Open Door Interpretation
Open Door Interpretation
William Appleman Williams
A significant number of historians and other commentators have viewed the Open Door Notes of 1899 and 1900 as the culmination of earlier attitudes, objectives, and policies, and as a coherent and decisive formulation of the major forces affecting American diplomacy during the century after 1865. But such people are too different (and too separated in time) to be jumbled together as a school. They are not, for example, defined by the ideological, institutional, personal, generational, and political affinities that characterized the Frankfurt School of Marxist sociologists that flourished from the 1930s through the 1960s and that produced a clearly defined body of analysis and interpretation. Hence, it is more helpful to speak of an Open Door interpretation of American foreign relations that has been advanced, from the 1890s to the present, by a disparate group of policymakers and politicians, bureaucrats, nonacademic intellectuals, and university and college teachers.
That odd assortment of people has nevertheless shared, however obliquely, the conviction that the Open Door policy is the keystone of twentieth-century American diplomacy. Elected policymakers, for example, as well as the bureaucrats they ushered into positions of influence, have used it as the intellectual vantage point from which to view and deal with the world. Such people have defined the policy as the touchstone of their dialogues—and confrontation—with the American public and other countries. The Open Door policy has been their idiom of thought, discourse, and action: it defines American perceptions and objectives, and hence, those who criticize or oppose the policy have been viewed as problems if not enemies. Germany was thus a troublemaker long before Adolf Hitler, Japan long before Hideki Tojo, and Russia long before Joseph Stalin.
Elihu Root and Henry L. Stimson operated within the framework of the Open Door policy when they served as secretaries of war, as well as during their tenures as secretaries of state. William Jennings Bryan thought within that framework prior to World War I just as surely as Charles Evans Hughes, Cordell Hull, and James S. Byrnes did in later years. And Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (and others) worked within the idiom that had been stated by President William McKinley even before Secretary of State John Hay announced it to the chancelleries and the publics of the world. The historian A. Whitney Griswold made the central point very neatly in his study The Far Eastern Policy of the United States (1938): "It is wrong, perhaps, to say that Hughes stole Wilson's thunder, for Wilson himself had stolen Hay's."
The contextual persuasiveness of the Open Door outlook among American bureaucrats becomes apparent during a routine survey of the volumes in the State Department's published record, as offered in its Bulletin and Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States. Indeed, the student grows weary of the references to the Open Door policy: he or she is inclined to consider it a meaningless ritual save for the seriousness with which it is repeatedly used to explain and justify American actions. Another kind of evidence is provided by the testimony (before congressional committees, as well as in memoirs) of such influential bureaucrats as William S. Culbertson, John Van Antwerp MacMurray, Joseph Clark Grew, and George F. Kennan.
Kennan, an influential foreign service officer and scholar, provides a particularly striking example of the power of the Weltanschauung of the Open Door. Writing as a historian in American Diplomacy: 1900–1950 (1951), he damned the Open Door policy (and its underlying outlook) as idealistic, moralistic, legalistic, unrealistic, and ineffective. But his own zealous proposal to contain, and thereby drastically change, the Soviet Union through the global deployment of American moral, economic, political, and military power was designed to realize the objectives of Secretary Hay's original notes: a world open to American ideals and influence. Kennan was initially proposing—whatever his later denials, caveats, and remorse—an exponential escalation of President McKinley's deployment of American power against the Boxer Rebellion in China.
Because China was the initial subject of the Open Door Notes, the early commentators focused their analyses of the policy upon its operation in Asia. While some observers (and participants) felt that the government ought to act more vigorously against what they considered to be the more restrictive policies of Japan, Russia, and Germany (and even China), they generally agreed that Secretary Hay's integration of moralism, ideology, political strategy, and economic expansion provided a definitive statement of the need and the wisdom of extending the area of Anglo-American freedom and enlarging the American marketplace without war. Even leading Populists, otherwise bitterly critical of the McKinley administration, admitted that the policy addressed the basic issues. The editors of the Prairie Farmer, for example, urged their readers in 1900 to elect expansionist politicians. And Wallace's Farmer was enthusiastic about the prospect of using "our moral advantage" to expand a "valuable" trade.
