Joan Hoff, A Faustian Foreign Policy from Woodrow Wilson to George W. Bush: Dreams of Perfectability

Katherine Rietzler


Joan Hoff’s searing critique of American foreign policy from World War I to the War on Terror comes at a time when the Wilsonian legacy is attracting renewed interest. Different historians have chosen to emphasise different aspects of this legacy. Erez Manela has explored how antiimperialist intellectuals in Asia were empowered by the doctrine of self-determination during a global Wilsonian Moment, whereas David Kennedy has portrayed George W. Bush as Woodrow Wilson’s natural successor. Hoff, who has published widely on U.S. foreign relations and the American presidency, admits that a true characterisation of Wilsonian foreign policy is problematic. She resorts to a distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Wilsonianism: the former entails ‘spreading self-determination and free trade capitalism to the world through collective security arrangements’, while the latter indulges in unilateral interventionism. (10) In practice, this ambiguous inheritance has resulted in a unilateralist foreign policy tempered by occasional cooperation with other states.

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