AMERICA CONFRONTS A REVOLUTIONARY WORLD: 1776-1976 by William Appleman Williams

AMERICA CONFRONTS A REVOLUTIONARY WORLD: 1776-1976

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (1959) and Contours of American History (1961) established Williams as a leading revisionist historian, a radical within the discipline; in this simple, bold book he addresses his fellow-citizens--and not only his fellow-historians-as a revolutionary who would refound the Republic on the principles of the Articles of Confederation in order to restore the right to self-determination destroyed by the Constitution. Destroyed, says Williams, because it interfered with the sense of uniqueness, of mission, and of isolation (in Time and Space) that together drove us toward expansion--across the continent, abroad, ultimately to the moon. The result was opposition to the revolutions of others--from the French to the Russians--who defined self-determination differently; and equally to attempts at self-determination within the South, most notably, could not be allowed to go to hell in its own way--as Lincoln, in effect, answered Calhoun. Moving on to Wilson, Williams sees him as determined to ""do for the world what Lincoln had done for America."" Some few, however, reacted against Wilsonian expansionism--La Follette, Borah, in a special way Hoover--and their protest ""is a part of our Past that help us in creating our Future."" We must relearn self-deternination starting in our communities and still-separate states. Whether we can, indeed, invoke states' rights to transform corporations ""into instruments of community welfare"" as we once did to defend (noxious) slavery, is open to question. But the merits of Williams' diagnosis do not rest upon his proposed cure. He argues cogently, cites chapter and verse (from both primary sources and recent scholarship), and commands attention. As he remarks in praise of others, he opens minds.

Pub Date: June 18th, 1976
Publisher: Morrow