Three very different people—Brooks Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson—promptly placed the Open Door policy within a broader—and even more dynamic—intellectual context. Adams, the grandson of President John Quincy Adams (and the brother of Charles Francis and Henry Adams), was the most original—and eccentric—of that unusual group. He suffered from those differences in two ways: he never became famous, and his major idea became associated with another person.
From the late 1880s to the publication of The Law of Civilization and Decay in 1894, Adams developed an explanation of world civilization that defined westward expansion as the key to progress, prosperity, and culture. The centers of civilization had moved ever westward until, in the 1890s, the scepter was passing from Paris and London to New York. That meant to Adams that the United States, if it was to seize its hour, had to move westward across the Pacific to dominate Asia. Otherwise Russia or another country would become the next center of world power and civilization. Adams then published a series of magazine articles on foreign policy, collected in 1900 as America's Economic Supremacy, in which he praised Hay's Open Door Notes as a basic strategy for the United States and advocated a vigorous imperial policy—including the containment of Russia. In his view, Hay was "the only minister of foreign affairs in the whole world who grasped the situation."
Adams and his history-on-the-spot exerted a significant influence on Theodore Roosevelt (even though the latter did once remark that he thought Adams was "half-crazy"); but, in the larger arena, Adams lost out to the formulation of a similar idea offered by Frederick Jackson Turner. Adams was a disillusioned and acerbic Boston Brahmin writing history in the petulant frustration of having lost power, while Turner was an excited and romantic midwestern poet-historian who stirred the mind of the public. In December 1893, Turner offered "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," a dramatic reinterpretation of American history that explained the nation's democracy and prosperity in terms of westward expansion from Virginia and Boston to Oregon, Alaska, and Hawaii.
Turner was not as overtly imperial as Adams. He even seemed sometimes to imply that a native form of socialism was as appropriate to the end of continental frontier expansionism as overseas expansion into Asia and other regions. But his stress on past expansion, and his interpretation of the outward push from 1897 to 1901 as a natural continuation of the earlier rush across the continent, left his readers with the idea that the Open Door policy was the new frontier. Certainly Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson read that message in his essays and took that idea from their correspondence and conversations with him.
Roosevelt was primed for Turner by Adams (and by his romantic cowboy interludes in the Dakota Territory), and his role in acquiring the Philippines and Cuba completed this transformation into what a psychologist might call a true believer. American expansion was a crusade for the Open Door virtues of peace, democracy, and prosperity. Roosevelt was sometimes discouraged by the difficulties of implementing the outlook in the face of opposition by other nations, or by the reluctance of the public to support the measures he considered desirable; but his commitment to the Weltanschauung remained firm: "We advocate the 'open door' with all that it implies."
Not only did Roosevelt view the Open Door policy as the extension of the Monroe Doctrine to Asia; he moved in 1905–1906 to extend the policy to Africa. His discussions with Secretary of State Elihu Root led to one of the clearest expressions of the way in which the open door interpretation guided such policymakers. Seeking to prevent either France or Germany from establishing exclusive control over Morocco, Root advised American negotiators that "here, again, the 'open door' seems to be the sound policy to advocate." He then emphasized that it was vital "that the door, being open, shall lead to something; that the outside world shall benefit by assured opportunities, and that the Moroccan people shall be made in a measure fit and able to profit by the advantages of the proposed reform."
A very similar view was held and acted upon by President Wilson. During the late 1880s he had met and talked with Turner at Johns Hopkins University, and the results were impressive. As a historian and political scientist on his way to the White House, Wilson used Turner's frontier thesis to explain much of American history. "All I ever wrote on the subject," he once commented, "came from him." That remark qualifies as one of Wilson's unusual acts of intellectual generosity, and therefore mirrors his usual arrogance by giving Turner too much credit. Wilson was an idealistic missionary crusader on behalf of American virtues and economic supremacy in his own right, and added his particular insights to the American political system.
