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Charles R. Crane and Wilsonian Progressivism


Zacharie Leclair

This book presents a study of the career of Charles R. Crane, a central player in President Woodrow Wilson’s entourage. In the wake of the U.S. intervention in the Great War, Crane participated in important diplomatic and fact-finding missions. Leclair follows Crane through revolutionary Russia and on the Western front, in the emerging countries born out of the Ottoman Empire, and then in postwar China. In the process, Leclair’s book offers original insights into some of the major domestic and international decisions that define Wilson’s presidency and its legacy in the history of the United States and of international relations, most notably Wilson’s motivation and effort to bring about a new world order under American political and moral leadership. Leclair convincingly portrays Crane as a proponent of the principle of self-determination –one, indeed, whose aversion to colonialism predated Wilson’s international vision as formulated in his Fourteen Points. While a convergence of reform interest and humanitarian concerns brought Crane and Wilson together on some of the most complex issues of the time, Crane’s vision –propelled by a genuine philanthropic commitment—adds substance to what has largely been derided as empty Wilsonian idealism. The thematic structure of this book, the quality of its narration, and the wealth of information it contains, are added elements that make it an excellent contribution to the field of U.S. history. It could be used as a an assigned reading in college or university courses, especially in advanced American history, American Political thought and international relations courses.

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As is the case with many historians, the direction taken by my research and analysis at the start of my university career was shaped by one defining event. I had just started my B.A. in history at the Université de Montréal in 2001 when two planes collided with the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York and a third crashed into the Pentagon, destroying these prime symbols and instruments of America’s economic and military supremacy. The American government quickly declared a “war on terrorism” and justified it with a renewed wave of puritanical rhetoric inherited from the “republican revolution” in the mid 1990s. Beyond feeling compassion for the shocking images of the September 11 attacks, however, the world also acknowledged how, with its arrogant hegemony, the American empire had certainly brought upon itself the condemnation of those who had been left behind among the nations.

The contrast between the unilateral conservatism (“neither isolationist nor arrogant”) of President Bush’s foreign policy during his presidential campaign in 2000 and his simultaneously religious and belligerent language after the event demonstrates the importance of the tragedy that took place on September 11. Yet the efficiency of his tone, confirmed by his dramatic increase in popularity since the invasion of Afghanistan, suggests that this moralistic approach to foreign policy, coupled with a clear desire for security, struck a ← vii | viii → chord in the American population. The success of this neo-Puritan rhetoric in the United States, for its part, can...

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