Dangerous Nation

Published By: Alfred A Knopf

Book Category: Non-Fiction, Social Science

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Reviewed by Muhammed Hassanali

Kagan’s main thesis is that America has always actively participated in state affairs beyond its borders. He does this through extensive historical analysis, and in the process, debunks the view that America has largely followed an isolationist foreign policy. Kagan’s intent is clearly stated in the opening pages as: “This book is an attempt to tell a different story that is more about expansion and ambition, idealistic as well as materialistic, than about isolationist exemplars and cities upon hills [6].”

Kagan presents the Massachusetts Bay Colonist as considering themselves part of England and interprets their vision as exporting their brand of religious expression back to the home country. He portrays the American revolutionaries as imperialists who took up arms to forge their own empire. Once liberated, the revolutionaries articulated ideals of individual freedoms and unfettered mercantilism that resulted in a policy that was more expansionist than those of the European powers. Kagan contends that this has been the genesis of American policy – at home and abroad.

The author continues that material pursuits are only part of the story. America was founded on the universal principles of democracy and liberty. These then defined the American character and were projected towards all with a degree of moral righteousness. After the Civil War, America’s engagement in Venezuela and Samoa, along with its readiness to go to war against Spain (in 1898), further demonstrates American’s imperial character. Here is where the book ends. He talks about continuing his analysis into contemporary times, but readers would have to wait for a second volume.

Kagan argues that Americas have always been aggressive, not only in their acquisition of land, but also in their quest to mold the world in their image. While this view is not widely held, he supports his thesis through internal sources shaping American attitudes and policies. As with any historical analysis, determining the relevant facts, and interpreting them is where divergent views arise.

Dangerous Nation is instructive in that it gives us an alternative view of history, thus inviting us to re-examine our past, discuss its ramifications and formulate our own historical interpretations.

Armchair Interview says: This author’s thesis about America is different from conventional wisdom.

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