Even so, Wilson-as-historian leaned very heavily on Turner. "The days of glad expansion are gone, our life grows tense and difficult," he wrote in 1896 in explaining the crisis of the 1890s. Five years later, after Hay's Open Door Notes, he considered such expansion a "natural and wholesome impulse." "Who shall say," he added, "where it will end?" In 1902 he published the four-volume History of the American People, which made it clear that the historian-as-politician-as-would-be-world-leader viewed economic expansion as the frontier to replace the continent that had been occupied. A section in volume 5 (which reads like a close paraphrase of some essays written by Brooks Adams) recommended increased efficiency in government so that the United States "might command the economic fortunes of the world." He concluded his analysis by stressing the need for markets—markets "to which diplomacy, and if need be power, must make an open way."
Wilson classically revealed his involvement with the Open Door Weltanschauung during the 1915 confrontation with Japan over its Twenty-one Demands on China. He explained to Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan that the basic objective was "the maintenance of the policy of an open door to the world." Thereafter, Bryan periodically reminded various individuals and groups that the president's policy was to "open the doors of all the weaker countries to an invasion of American capital and enterprise." The principal importance of these and earlier quotations in this historiographical context lies not in revealing the policy per se but in suggesting how early policy-makers were intellectuals developing and applying an Open Door interpretation of American foreign relations.
Moreover, even before Wilson was elected, a few historians and political scientists had recognized the importance of the policy in that sense. Archibald C. Coolidge, for example, in The United States as a World Power (1908), called the Open Door outlook "one of the cardinal principles of American policy." John A. Hobson, the perceptive English liberal who initiated the critical Western study of imperialism (1902), was the first scholar to recognize the pervasive nature of the Open Door Weltanschauung. Viewing it as the key to American policy, and reacting with a favorable judgment, he argued in an essay in Towards a Lasting Peace (1916) that the policy and its underlying outlook provided the basis for lasting peace and prosperity.
That statement was almost a prediction, for in January 1918 President Wilson presented in his Fourteen Points a program that was clearly a product of the Open Door Weltanschauung. He not only used (consciously or unconsciously) phrases from Hay's original notes, but the encompassing idiom of what he called "the only possible program" for peace was clearly an Open Door view of the world. The historian-become-policymaker and the historian as analyst-turned-public-commentator had reached an unplanned consensus.
The ensuing debates over Wilson's program, and the causes of the war and American intervention, buried Hobson's insight. His approach was ignored and unexplored for many years; and even when it was revived, it was done without any overt recognition of his pioneering effort. That did not mean, however, that the Open Door policy and its underlying outlook were wholly neglected. But that is the essence of the historiographical question: the issue involved whether or not historians (and other commentators) recognized that the Open Door policy was in truth the expression of a broad understanding of America and its relation-ship with the world.
Defined more formally in philosophical terms, the problem concerned a choice between a Cartesian world and a Spinozan world. Most American historians who came to maturity between 1895 and 1950 were Cartesians; they accepted a world composed of discrete atomistic units, some of which sometimes interacted with each other much as various billiard balls hit this time one ball and next time another ball. This led to what came to be known as the interest-group approach: individual A or P, or association D or S, exerted a determining influence upon decision F or Z.
Such an approach produced in history, as it did in science, some stimulating—if limited—research and analysis. Thus, in Americans in Eastern Asia (1922), Tyler Dennett could perceive "the Reassertion of the Open Door Policy" during the McKinley administration, but within a few pages assert that it was all "a purely temporary expedient." But Alfred L. P. Dennis's "The Open Door in China," in his Adventures in American Diplomacy (1928), used Dennett to suggest the long-term development of a guiding outlook. He cited Dennett's summary of the situation in 1858: the United States "desired for its citizens an open door to trade." Then he, too, retreated to call it all "an expedient." Revealing the ambivalence of early postwar scholarship, Dennis next quoted a comment that reminds one of Root and Wilson: "The policy of the Open Door … is the one and only policy…. Neither is it any use keeping the door open without insuring that the room on the other side of the door is in order."
Dennett was at his best on the broader nature of the Open Door policy a few years later when, in John Hay: From Poetry to Politics (1933), he was the first historian to sense the role of Brooks Adams in developing a worldview that guided Hay and other policymakers. But the key figure of the interwar years was Charles Austin Beard. The magnificent study The Rise of American Civilization that he and Mary Ritter Beard first published in 1927 talked candidly about the turn-of-the-century expansion as "Imperial America," and they hinted at the development of an imperial Weltanschauung that was crystallized in the Open Door policy.
