“Call it American diplomatic history in the metaphysical mode.” Thus does Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Walter McDougall describe this pensive essay on the devolution of the civil religious faith that has inspired the nation (in pretense or reality) ever since 1776. The foreign policies of a “God blessed” America, shaped by elite perceptions of the nation’s geopolitics, economics, and theology, have already passed through five major phases increasingly toxic both abroad and at home. Will its heretical culmination be self-extinction in a globalized civil religion, as the great sociologist Robert Bellah prophesied back in the 1960s?
Walter A. McDougall holds a chaired professorship in International Relations and History at the University of Pennsylvania and serves as Director of Research at Philadelphia’s Foreign Policy Research Institute. His previous books include …the Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (1985); Let the Sea Make a Noise: A History of the North Pacific (1992); Promised Land, Crusader State (1997); Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History 1585-1828 (2004); and Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era 1829-1877 (2008). He is a Vietnam veteran and a lifelong aficionado of books, maps, Chicago sports, and music from Bach to Bob Dylan.
The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.