacobinism that now constitutes a powerful ideological force among our nation’s elites. . . . Ryn’s splendid book is a warning of things to come if we fail to recognize the dangers.”
—George W. Carey, Georgetown University
“There is much wisdom in Ryn’s book, and the moral realism he calls for and explicates commands respect. . . . Ryn is onto deep truths about the nature of politics.”
—David C. Henderickson, World Policy Journal
“America the Virtuous diagnosed our contemporary maladies in both foreign policy and domestic life. . . . We Americans pretend we’re a peace-loving people and that our wars have all been foisted upon us. But the United States, as Ryn explains, is an Enlightened or Ideological Republic that has slipped its constitutional moorings, and become a Fighting Faith.”
—Walter A. McDougall, Huminatas