Frank L. Klingberg. Positive Expectations of America's World Role: Historical Cycles of Realistic Idealism. Lanham, Md. and London: University Press of America, 1996. xiii + 506 pp. $60.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7618-0262-4; $53.50 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7618-0263-1.
Reviewed by Ross E. Burkhart (Boise State University)
Published on H-Pol (February, 1999)
Professor Klingberg (Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale) has written an ambitious and provocative book, building on a research tradition of some length and depth (he first published research on the topic in 1952), with two main goals in mind. First, he seeks to introduce the concept of "realistic idealism" as a theoretical orientation for U.S. foreign policy behavior. Second, he places realistic idealism and all U.S. foreign policy events into a cyclical framework. Klingberg succeeds in accomplishing both of these goals, with only an occasional speed bump.
Professor Klingberg illustrates how the mindset of realistic idealism can be identified as a theoretical undercurrent in U.S. foreign policy activity throughout the country's history, and even into its colonial history. Realistic idealism is an amalgam and a balancing of several strains of thought. The "realism" in realistic idealism is derived from both Reinhold Niebuhr's teachings and European pragmatism, while the "idealism" originates in Judeo-Christian teachings and democratic theory. Realistic idealism is defined as "a willingness to use force to defend the ideals of freedom and justice, while regarding peace as the ultimate goal" (p. 4). According to Klingberg, realistic idealism is fully in force today, having been honed by such foreign policy leaders as Lincoln, Wilson, and Roosevelt, among others. Thus, realistic idealism has evolved as a foreign policy orientation. A challenge for foreign policy practitioners in the future, however, is to maintain a balance between realism and idealism, because both are essential for the realization of U.S. foreign policy goals, and are differentially emphasized depending on domestic and international circumstances.
The balancing of realism and idealism leads to Klingberg's second main goal: to place U.S. foreign policy history, and the evolution of realistic idealism, into an interesting yet complex and challenging framework, that of cycles of U.S. involvement and disinterest in international politics. Cycle theory has some appeal in organizing a practice as grand in scope as foreign policymaking. Simply stated, foreign policy moods come and foreign policy moods go, providing a convenient explanatory structure for foreign policy events.
Yet Klingberg's cycles are inevitably complex in their reliance on several disparate conceptual elements. At least three main cycles exist, and they are placed within the context of such U.S. traits as dynamism, human sympathy, pragmatism, (and on the negative side) moral superiority, and beliefs such as moral law from Judeo-Christian teachings, free and responsible individuals as seen in the concept of union and liberty, and the propriety of a global mission to spread these beliefs. To illustrate, a belief in moral law was built up during the colonial establishment of U.S. identity with religious toleration between 1587-1729, according to Klingberg. Construction of the union of U.S. states and the individual liberty that helped found them was emphasized between 1729-1871. With the industrialization of the United States and its corresponding expansion in power, the United States developed a feeling of global mission from 1871 to today to bring its beliefs to other countries.
The cycles themselves, or "rhythms," termed "a basic law of progress in human society" (p. 15), are of three different types: ones of activity, cultural political development, and domestic political ideological orientation. (It is a peculiar use of the word "progress," however, because the notion of progress usually does not involve repeated behavior.) The activity cycle is one of introversion, when the United States withdraws from international events, and extroversion, when the United States becomes actively engaged in international events. The introversion "mood" runs on average for twenty-one years in United States history, according to Professor Klingberg, while the extroversion mood runs on average for twenty-seven years. (There is a slight confusion on pages 17-25, however, in the timing of these cycles: Klingberg claims on pages 17 and 18 that 1967-1987 is an extrovert cycle, while on page 25 he states that 1940-1986 is an extrovert cycle. The former claim is correct.)
The sequencing of these cycles is important. Klingberg identifies five challenges to U.S. freedom, peace, and prosperity: British tyranny and European interference in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, slavery and secession in the mid-nineteenth century, industrialization and economic modernization in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, fascist and communist ideological challenge in the early to mid-twentieth century, and social unrest associated with the prosecution of the Vietnam War in the latter twentieth century. Each of these challenges comes at the beginning of the introverted phase of the activity cycle. The resolution of these challenges takes place during the extroverted phase of the activity cycle: the Monroe Doctrine, the Civil War, World War I, the beginning of detente, the end of the Soviet Union.
A second cycle running alongside the introversion-extroversion cycles is the 142-year "cultural political development" cycle, occurring twice in U.S. history (1729-1871, 1871-around 2014). Each cycle has three periods within it corresponding to Hegel's interpretations of world history. The first period is the rationalist "enlightenment period," or thesis, when the U.S. develops a new idea, as in democratic nationalism from 1729-1776 and a combination of democratic internationalism and social welfare industrialization from 1871-1918. The second period is the realist battle between contending ideologies, with the battle of the new revolutionary versus old regime from 1776-1824, and democracy versus fascism/communism from 1917-67. The third period is the idealist consolidation of the winning ideology, or synthesis, exemplified by the formation of democratic nation-states from 1824-1871, and "world internationalism" with a growing dependence on international institutions from 1967-2014.
