In our relations with Russia and China, he does not believe that any settlement of the fundamental issues can be expected “for some time,” although local adjustments, such as the Austrian peace treaty, are possible. We need, therefore, to maintain “a tough, but flexible defense barrier” to deter both massive nuclear attack and localized aggression. We should work steadily and constructively for a meaningful disarmament agreement. But “our central aim” must be “to help the less developed nations create the conditions of freedom.” That is only applying the lesson of our own national experience, in which each renewal of our national purpose has been inspired by the striving for freedom. In this aspiration we can find common ground with other peoples. From it we can derive standards that enable us to stand not only for peace, but also for peace with justice. Directed and inspired by it, our programs of assistance may in time create the global conditions that will make possible the settlement of the fundamental questions at issue between us and the Communist world.
A major strength of the book is that, while in no sense neglecting the harsh facts of military power, it comprehends the tactics and military strategy of the era of competitive coexistence. In this era our relations with the underdeveloped countries are not just a side-show, but the central arena of foreign policy. Only if and when the issue is settled there in favor of freedom may the fundamental questions between the two great power blocs be peacefully liquidated.
But can a Presidential candidate talk this kind of language to the American public and still, as Mr. Bowles contends, win votes? Surely he is right in claiming that it can be done. The politics of coalition-building and of appeals to interest groups will, no doubt, play its part in either party’s victory in 1960. So also will the sloganeering and gimmicks of the public relations experts. Yet it is only sober realism to recognize that in millions of voters there is a quantum of political motivation which draws its energy from a sense of national community and which a rational restatement of national purpose can release. This does not mean that the appeal must be made to idealistic self-sacrifice and against material self-interest. At stake is both survival and the things that make survival worthwhile.
But if the right leader is found and the breakthrough is made, can we expect it to rival in importance the great epochs of Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt with which Mr. Bowles makes comparison? The question obliges one to report a curious disproportion in the book. Mr. Bowles’ rhetoric is bold, but when one looks at his ideas in detail, one must be struck by his caution.
No liberal will take serious exception to what he says on civil rights, economic growth, urban renewal, aid to education, conservation and so on. But it is only in contrast with the mediocrity of public policy in recent years that anyone would think his proposals “provocative”--to use the world that recurs in the dust-jacket comments by eminent politicians. He does not even raise many of the central questions: Why do we need a strong and growing labor movement and what role should it play in our economy and society? Are we satisfied with the performance and content with the irresponsible power of big business? How are we to get not only more production, but also the production of the particular goods and services we need to serve our National purposes at home and abroad? And we can do this without taking more seriously the idea of economic planning? Even in Mr. Bowles’ discussion of foreign affairs, one can wish that more searching questions had been asked. The United Nations gets its nod of approval, and we are urged to use it so far as possible in channeling aid to poor countries. But how are the other rich nations of the free world to be brought into this effort and the action of each coordinated with that of all? This at least deserves to be considered, even if it may touch the sensitivities of national sovereignty.
In the 1960s, we may, as we have done before, simply back into a new era under the pressure of crisis. We must thank Mr. Bowles for his reminder that by forethought we may be able to regain control of our national destiny.
Samuel H. Beer is Eaton Professor of the Science of Government at Harvard University.