From the author of the immensely influential and best-selling Of Paradise and Power—a major reevaluation of America’s place in the world from the colonial era to the turn of the twentieth century.
Robert Kagan strips away the myth of America’s isolationist tradition and reveals a more complicated reality: that Americans have been increasing their global power and influence steadily for the past four centuries. Even from the time of the Puritans, he reveals, America was no shining “city up on a hill” but an engine of commercial and territorial expansion that drove Native Americans, as well as French, Spanish, Russian, and ultimately even British power, from the North American continent. Even before the birth of the nation, Americans believed they were destined for global leadership. Underlying their ambitions, Kagan argues, was a set of ideas and ideals about the world and human nature. He focuses on the Declaration of Independence as the document that firmly established the American conviction that the inalienable rights of all mankind transcended territorial borders and blood ties. American nationalism, he shows, was always internationalist at its core. He also makes a startling discovery: that the Civil War and the abolition of slavery—the fulfillment of the ideals of the Declaration—were the decisive turning point in the history of American foreign policy as well. Kagan's brilliant and comprehensive reexamination of early American foreign policy makes clear why America, from its very beginning, has been viewed worldwide not only as a wellspring of political, cultural, and social revolution, but as an ambitious and, at times, dangerous nation.
Robert Kagan is senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund, and a columnist for The Washington Post. He is also the author of A Twilight Struggle: American Power and Nicaragua, 1977–1990, and editor, with William Kristol, of Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in American Foreign and Defense Policy. Kagan served in the U.S. State Department from 1984 to 1988. He lives in Brussels with his family.
“This is a landmark study that belongs in the library of every serious student of American foreign policy. A brilliant and original survey that challenges long-held assumptions and puts important but forgotten events and ideas under the spotlight, Dangerous Nation is a tour de force of historical writing that should change the way many people view the country's past.”
–Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs
“Kagan again assumes the stance of enfant terrible, assailing the keepers of the conventional wisdom…. [His] trashing of orthodoxy [and] … systematic dismantling of accepted dogmas is refreshingly provocative….Dangerous Nation draws from a deep well of historical scholarship about American foreign relations.”
–David M. Kennedy, The Washington Post
“[C]arefully crafted … an engaging interpretation of American history, made the more so by the author's skill in presenting it. . . Kagan is able to give fresh interpretations to familiar landmarks of American history.”
–Edmund S. Morgan, The New York Review of Books
"An outstanding reading experience. Kagan convincingly challenges the received wisdom that 19th-century America was essentially isolationist by showing that from its birth this nation aggressively expanded its frontiers across the entire continent, ousting the British, Spanish, French, Russians, and Mexicans from what are now the 50 states. . . Massively researched, well argued, thought-provoking, and constantly surprising. . . an essential addition to academic collections on American and diplomatic history."
“Brilliant and absorbing . . . Many critics of U.S. foreign policy will not need persuading that America is a dangerous nation . . . Dangerous Nation is not aimed at them. It is meant for the general reader, of course, and for those in sympathy with the projection of American power in recent times . . . But the book is also intended for Democrats, who may at first hate it. . . They may want to think before they strike. As it happens, Democrats have special reason to look forward to the 20th-century sequel, for Mr. Kagan’s narrative of American power is, in many ways, the story of their own party. . . There should be something in this project for almost everyone.”
–Brendan Simms, The Wall Street Journal
“Dangerous Nation is a first-rate work of history, based on prodigious reading and enlivened by a powerful prose style. It also casts a bright light on America’s role in the world–and on its manifold tensions with other countries. . . Helps bring long-dead diplomatic history to life.”
"Provocative . . . Powerfully persuasive, sophisticated."
–Publishers Weekly, starred review