The Beards perceptively saw the origins of that outlook in Secretary of State William H. Seward's mid-nineteenth-century vision of a global American empire. Their description of the Open Door policy made the point that it integrated three elements—while "designed with real-istic and practical ends in mind, the policy of the open door also had a lofty moral flavor"—but they did not develop it as a Weltanschauung. They said nothing of Theodore Roosevelt's extension of the policy to Africa, for example, and barely mentioned it in dealing with the later diplomacy of Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes.
That curiously titillating performance can be explained by two considerations: the Beards were writing a sweeping essay rather than a study of foreign policy per se, and Charles Beard was in the process of modifying his theory of knowledge and causation. His early work was grounded in an orthodox scientific-atomistic conception of reality that led him into a sophisticated interest-group analysis of history and politics, as in The Economic Basis of Politics (1916) and An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution (1913). There is strong evidence, however, that even as those books were being published, Beard was turning away from his methodology. That became apparent between 1928 and 1937, when he wrote a great deal about the problem. Beard had referred to various German antipositivists as early as 1913, and their influence reappeared in The American Party Battle (1928), in which he discussed the weaknesses of his earlier theory. He then opened a direct confrontation with the issue in two books and an article in 1934: The Idea of National Interest, The Open Door at Home, and "Written History as an Act of Faith" (American Historical Review ).
Beard did not break completely free of the atomistic, interest-group theory of reality in The Idea of National Interest, but he did place the conflict between urban and agrarian interests in a much broader context. He spoke most directly about the question near the end of the book, remarking that the danger of the atomistic, Cartesian view of the world was in "limiting the under-standing of the whole." That enriched the meaning of his earlier references to such intellectual heirs of Spinoza as Georg Wilhelm Hegel, Karl Marx, Max Weber, Frederich Meinecke, Karl Huessi, Karl Mannheim, Wilhelm Dilthey—and even Albert Schweitzer.
The issue was the ongoing dialogue between Descartes and Spinoza: the discrete, atomistic conception of reality versus the view that all things are related to each other. Given the American intellectual environment of those years, Beard was engaged in a lonely, courageous, and difficult task of reexamining his Weltanschauung in his middle years (see Lloyd Sorenson, "Charles Beard and German Historiographical Thought," Mississippi Valley Historical Review [September 1955]). He did not, however, develop and use the new approach in a rigorous manner. The results can be seen in The Discussion of Human Affairs (1936), "Currents of Thought in Historiography" (American Historical Review [April 1937]), and The American Spirit (1942).
Instead, Beard veered off into a quasi-biographical approach, interpreting foreign policy after 1934 as largely the result of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's power drive and inability to deal with the domestic crisis. Those books, American Foreign Policy in the Making, 1932–1940 (1946) and President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War (1948), raised troublesome questions, but Beard's personalizing of policy neglected broader issues. Hence, his methodological explorations were ultimately developed by others who returned to Beard after they had come to the concept of an Open Door Weltanschauung along different lines.
In the meantime, however, the study of the Open Door policy was dominated by A. Whitney Griswold's The Far Eastern Policy of the United States (1938). Sensing that the Open Door was more than just a policy, he offered, for example, the suggestion that President Wilson and Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes had transformed Hay's notes into a way of perceiving and thinking about foreign relations, and indicated that Cordell Hull's dedication to that outlook had more than a little to do with the subsequent confrontations with Germany and Japan. But all he said explicitly was that the Open Door was a "time honored American principle."
The concept of a principle emerging from the pragmatic needs and demands of various interest groups, and then becoming a Weltanschauung, was the analytical and interpretive tool that Beard had tried to forge between 1925 and 1935. Although they did not reveal his consciousness of purpose, three historians did advance that work during the decade after Griswold. Fred Harvey Harrington was the most intelligent and sophisticated interest-group historian of his generation, and if he had remained a historian, he would probably have gone beyond Beard in the application of a more subtle methodology. Harrington, along with William Best Hesseltine, his friend and colleague at the University of Wisconsin, had a genius for integrating biography and policy in a way that implicitly transcended interest-group analysis.
