Hans Morgenthau and The Purpose of American Politics

| March 2016
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Hans Morgenthau’s The Purpose of American Politics was published in 1960, at the end of the Eisenhower administration and on the eve of the civil rights movement and military intervention in Vietnam. It is Morgenthau’s first attempt to author a book primarily about the United States, exploring opposing American political traditions and their implications for foreign policy. In the process, he comments on past and present domestic and foreign crises and the ways they are refracted by Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian understandings of the national purpose. Morgenthau is drawn to the Hamiltonian approach, which is realist in its assumptions; but he is nevertheless sympathetic to the Jeffersonian emphasis on freedom, which differentiates America, in his view, from other countries. The book represents Morgenthau’s coming to terms with America, lauding the purposes for which the country was founded, but the overall argument is pessimistic. Morgenthau contends that America has lost its sense of purpose, on the home front and abroad. When read next to his Scientific Man vs. Power Politics, published in 1946, the book reveals a significant shift in his intellectual and political orientations.

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Category: Issue 30.1, Roundtable: Morgenthau in America

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