By: Wyatt Scott
Historian Christopher Lasch wrote “The Culture of Narcissism,” in which he explained that American culture is egocentric in its attempts at achieving hegemonic stability. When examining American foreign policy, scholars must rid themselves of biases and instead allow myriad theories, strategies, and models to explain the complexities of US foreign policy. Americans too often allow their warped sense of their own uniqueness and exceptionalism to drive foreign policy, making American foreign policy fundamentally narcissistic.
The sense of exceptionalism shared by Americans emanates from the country’s youth and uniqueness. European settlers inhabited what appeared to be a “virgin land” (Hixon 12), in terms of not just empty territory but also the absence of aristocracy and government. Seeking religious freedom and breaking away from the mercantilist governments of Europe, Europeans began to inhabit America. Thus, American exceptionalism is vested in egalitarianism, individualism and democracy. Americans narcissistically believe what Walter L. Hixon refers to as the ‘Myth of America.’ Hixon defines this myth by its emphasis on “America as a manly, racially superior, and providentially destined ‘beacon of liberty,’ a country which possesses a special right to exert its power in the world” (Hixon 10). Although exceptionalism feeds this myth, race and religion also feed the egotistical ‘myth of America’.
Much of American egocentricity is vested in racism, and the belief that Americans are racially superior has, on numerous occasions, steered foreign policy. America’s past is polluted with racism because it adapts to any circumstance involving US foreign policy. Examples of racism driving US foreign policy happened in early American history. The ethnic cleansing of Native Americans and the enslavement of African Americans allowed the evolution of capitalism, thus a more free world for white Americans. A more recent example, at Versailles in 1919, Japan offered a resolution for international racial equality. This resolution was absolutely necessary and passed by a majority, but American president Woodrow Wilson’s, “own personal views on the inferiority of other races, the powerful strains of racism running through his own nation, and the pressure applied by his Anglo-Saxon allies to thwart any attempt to introduce racial equality” (Krenn 19) caused him to squash the resolution. The racism that Americans exhibited throughout history embeds US foreign policy with narcissism.
In addition to racism, the belief that God favors America has often shaped US foreign policy. Hixon, for example, asserts that Americans believe their country is “providentially destined” (Hixon 10). Religious effects on US foreign policy are seen in the United States early desire for territorial expansion, known as Manifest Destiny. The American government engaged in boundless expansion fueled by the belief that it was God’s will. The United States, “expressed little doubt (and even less sympathy) when it came to the question of seizing Texas, the New Mexico territory, and California” (Krenn 18). Americans believed it was God’s will to expand, and, in this providential purpose, did so without hesitation.
Believing that God supported their expansion, Americans assumed that they were also destined to spread their culture and capitalism to the rest of the world. Using the implementation of western economics, the United States attempted to uplift primitive societies, which, in due course, led to cheaper labor and ultimately larger profits in American markets. It is narcissistic of America to impose its culture on cultures that “could ever hope to move beyond their stagnant, backward status” (Krenn 19). In Cuba and the Philippines, where the American flag flies, American culture was obligatory, cheap labor was abused, and the egocentrism of American foreign policy imposed itself on another culture. The economic core value of capitalism that embodies the American culture plays a narcissistic role in US foreign policy. American core values create a self-centered and egocentric image, which Melvyn P. Leffler argues, forms the American national security policy. Leffler states, “National security is about the protection of core values, that is, the identification of threats and the adoption of policies to protect core values” (Leffler 9). The Cold War offers an example of how the narcissism of the economic core value of capitalism influences US foreign policy. In seeking to protect American traditionalism, America attempted to contain communism. There was a fear that communism would diminish American capitalism and economic liberalism, which caused America to shield European countries from communism.
Not only did the US want to contain communism from itself, but also the developing world where the US preferred to implement economic liberalism. Narcissism again plays a role in US foreign policy, because replacing the spread of communism with economic liberalism breaks down economic barriers, ultimately allowing easier access to raw materials that are largely profitable in domestic markets. The United States’ egocentrism is vested in “the assumption of a hegemonic role over the world capitalist system” (Leffler 9). This assumption of power lead the US to assist the developing countries politically, economically, and militarily. Thus, the US implements its power to mold these developing countries into a mirror image. For example, after World War II the United States, “granted Liberia 1 million dollars and later insisted on reform in return for further US aid” (Herring 563). This approach can be described as “my way or the highway”, and narcissistic.
Clearly many examples demonstrate the idea that America’s narcissistic behavior that embodies its foreign policy, “but the operative framework in which they all fit is the story of American exceptionalism, with its missionary implications” (Leffler 10). Through racism, religion, and capitalism the American foreign policy is infested with narcissism. Narcissism stimulates the collective American ideology, which is represented in American foreign policy. As Lasch reminds his readers, “in a collective society, the narcissist is God’s gift to the world” (Christopher Lasch). This quotation embodies the narcissism of America, and the collective egocentric notion that is American foreign policy.
“Christopher Lasch Quotes.” BrainyQuote. Xplore, n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.
Merrill, Dennis, and Thomas G. Paterson. Major Problems in American Foreign Relations: Documents and Essays. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010. Print.
Herring, George C. From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776. New York: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.