The Cold War Heresy of Robert Nisbet

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The great sociologist and historian Robert Nisbet offered these heretical observations of “Foreign Policy and the American Mind” at a unique moment in the bi-polar confrontation known as the Cold War. Nisbet was a prudential realist and his dispassionate (and often prophetic) assessment was disquieting to the national security elites (both liberal and conservative) of the day. Departing President Eisenhower had issued his powerful warning concerning the dangers of the military-industrial complex. The new president, John F. Kennedy, impatient to prove himself upon the world stage, had succumbed to the seductive allure and siren song of that very military and intelligence establishment, and foolishly committed himself to the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. The installation of Soviet offensive nuclear weapons as a reaction to the pre-emptive Cuban invasion and subsequent CIA Operation Mongoose covert operation campaign, as well as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the massive and murderous intervention in Southeast Asia lay in the immediate future.

My colleague who forwarded and made me aware of this long-lost gem of Nisbet opined:

“Nisbet’s 1961 article “Foreign Policy and the American Mind” provides a learned and thoughtful demolition of both the foreign policy of the Buckleyite “New Right” and the later neocons. It is interesting to note both what he got right (the pointlessness of applying Containment outside of Europe) and what he got wrong (nuclear proliferation.) His observation of massive warfare state growth during a period when Soviet expansion was essentially nil is something usually overlooked. His limited support of Containment in Western Europe and specifically after WW2 was not that different from (according to Wayne Cole) some Old Right WW2 anti-interventionists like Lindbergh and Senator Nye who backed early cold war measures. (They believed the interventionist damage had already been done in WW2 so a limited postwar period of intervention had been made necessary by earlier follies.) Robert Tucker, the 60s / 70s “neo-isolationist,” was similar and argued that a defensible but time limited Euro focused containment gave way to an American globalism in the early sixties. Tucker’s later analysis (early 1970s) and Nisbet’s analysis (early 1960s) strike me as aligned.”

12:13 pm on March 23, 2013