cover image The Abandonment of the West: The History of an Idea in American Foreign Policy

The Abandonment of the West: The History of an Idea in American Foreign Policy

Michael Kimmage. Basic, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-0-465-05590-6

The once influential notion of the United States as the champion of Western civilization has lapsed, leaving Euro-American relations rudderless, according to this ruminative history. Kimmage (In History’s Grip), a history professor at Catholic University of America and former State Department planner, traces the doctrine that Europe and America belonged to a unified Western culture of liberty, law, and democracy to 20th-century academics and foreign-policy intellectuals; this ideology, he notes, birthed Western Civilization college courses and justified America’s intervention in Europe’s battle against Nazi Germany and Cold War confrontation with communism. It was undermined, he argues, by the Left’s critique of Western racism and imperialism, the Right’s critique of Western liberalism’s decadence and godlessness, and the Third World’s resentment of Western colonialism. Since 1989, Kimmage notes, presidents have dropped talk of defending Western civilization, and, more recently, President Trump has voiced a populist contempt for the whole project of Euro-American cooperation. Kimmage’s erudite and far-ranging discussion of debates over Western-ness highlights the perspectives of critics like James Baldwin, W.E.B. DuBois, and Edward Said, but his weak argument for reviving a Euro-American alliance relies on vague concerns about challenges from Russia and China. Contrary to the author’s intentions, some readers will leave this tepid study feeling that the rhetoric of Western solidarity is no longer relevant. (Apr.)