Harrington's study of American policy in Korea, God, Mammon, and the Japanese (1944), culminated in a three-page passage that implicitly revealed the broad outlook of Theodore Roosevelt and other early architects of the Open Door Weltanschauung. Sylvester K. Stevens provided a related approach in American Expansion in Hawaii, 1842–1898 (1945). A third book, Edward H. Zabriskie's American-Russian Rivalry in the Far East, 1895–1914 (1946), displayed the post-Beardian ambivalence in American historiography. Zabriskie (like Harrington) placed the protagonists in a broad framework and even suggested that they operated within an encompassing overview, but he never delineated that outlook.
At the end of the war, therefore, Beard's methodological explorations had neither been exploited directly nor reinforced by parallel investigations. The account of what happened next is complicated, as with all intellectual history, but the essentials are reasonably clear. To speak in the idiom of nuclear physics, a highly charged field was penetrated by highly charged particles. The environment was defined primarily by the history department of the University of Wisconsin: a great tradition was reinvigorated by the stimulating and contrasting minds of such scholars as Paul Knaplund, Paul Farmer, Robert Reynolds, and Gaines Post in European history, and Merrill Jensen, Hesseltine, and Harrington in American history. But other scholars in related fields, such as Hans Gerth in sociology and Frederick J. Hoffman in literature, were also a vital part of the ensuing nuclear reaction that was triggered by the arrival in 1946–1947 of hundreds of excited and hungry veterans who wanted to become excellent historians.
An unusually large number of them achieved that objective during the next four years and went on to make important contributions in every field of American history. The major elements involved in the part of that process that produced what came to be known as the Open Door interpretation can be defined as follows: the ongoing intellectual interaction among the professors, among the students, and between those groups; the broad training in European as well as in American history, and in related disciplines; and the particular genius of Harrington. Thus, what emerged is best understood as the result of a true community that flowered for most of two decades.
The story can be told through focus on William Appleman Williams, although he explicitly insists that the result was a communal product and, furthermore, that it involved the work of scholars who are not usually identified as part of the Wisconsin School of diplomatic history. Given his exposure to the history faculty, the vital elements in Williams's development were his previous training in mathematics and science and his work with Gerth. Gerth gave Williams a broad knowledge of the methodology of Weltanschauung (including the serious study of Marx) and helped him to begin developing it as a tool for the study of foreign relations. Williams thus came to Beard twice: first as a beginning graduate student who read him as an interest-group historian and later, educated by Gerth, viewing him as a man struggling briefly with the concept of Weltanschauung.
Williams first experimented with that methodology in American-Russian Relations, 1784–1947 (1952), as in his discussion of the influence of Brooks Adams; but he was not fully in command of the approach, and the effort to open the orthodox form of the monograph to include such analysis posed severe additional difficulties. The next phase of his work cannot be fully understood outside his friendship with Charles Vevier, a fellow student in Harrington's seminar, for they often did primary research together over the next three years and exchanged notes and ideas on a regular basis. Vevier's The United States and China, 1906–1913 (1955) interpreted the specific events of those years within the broad framework of a knowing effort by decision makers to act upon the Open Door view of the world.
Also in 1955, Williams provided a clear example of how he was developing and using the concept of Weltanschauung in his study of the way that Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis and John Hay's Open Door Notes were related parts of the same overview ("The Frontier Thesis and American Foreign Policy," Pacific Historical Review [November 1955]). He next used the methodology in dealing with contemporary foreign policy ("The American Century: 1941–1957," Nation [November 1957]) and in offering a broad analysis of the revolutionary and early national period ("The Age of Mercantilism: An Interpretation of the American Political Economy," William and Mary Quarterly [October 1958]).
Shortly after he returned to Wisconsin as a member of the faculty, Williams published The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (1959), an interpretive essay on twentieth-century foreign policy. Although it came to be viewed rather narrowly as the basis for the "Open Door interpretation," and as a critique of policy after 1944, the book actually dealt with the development of a Weltanschauung through the interaction and integration of ideas, interest-group pressures, and the dynamic processes of marketplace capitalism. That more complicated nature of the approach was shortly underscored by Verier, just before he left history to help build the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. His "American Continentalism: An Idea of Expansion, 1845–1910" (American Historical Review [January 1960]) was a subtle interpretation of the shift from continental conquest to overseas expansion.
