The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest Walter A. McDougall

Publication date:
03 Jan 2017
Yale University Press
424 pages: 235 x 156 x 29mm

A fierce critique of civil religion as the taproot of America’s bid for global hegemony

Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Walter A. McDougall argues powerfully that a pervasive but radically changing faith that “God is on our side” has inspired U.S. foreign policy ever since 1776. The first comprehensive study of the role played by civil religion in U.S. foreign relations over the entire course of the country’s history, McDougall’s book explores the deeply infused religious rhetoric that has sustained and driven an otherwise secular republic through peace, war, and global interventions for more than two hundred years. From the Founding Fathers and the crusade for independence to the Monroe Doctrine, through World Wars I and II and the decades-long Cold War campaign against “godless Communism,” this coruscating polemic reveals the unacknowledged but freely exercised dogmas of civil religion that bind together a “God blessed” America, sustaining the nation in its pursuit of an ever elusive global destiny.

Walter A. McDougall is professor of history and the Alloy‑Ansin Professor of International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania. His numerous books include the 1986 Pulitzer Prize winner The Heavens and the Earth.

"A book remarkable for its depth, breadth, and intellectual daring."—Kirkus Review, Starred Review

"One of this disturbing book’s many strengths is its reminder of a United States before it entered the world’s stage. . . . Whether American presidents could conduct foreign relations better without the hype of civil religion Mr. McDougall does not say. But he suggests that the national interest might be a better guide to America’s conduct in the world."—D.G. Hart, Wall Street Journal

"Walter A. McDougall, . . . who has taken on some of the broadest themes in American society and won a Pulitzer for his brilliant history of the American space program, warns in The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy that once in office American presidents are often 'susceptible to a utopian temptation.' They adopt a language that he describes as 'American civil religion,' wrapping adventurism in a gauzy, semireligious haze."—David E. Sanger, New York Times Book Review