The Great American Mission: Modernization and the Construction of an American World Order
Author: David Ekbladh, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program, 2009–2010
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
The Great American Mission traces how America's global modernization efforts during the twentieth century were a means to remake the world in its own image. David Ekbladh shows that the emerging concept of modernization combined existing development ideas from the Depression. He describes how ambitious New Deal programs like the Tennessee Valley Authority became symbols of American liberalism's ability to marshal the social sciences, state planning, civil society, and technology to produce extensive social and economic change. For proponents, it became a valuable weapon to check the influence of menacing ideologies such as Fascism and Communism.
Modernization took on profound geopolitical importance as the United States grappled with these threats. After World War II, modernization remained a means to contain the growing influence of the Soviet Union. Ekbladh demonstrates how U.S.-led nation-building efforts in global hot spots, enlisting an array of nongovernmental groups and international organizations, were a basic part of American strategy in the Cold War.
However, a close connection to the Vietnam War and the upheavals of the 1960s would discredit modernization. The end of the Cold War further obscured modernization's mission, but many of its assumptions regained prominence after September 11 as the United States moved to contain new threats. Using new sources and perspectives, The Great American Mission offers new and challenging interpretations of America's ideological motivations and humanitarian responsibilities abroad.
David Ekbladh is assistant professor of history at Tufts University.
"In this important book, Ekbladh provides one of the most compelling portraits yet of the liberal ideas that guide U.S. foreign policy."—G. John Eikenberry for Foreign Affairs
Read the Foreign Affairs review: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/66339/david-ekbladh/the-great-american-mission-modernization-and-the-construction-of
"An extraordinarily important book. Ekbladh puts concepts of development and modernization at the heart of America's global expansion in the twentieth century and thereby helps us understand the forces that move U.S. foreign policy, both yesterday and today."—O. A. Westad, author of The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times
"A comprehensive history of developmentalism as it became increasingly central to U.S. foreign affairs in the twentieth century. The legacy is still with us, and anyone interested in finding out what may have happened to the 'American century' will find the book an excellent guide and a rich source of information and insights."—Akira Iriye, Harvard University
"Cogent and compelling. The Great American Mission illuminates for the first time how the central characteristics of America's modernization project in the Cold War came together in the prewar period. Carefully tracing ideas, institutions, and individuals from the Depression to the heyday of development, Ekbladh offers new insights into the distinctive components of American modernization efforts abroad.—David C. Engerman, Brandeis University
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Document Length: 404 pp.