The Abandonment of the West

The History of an Idea in American Foreign Policy

For much of the twentieth century, Americans saw their nation as part of a shared Western civilization rooted in European Enlightenment ideals of liberty and self-government and the heritage of classical Greece and Rome. And for much of the century, a vision of Western liberty guided America’s foreign affairs, from the crusades of the world wars to its strategic alliances with Europe in the Cold War against the Communist East. But today, other ideas drive American foreign policy: on one side, the pursuit of a universal ‘liberal international order,’ and on the other, the illiberal nationalism of ‘America First.’ In The Abandonment of the West, historian Michael Kimmage traces the West’s rise and its decline in American foreign policy since the 1890s – and argues that reviving the West today is essential to fostering national unity and resisting new geopolitical threats.The roots of America’s affinity for the West run deep, from the embrace of Columbus as a national hero to the neoclassical design of the nation’s capital. After the First World War, despite Woodrow Wilson’s failed efforts to persuade Americans to take up leadership of the West, American universities advanced new Western civilization curricula. By 1945, after the Second World War, the West was the dominant American foreign-policy concept. Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy fostered the bipartisan project of saving the West from the Soviet East in the Cold War. Then this consensus unraveled.

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