Friday, October 17, 2008

John Kane's "Between Virtue and Power"

John Kane is professor, Department of Politics and Public Policy, Griffith University, Brisbane, and author of The Politics of Moral Capital.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Between Virtue and Power: The Persistent Moral Dilemma of U.S. Foreign Policy, and reported the following:
I hadn't heard of Ford Madox Ford's dictum but I've always used a similar technique myself, opening a book at random and reading the first paragraph that catches my eye. The quality of the writer's mind and sensibility is usually immediately apparent, encouraging one to read further or not. It's a good browsing technique for crowded bookshops when one is wondering whether or not to invest. I presume the same principle works with my own writing, even on page 99. That passage is merely part of an introduction to a chapter entitled "Innocent Virtue and the Conquest of a Continent," which deals with the problem of how Americans managed to preserve a sense of innocence amidst civil war and wars with Mexicans and Indians as they pursued their Manifest Destiny. Not easy, but they somehow did.

About Between Virtue and Power: The Persistent Moral Dilemma of US Foreign Policy:

An enduring article of American faith prescribes that power be used only for virtuous ends and that American virtue remain unsullied in any exercise of power. Only thus can virtuous innocence be preserved without offense to honorable pride and the national mission of securing liberty in the world be assured. Yet an irresolvable tension has marked the relationship between American power and American virtue throughout its history, causing recurrent uncertainty about the justice of American actions abroad and rendering the national psyche peculiarly vulnerable to doubtful exercises of power.

Not until World War II were American statesmen finally convinced that power was not in itself evil, but rather that the power of the virtuous must be expansively deployed to deter the power of the wicked. The Cold War, however, and particularly the experience of Vietnam, profoundly shook American belief in this solution. Power and virtue were again radically sundered and woundingly undermined, causing serious injury to both pride and innocence. An era of doubt and caution about the use of American power was inaugurated, evidenced in the ‘Vietnam syndrome’ and the Powell Doctrine on military interventions.

The attacks of 9/11 restored a sense of American innocence, albeit of innocence offended, justifying the righteous deployment of American power in response. But post-Vietnam caution was too rashly cast aside by the Bush administration in its pre-emptive war in Iraq. If the Cold War and Vietnam had shattered the post-World War II conjunction of virtue and power that underpinned the liberal consensus, Iraq more swiftly smashed the too-easy neoconservative assurance of the virtuous efficacy of American power. Once again, power had been discredited and virtue sullied. The ancient dilemma remained unresolved, the American mission was again in grave doubt, and American foreign policy was plunged once more into deep uncertainty.
Read an excerpt from Between Virtue and Power, and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

Visit John Kane's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue