From Wealth to Power
For over a century, political theorists have been attempting to develop a theory to explain the causes and consequences of a nation’s rise to prominence on the international stage. Fareed Zakaria, an editor for years with FOREIGN AFFAIRS, addresses the issue with exceptional skill in FROM WEALTH TO POWER: THE UNUSUAL ORIGINS OF AMERICA’S WORLD ROLE, a case study of the United States’ emergence as the dominant world power by 1910. Zakaria argues that neither of the most popular current theories of foreign policy are adequate to the task. Neither classical realism, which argues that economic growth leads directly to international expansion, nor defensive realism, which posits that states merely react to external threats, can account for the unusual circumstances which existed in the United States during the five decades after the Civil War. Instead, Zakaria proposes that a third theory, state- centered realism, can satisfy both descriptive and predictive criteria. Focusing on the political infrastructure, Zakaria shows how, as the balance of power in the United States shifted from a strong Congress to a strong executive branch, the country became more involved in events beyond its borders. His account of foreign relations in the administrations of presidents Johnson through Roosevelt reveals how accurately his hypothesis accounts for activities which led the United States from its position of relative isolation after the Civil War to a major diplomatic force in world affairs by the onset of World War I.
Zakaria is especially good at extracting from the historical record the general principles which lay behind American foreign policy during this unusual and turbulent period. Although cautious in extending his theory to cover all cases of expansion, he argues persuasively that any study of a nation’s foreign policy must include a review of the state infrastructure which is essential to supporting international expansion. He also offers a sobering reminder that elected officials are at times wont to pursue policies which they find valuable, but which are not always in accordance with the wishes of those who voted them into office.
Sources for Further Study
Foreign Affairs. LXXVII, July, 1998, p. 120.
International Affairs. LXXIV, July, 1998, p. 719.
International Security. XXIII, Fall, 1998, p. 157.
National Interest. Fall, 1998, p. 113.
The New York Times Book Review. CIII, May 3, 1998, p. 25.
ORBIS. XLII, Fall, 1998, p. 631.
The Wall Street Journal. May 13, 1998, p. A20.