American exceptionalism is an old idea, but in at least one respect, historian Rauchway (Murdering McKinley) argues, it reflects a geopolitical truth that remains relevant to current trends in globalization. From the Civil War to WWI, he finds, the country's unique position in the global economy-unmatched flow of foreign capital and labor to its shores, expansive opportunities on the Western frontier-meant that the U.S., unlike European countries, was not forced to develop complex federal agencies to regulate commerce, assemble statistics, and provide for the unemployed. The small steps the U.S. did take in this direction, Rauchway contends, were distinctively shaped by the country's relationship to globalization. Efforts to regulate credit and monopolies, he says, arose not in response to Socialist agitation but out of distrust of foreign bankers among recent migrants in the West. Lacking strong, centralized government institutions experienced in large-scale economic matters, the U.S. was unprepared after WWI to take the leading role in the global economy, a failure that, he argues, led to the Great Depression and would eventually scare Americans into supporting international financial organizations after World War II. Rauchway notes with concern that in the decades since the 1960's, as the U.S. has shifted from international creditor to debtor, the country has again begun ""edging away from its commitments to globalization"" and leaving the international economy to take care of itself. Though he leaves the implications of his innovative historical analysis on the present largely implicit, he provides valuable perspective for the debate about American's proper role in the world today.
Reviewed on: 05/29/2006 Release date: 06/01/2006 Genre: Nonfiction