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CIAO DATE: 05/03

In Search of Monsters to Destroy? On the Liberal American Security Paradox And a Republican Way Out

Vibeke Schou Pedersen

Copenhagen Peace Research Institute
July 2002

This article explores the dynamics between American modes of self-narration and patterns of foreign policy conduct. Pointing to the continual influence of the Puritan heritage and its notion of an exceptional American purpose, it joins with those who find American national identity a fabric articulated almost exclusively in what a choose to term a liberal and missionary vocabulary. In opposition to conventional assumption however, the article depicts exceptionalism and liberalism as highly contradictory ways of making -and making sense of - the world and America’s place within it. Furthermore, it shows how such contradictions have repeatedly defined a set of highly inflexible and ultimately destructive dilemmas in American foreign policy. Yet the article concludes, America need not repeat itself without end. Nor need its escape be found in a refusal of its intellectual legacy: Turning to the decisionalist and pragmatic outlook of the Republic’s founders, as well as to the vocabulary of American impulses presently echoing this, America may yeast from its past not only a more sophisticated alternative to rationalist liberalism, but also a way out of the liberal security-paradox.