Since its founding by Herbert Croly in 1914,The New Republic has struggled to reconcile its creed, liberalism, with the relentless growth of U.S. power. These efforts, unsurprisingly, have been mixed--sometimes prescient, sometimes deeply flawed. At times, the magazine has been optimistic about harnessing American might in service of human progress; at times that optimism has given way to deep disillusion. But the relationship between national identity and universal principle remains central toTNR's mission. With this in mind, we fill this week's Notebook with selected writings on liberalism and American power fromTNR's 89-year history. (Notebook will return to its usual form-- including "Inside the Box"--next week.)
"IN OUR OPINION the Treaty of Versailles subjects all liberalism ... to a decisive test. ... It is the most shameless and, we hope, the last of those treaties which, while they pretend to bring peace to a mortified world, merely write the specifications for future revolution and war. It presents liberalism with a perfect opportunity of proving whether or not it is actually founded in positive moral and religious conviction. If a war which was supposed to put an end to war culminates without strenuous protest by humane men and women in a treaty of peace which renders peace impossible, the liberalism which preached this meaning for the war will have committed suicide. ... It will abandon society to an irresistible conflict between the immoral and intransigent forces of Junkerism and revolutionary socialism."
--"Peace at Any Price,"
May 24, 1919
"AMERICAN OPINION HAS cherished a wholly unrealistic distinction between defense and attack. There is no doubt who is the aggressor in the basic sense. Our peace with Germany would still be cordial if the Nazis had not proclaimed themselves a master race and set out to conquer the world. But, since we are convinced that the Axis is our enemy as well as the enemy of the many peoples it has conquered and is at the moment trying to conquer, why is it justifiable defense to fight only when it crosses an imaginary line, and unjustifiable attack to fight before? ... It will cost fewer lives and less misery if we do so at the best strategical time and place, even if that happens to be on the exact opposite side of the globe from Washington, D.C."
--"For A Declaration of War,"
August 25, 1941
"EVER SINCE THE Russian revolution, many sincere liberals from John Reed to John-Paul Sartre, though they might have admitted that Communism was often brutal and cynical, usually in the end came back to the same point: its stand against exploitation was nearer to the Sermon on the Mount than was Capitalism. Whenever presented with a choice between the two, many men of good will were inclined to give Communism the benefit of the doubt. ... Despite the Russian war against Finland, despite the horror of the labor camps and the slaughter trials, the great myth of the 20th Century remained intact, though battered. Only a few brave and lonely souls like George Orwell fully understood the nature of the betrayal. It is this myth that the Russian tanks crushed as they lurched into Budapest."
--"Myth with Nine Lives,"
November 26, 1956
"WE ARE THE captives of rash commitments gripped by the persistent delusion that victory for 'our' Vietnamese is a life-and-death necessity. The frustration of the dissenters is understandable, for they cannot meet the demand put upon them--to make sense out of a situation that is senseless, to tell the administration how to get out of a trap the critics warned against getting into. They have no power in the White House, or in Hanoi. The evangelical impulse of America is against them, an impulse strengthened by 20 years of anti-communist editorializing, as well as by an economy so largely powered by military orders. ... [A]ll of us--in Vietnam and here at home--are sacrificing for a cause that is not worth it. ... We are waging a war that is none of our business and which cannot be justified by any moral imperative or threat to our national security."
--"Hung-Up on Vietnam,"
December 10, 1966
"THE WAR [IN VIETNAM], this journal insisted, was politically and morally wrong; it was wrong for reasons, and for similar reasons, we must be prepared to oppose similar wars. But not necessarily all wars or all use (or threats) of force. It would be foolish to cling to an arbitrarily consistent policy that disregards all possible cases. ... Our decisions in Vietnam were motivated by an ideology that magnified a civil war into a universal conflict, and made a parochial struggle an issue between international communism and the `free world. ' American policymakers, ignoring local circumstances, were disposed to fight limited wars for global reasons. It would be yet another disastrous consequence of this disastrous war if the opponents of the Vietnam adventure were to emerge from this period with their own global ideology predisposing them to blurring moral distinctions and ignoring the realities of political life."
--"Learning the Wrong Lessons,"
February 1, 1975
"SPEAKING PHILOSOPHICALLY, DEMOCRACY is an absolute. It is for all men and women in all places at all times. Speaking historically, however, democracy has been the consequence of certain social, economic, political, and cultural conditions. The primary fact about Central America, the rudest reality in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras, is that the proper conditions for the development of democracy do not yet exist, nor will they exist for some time to come."
October 24, 1983
"THERE IS PANIC in Washington these days, panic in the corridors of power and in the aisles of Congress. The panic is over Lebanon. And it is not based only upon an analysis of what will happen there. It is based also upon an analysis of what will happen here--that is to say, of how American policy in Lebanon, which is an important part of American policy toward a region of supreme historical importance, will play politically. ... Lebanon is a great test for the political class of the United States. Our country will pay for the fecklessness of the Administration and the cynicism of the opposition. Their message to the world now is that the United States may fight only easy three- day wars, and that any struggle more arduous in which terrorism is used against us is beyond our capacity. What a message that is to the tyrants and aggressors of the world."
--"The Panic of '84,"
January 23, 1984
"WHEN BLOOD IS spilled, it is the responsibility of those who spill it, and the responsibility of those who could have stopped its spilling. For this reason, the carnage in the market of Sarajevo shamed also the White House, which should have been shamed long ago. Bill Clinton's dilatory, casuistic response to the great crime in the Balkans was not only shameful, it also marked a moment in the history of American foreign policy. This administration is transforming the only superpower in the world into the only abdicating superpower in the world. Poor Bosnia, it should have found itself in a trade war. Trade wars we fight. Wars of genocide we watch."
February 28, 1994
"IT IS THE BIRTHDAY of the United Nations, but who can honestly say that it is a happy one? ... The evils that the U.N. set out to destroy are prospering; and while not all this dark prosperity is the consequence of the U.N., a terrible measure of it is. During the cold war, the U.N. became a chamber of hypocrisy and proxy aggression, and it had nothing at all to do with the greatest victory in the cause of human rights and social progress in its time, which was the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since the cold war, the U.N. has done little to alleviate, and in some instances it has abetted, some of the worst savagery in the world. So Mr. President, you really must be prepared sometimes to go it alone. ... For it is when the United States goes it alone that the genuine democrats and the genuine agents of social change around the world do not go it alone."
--"The October Surprise,"
October 30, 1995
"IT IS NOT true that the attacks of September 11 were unimaginable; and anyway imagination is no longer necessary, now that we have memory. It is not true that they were crazy, except by our standards and the standards of civilization; but those are not the only standards in the world. It is not true that they were senseless, because they made sense to the people who carried them out, and to the individuals and the movements and the states that supported them or applauded them. It is not true that they are unfathomable: they were actions with reasons. These evil deeds were the results of beliefs. If we do not comprehend those reasons and those beliefs, then all we will do is mourn our dead and heal ourselves back into the traditions of our complacence. History is asking more of this country than sorrow."
--"It Happened Here,"
September 24, 2001