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Blessed Among Nations: How the World Made America
Synopses & Reviews
In a mere fifty years, the United States transformed itself from a second-tier country crippled by its effort to abolish the appalling institution of human slavery into a great power unlike any the world had ever seen. The question of how it did this should command our attention all by itself, but the question of why it became such a peculiarand incompetentempire surely ranks as one of the great questions of modern history. For truly, measured by consequences, few global disasters can match the mismanagement of the international system in the 1920s, which owed almost entirely to bad decisions made in America. All that saves the United States from complete responsibility is the answer to the first question, of how this change happened so fast: America became a great power so swiftly, and became such a peculiar empire, because the rest of the world made it that way.
Globalization does not always level the worlds playing field. It produces winners, losers, and, on occasion, global economic disasters. As Eric Rauchway compellingly shows, no nation so clearly reflects the effects of globalizations uneven influence than the United States. A historians answer to the rosier predictions of journalists, Blessed Among Nations is a sharply narrated reminder that we need merely to review the decades between the end of the Civil War and the aftermath of World War Ithe first era of globalizationto realize that one nations enrichment need not benefit the whole world.
An incisive explanation of why America has inspired more envy than imitation, Blessed Among Nations warns that if we do not better understand how the United States failed, early on, to master the forces that made it what it is, we stand to make the same mistakes again, in a world with even higher stakes.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Nineteenth-century globalization made America exceptional. On the back of European money and immigration, America became an empire with considerable skill at conquest but little experience administering other people's, or its own, affairs, which it preferred to leave to the energies of private enterprise. The nation's resulting state institutions and traditions left America immune to the trends of national development and ever after unable to persuade other peoples to follow its example.
In this concise, argumentative book, Eric Rauchway traces how, from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, the world allowed the United States to become unique and the consequent dangers we face to this very day.
Globalization is not always a leveling force. It produces winners, losers, and, on occasion, global economic disasters. No nation so clearly reflects globalization’s warping influence than the United States, a fact Eric Rauchway compellingly demonstrates. A historian’s answer to the rosier predictions of economists, Blessed Among Nations is a sharply narrated reminder that we need only review the decades between the end of the Civil War and the aftermath of World War I—the first era of globalization—to spy the myriad dangers we face today.
Globalization’s early history provides the answer to why America has inspired envy but not imitation. At the end of the nineteenth century, no nation benefited so markedly from the free flow of capital and labor as did the United States. With the British Empire acting as the world’s economic referee, America received more of both than any other part of the globe, and as a result developed its unique fondness for a smaller, less intrusive state. This in turn led America to refuse the role of referee following World War I; a worldwide depression was the result. Written with passion and precision, Blessed Among Nations draws contemporary lessons from this history.
About the Author
Eric Rauchway has written for the Financial Times and the Los Angeles Times. He teaches at the University of California, Davis, and is the author of Murdering McKinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt's America (H&W, 2003).
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