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Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945–1960: The Soul of Containment
Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945–1960: The Soul of Containment
William Inboden III
Cambridge University Press, 2008
372 pp., 101.99

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Joseph Loconte

Political Theology

Religion and U.S. foreign policy in the first phase of the Cold War.

Renewed debate over the direction of U.S. foreign policy has focused on several contending schools of political thought: Wilsonian idealists, Kissinger realists, liberal interventionists, and the neo-conservatives. Though the debate is important in that it takes big ideas seriously, there is a hollow quality to much of it: a remarkable inattention to the role of religious belief in the formation and execution of public policy.

This problem has become institutionalized in our foreign policy enclaves. In college classrooms, textbooks such as American Foreign Policy Since World War II somehow manage to discuss the Cold War without mentioning the stark religious divide between atheistic communism and the American democratic creed. Henry Kissinger, the quintessential Cold War realist, produced an 800-page tome, Diplomacy, that fails to reference religion in its index. The U.S. State Department still functions largely as though the First Amendment precluded the promotion of America's greatest contribution to democratic government, namely, freedom of conscience and religion. It's as if the great forces moving the hearts of men and nations were indifferent to their deepest appetites and aspirations.

With the publication of William Inboden's Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945-1960: The Soul of Containment, the conventional, secular approach to political science and public policy seems conspicuously deficient. We learn, for example, that in early 1951 the State Department held a two-day conference with Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and other national figures to help the United States develop an "ideological offensive against international communism." This was the era of the Truman doctrine, the U.S. policy to contain Soviet communism, and the administration understood that a political theology defined the conflict between the two superpowers. That meant the government needed all hands on deck—yes, even the hands of ministers and theologians, of whatever faith. ...

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