As Williams has repeatedly pointed out, he and others working in the idiom of an Open Door Weltanschauung learned much from other scholars who favored a different approach. Charles C. Campbell's Special Business Interests and the Open Door Policy (1951), for example, made it clear that the Open Door policy was an idea—and an ideal—that embraced the practical demands of many different groups. And Paul Schroeder's early and perceptive The Axis Alliance and Japanese-American Relations (1958) remains a revealing analysis of the way that Secretary of State Cordell Hull's intense commitment to the Open Door out-look defined the ultimately violent confrontation with Japan.
Williams continued his own work in The Contours of American History (1961), a broad interpretation of American history based on the argument that the United States has developed under three major worldviews, and in The Roots of the Modern American Empire (1969), an effort to provide a quasi-monographic history of how one Weltanschauung matures and then infuses and influences its successor. But the methodology and the interpretation took on lives of their own as the people who participated in Williams's seminar at Wisconsin began to produce their own articles and books.
As a teacher, Williams was graced with an unusual number of exceptional students, the legacy of the department's preeminence during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Perhaps his most important contribution was to give them their heads, to encourage them to explore the great resources of the university faculty, and to push them to realize the very best that was within themselves. The way that some of them received and used his version of the methodological tool of Weltanschauung makes the point. Martin J. Sklar, for example, produced the striking essay "Woodrow Wilson and the Political Economy of Modern United States Liberalism" (Studies on the Left ). And James Weinstein, one of Richard Hofstadter's most perceptive students, who entered and was influenced by the Wisconsin milieu, wrote the excellent The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State, 1900–1968 (1968).
If Williams had operated more traditionally, directing and controlling his seminar in a narrow and orthodox manner, then the subsequent professional discussion (and gossip) about a "Wisconsin School" would have more substance. As it happened, however, the students—and their students—went their own ways. One need only consider the impressive trio who worked with Harrington as well as Williams. Walter LaFeber's first book, The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 1860–1898 (1963), dealt with intellectuals (and other ideamongers) more as an interest group than as craftsmen of a Weltanschauung. In a later study, America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945–1960 (1967), he further refined that process. But one of his students, David Green (The Containment of Latin America ), did more in the way of using a worldview to explain a regional policy.
Thomas J. McCormick offered an imaginative marriage, so to speak, of Harrington and Williams in an exquisite study, China Market: America's Quest for Informal Empire, 1893–1901 (1967). McCormick was deceptively empirical, for while his pages were filled with facts that no one else had uncovered, and his style was almost arid, he nevertheless constructed an account of how an expansionist Weltanschauung (in his own idiom, "informal empire") came into being at the turn of the century.
Lloyd C. Gardner's initial study, Economic Aspects of New Deal Diplomacy (1964), seemed more interest-group-oriented than it was: his climactic chapter, "Restoring an Open World," made the point about the power of Secretary of State Hull's worldview with an almost fey sense of humor. He quoted Harry Hopkins telling President Roosevelt that Prime Minister Churchill ought to be "disabuse[d]" of the idea that Hull's persistence about the Open Door policy was only "a pet hobby." In a later and unusually sophisticated volume, Architects of Illusion: Men and Ideas in American Foreign Policy, 1941–1949 (1970), Gardner transcended Beard by using the intellectual biography to explain the development of a worldview shared by many top policymakers. Gardner's students used that approach with great effectiveness in dealing with the various aspects of the origins of the outlook and its later manifestations.
The ahistorical mistake involved in personalizing the Open Door interpretation—and the methodology of Spinoza, Marx, and Dilthey—around Williams is revealed in the work of many other historians. Robert Freeman Smith, for example, demonstrated in What Happened in Cuba (1963) that Harrington produced many students who moved beyond the interest-group methodology. And Stephen E. Ambrose made it clear, in Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy, 1938–1970 (1971), that Hesseltine was a key figure in that milieu.
Finally, the approach also attracted younger European historians who knew independently, and perhaps better, the philosophical roots in Spinoza, Marx, Dilthey, George Lukacs, and the Frankfurt School. Perhaps the most stimulating work has been done by Hans-Ulrich Wehler, as in Der Aufsteig des amerikanischen Imperialismus (1974). With enviable finesse he treats the process through which interests, problems, and ideas produce a Weltanschauung.