A third series of cycles comes under the heading of "domestic political cycle," and has two components. The first component is the liberalism- conservatism cycle. It has been in evidence since 1765, according to both Arthur Schlesinger senior and junior, and runs in thirty year cycles up to the twentieth century, when the cycle runs for fifteen years. There has been a liberal cycle since the early 1990s. The second component of the domestic political cycle is the liberty/union cycle, which coincides with the introversion/extroversion cycle. During an introverted time, the focus is on resolving battles over individual security and rights, which illustrates the liberty cycle. During an extroverted time, the focus shifts to more cooperative efforts and the formation of international organizations, which describes the union cycle.
The proof of the existence of these myriad cycles and the development of realistic idealism is laid out in the body of the book (Chapters Two through Seven, each chapter dealing with a challenge to U.S. freedom and its resolution) by way of copious quotes from speeches by U.S. presidents and other important political figures, as well as from documents and proclamations, in meticulous reporting of foreign policy events by way of extensive footnotes. Additionally, Professor Klingberg includes presidential election returns, public opinion polls, and discussions of religious trends as evidence for the cycles. Through this impressive catalog, Klingberg convincingly demonstrates that there are patterns to U.S. foreign policy behavior. For example, calculating from all of the listed cycles, the United States is currently in an extroverted, idealistic, synthetic, world international, liberal, and union phase in its foreign policy history. This cycle assessment matches well the current situation, with the emphasis on an active foreign policy based on expansion of open markets and democratic governments, along with a greater reliance on international organizations to help carry out foreign policy tasks.
However, as in any broad, sweeping theory, there are bound to be exceptions as well as inconsistencies. "Cycles may come and go with regularity, but specific events appear unpredictable and often surprising" (p. 448). For instance, while the withdrawal from Vietnam beginning in the late 1960s and a preoccupation with domestic political scandal can coincide with an introverted foreign policy cycle, the cultivation of ties with communist China, the signing of arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, the activist promotion of human rights, and the involvement in Central American conflicts (as well as Grenada) do not fit completely within the 1967-87 introverted cycle. The cyclic commonalities of foreign policy events, though, do outweigh the inconsistencies.
One advantage to relying on an events catalog to carry the argument by sheer weight of the evidence, as Klingberg does, is that the reader gains a wealth of U.S. historical information vis-a-vis foreign policy decisions. A downside, however, is that in lieu of employing a tighter narrative structure, Chapters Two through Seven do read at times like a catalog of foreign policy events rather than an analysis of them. This seems additionally to be an issue of style of argument when using historical documents as evidence to back up claims. Nevertheless, more analysis in these chapters would have added variety to the narration.
Because these cycles are complex and overlap one another, it behooves Professor Klingberg to explicate their meaning. This task he reserves for the opening and closing chapters of the book. The main challenge for any proponent of cycle theory in international relations is to explain what causes such periodicity. Armed with the notion that "human nature remains stable and generations still have approximately the same length" (p. 448), Klingberg's explanation for the periodicity of cycles seems rather metaphorical, in that the three cycles described above (and their sub-cycles) approximate a farming season: planting (thesis), growth and its challenges (antithesis), and harvest (synthesis). The implication is that the harvest of freedom and democracy will be complete by the early part of the twenty-first century, whereupon new foreign policy planting must begin, as it were.
But this explanation has less potential as an "independent variable" (to adopt Richard Rosecrance's language) explaining the existence of cycles, than does a major theme in Fareed Zakaria's From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America's World Role(1998): Zakaria suggests that the domestic strengthening of the U.S. federal government and the weakening of the state governments in the late nineteenth century allowed the United States to pursue a more vigorous international agenda (coinciding with Klingberg's second cultural political development cycle). Additionally, international events themselves could compel the United States to feel more realistic or idealistic. Indeed, whether events cause the cycles or whether the cycles shape the events is an important unanswered question. The direction of the causal arrow is left for the reader to decide.
In spite of these criticisms, Klingberg has written a thoughtful treatment of U.S. foreign policy from an interesting perspective. The closing chapter ends on a particularly optimistic note, that comes from a close reading of cycle theory. With the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the rise in democracy and liberalism worldwide, Klingberg suggests that this moment is an opportunity for the United States to consolidate realistic idealism into world leadership for the next two decades. In contrast to a recent literature lamenting the perhaps irreversible decline in U.S. global power, Klingberg has a more rosy appraisal of U.S. international fortune, at least until it is time to till and replant the foreign policy soil. The inescapable conclusion is that foreign policy rises and declines are highly reversible. It is a provocative conclusion that follows from this able and extensive treatment of U.S. foreign policy from a cyclic perspective.
This review was commissioned for H-Pol by Lex Renda <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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Ross E. Burkhart. Review of Klingberg, Frank L., Positive Expectations of America's World Role: Historical Cycles of Realistic Idealism.
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