Imperial Liberalism

Covenants without the sword are but words. You can do anything with bayonets but sit upon them. And both truths must be heeded.

Issue: Spring 2005

It is difficult both to be good and to be powerful. This seems to be the common view among statesmen, sages, poets and thinkers. A core thesis among thinkers of the realist persuasion has been that in foreign affairs, being good may in the end be bad for the people you serve, and that moral ends may best be served by thinking in terms of power and how it should be preserved, instead of aiming to do directly what seems morally good. This lesson is repeated in the works of Machiavelli, Morgenthau, Kissinger and many others. Realism is about power, and though barren and inadequate as a description of the way international society functions, it is at least consistent. Likewise, liberal internationalism, though its proponents have sometimes mistaken aspiration for reality, is also consistent. But the attempt to combine the two, as Charles Krauthammer did in these pages ("In Defense of Democratic Realism", Fall 2004), presents difficulties in both theory and practice.

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