Given their variations on a theme, and their energy, it is not surprising that the protagonists of the Open Door interpretation have provoked much comment. Many of those who have responded favorably, however, have been as inattentive to the essentials of the methodology as have the critics—who have also overemphasized the influence of Williams and who have not differentiated and discussed the primary issues. An excellent example of the latter failure is provided by Arthur S. Link's commentary (in The Higher Realism of Woodrow Wilson and Other Essays ) on Carl P. Parrini's Heir to Empire: United States Diplomacy, 1916–1923 (1969).
Link acknowledges that Parrini (a member of the Williams seminar) is correct in arguing that Wilson advocated Open Door expansionism, but then comments that Wilson's motives were the best—"the slow and steady improvement of mankind through the spread of a reformed and socially responsible democratic capitalism." Link not only misses the integration of economic and idealistic elements in Wilson's outlook that is stressed by Williams, Sklar, and Parrini, but further confuses their description and analysis of the consequences of that worldview with the attribution of evil motives to Wilson. He also fails to credit Wilson, his own hero, with being a perceptive capitalist who understood the system's need for imperial expansion.
A few scholars have discussed the issues with greater insight and balance. Warren F. Kimball's "The Cold War Warmed Over" (American Historical Review [October 1974]) ranges far beyond his announced subject. And Joan Hoff Wilson's exploration of the subject in Ideology and Economics: United States Relations with the Soviet Union, 1918–1933 (1974) is an example of her discerning insight into the primary problems of post-Beardian historiography. Such keen commentary underscores the judgment of Melvyn Leffler in "The Origins of Republican War Debt Policy, 1921–1923: A Case Study in the Applicability of the Open Door Interpretation" (Journal of American History [December 1972]). Williams and other advocates of his approach have "compelled all diplomatic historians to grapple with a complex set of criteria that heretofore had been frequently minimized."
See also Continental Expansion; Imperialism; Open Door Policy; Wilsonianism; Wilsonian Missionary Diplomacy.
WILLIAM APPLEMAN WILLIAMS
"Williams displayed great intellectual courage. Reflecting on the prerequisites for achieving individual or collective change, at least in our understanding of the world but also ideally in our actions to change it. Williams liked to pair 'intelligence and courage.' … His own record of intellectual courage is more complicated than it appears at first glance. Clearly he risked—and received—much criticism for challenging the intellectual orthodoxies of the 1950s, including what is usually called 'consensus' history. … Yet Williams was also intelligent and coura geous enough to look beyond radical cant. …
"When attempting to categorize Williams as a critic of U.S. foreign policy, it is easiest to say what he was not. He was not a Wilsonian. Since Wilsonians have dominated discussion of foreign policy since World War II, this stance left Williams vulnerable to another epithet.
Because he dissented from the Wilsonian 'imperialism of idealism,' he was stigmatized as an isolationist economic determinist and conspiracy theorist.
"Williams's relationship to what is usually called 'isolationism' is very complex. One of his greatest contributions was to deny over and over and over again that the United States was an isolationist nation until world power was thrust upon it in 1898 or 1917 or 1941 or 1945. On the contrary, the United States was expansionist from the outset, and the British, Spanish, French, Mexicans, and Native Americans certainly did not think the country isolationist. … Unfortunately, Wilsonian diplomatic historians, pundits, and officials still seem to think that the continent was more or less empty at the end of the eighteenth century and destined to be absorbed by the small country on the Atlantic coast (though, less candid than their forebears, they shun the term 'Manifest Destiny'). Accordingly, they presume that significant foreign policy only began in fits and starts during the 1890s.
"While repeatedly repudiating two centuries of American expansionism, Williams also criticized the United States for trying to be a 'world unto itself.' In his view, the internationalists' definition of internationalism was narrow and self-serving. They continually offered and often forced American solutions onto other nations yet only rarely acknowledged that the United States could learn lessons from abroad. This provincial internationalism was neither intelligent nor courageous."
—From Leo P. Ribuffo, "What Is Still Living in the Ideas and Example of William Appleman Williams? A Comment," Diplomatic History 25, no. 2 (spring 2001): 310, 312–313—