Wondrous Chasm between Jacksonianism and Progressivism? Response to Michael Doran’s “The Theology of Foreign Policy” in First Things
This week Providence is publishing a series of responses to our friend Mike Doran’s stimulating essay “The Theology of Foreign Policy,” which appears in the May issue of First Things. Other responses include Mark Tooley’s “Part 1: Protestant Roots of US Foreign Policy Divisions,” Marc LiVecche’s “Cattle, Pigs & Skunks (O My!): A Brief Reflection on the Religious Foreign Policy Persuasion,” and Samuel Goldman’s “Protestant Rivalries and American Foreign Policy.”
Toward the end of his piece, Michael Doran asks for the indulgence of the audience as he stands in wonder at the deep canyon separating two theological positions with regard to American foreign policy—the “Jacksonian and Progressive persuasions.” Doran writes intelligently and persuasively about these two positions, broadly represented by fundamentalism and modernism. Jacksonianism and Progressivism date back to the nineteenth century, and their respective advocates have been grappling with one another for supremacy throughout the twentieth century. Doran’s thesis is that theology continues to manifest itself in contemporary American foreign policy despite the vast breadth of secularization since the 1960s, and Progressivism has emerged from the conflict and taken on normative status.
There is much appeal to Doran’s thesis. And his closing observation, that Progressivism’s (ostensibly non-theological) theological commitments are regarded as unassailable, seems obvious. Still, while there is enormous merit to Doran’s binary and overall thesis, there are some complicating factors that obscure the “wondrous chasm” between Jacksonianism and Progressivism. Addressing such complicating factors is needed for Doran to further define the boundaries between the two persuasions and thus strengthen his argument.
First, consider the Jacksonian persuasion. As Doran correctly emphasizes, Andrew Jackson was a commoner, arguably the first commoner to ascend to the presidency. And as a commoner, he did represent a turn toward the interests of the common folk as represented by his assault on the Second Bank of the United States (BUS). Furthermore, Jackson did accept the old Puritan model of American covenantalism and exceptionalism, in which God would bless the nation as long as the nation fulfilled its duty to God and thus existed as an exception to the normative historical rule of national rise and decline.
Notwithstanding these key components of Jacksonian religious nationalism, the conclusion that Old Hickory and his advocates held to a passive defense of freedom until threatened does not seem sustainable. Jackson represented the commoner, but as Sam Haselby has recently argued in his book The Origins of Religious Nationalism (Oxford, 2015), Jackson also represented the consolidating nationalism advanced by interests in the Protestant Northeast. Jackson’s dual allegiance is seen both in his battle with the Second BUS and also in his conquest of Florida in the First Seminole War (1816-1819) and the expulsion of Native Americans after the Indian Removal Act of 1830, making room for white settlement in native territories in the South. Any understanding of Jackson’s brand of nationalism and foreign policy must take into consideration his specific method of territorial expansion. Contrasted with Jefferson, whose method was purchase, Jackson’s method was conquest.
Also, Jackson’s advocates in the Democratic Party like John L. O’Sullivan were not arguing that Americans were only to guard their freedom until threatened. O’Sullivan, the long-winded and melodramatic editor of the United States Magazine and Democratic Review from 1837 to 1846, is perhaps most famous for coining the term “manifest destiny” in two articles he wrote regarding Texas annexation in 1845. The Democratic Review was a powerful Jacksonian outlet leading up to the Mexican-American War of 1846–48. He continually prophesied that the United States would one day control all of the territory beyond the Mississippi to the Pacific, and likely Canada and Mexico, too. But in an 1841 article farcically entitled “Hurrah for a War with England!,” the United States must win these sovereign nations, not by force, but by persuasion and example. To conquer them by force would be hypocritical—but their conquest was inevitable to O’Sullivan!
Doran might consider these dynamics that exist in his formulation of the Jacksonian persuasion. There are further complications to his formulation of the Progressive persuasion, especially with regard to John Foster Dulles, secretary of state in the Eisenhower administration from 1953 to 1959.
Dulles fits Doran’s description as a representative of the Progressive persuasion in several key respects. For example, Dulles was a major proponent of international cooperation, peacemaking, divine commission, the indispensability of the church in foreign policy formation, and the emphasis of pragmatism over doctrine in Christianity. Dulles was the chairman of the Federal Council of Churches’ Commission to Study the Bases of a Just and Durable Peace from 1940 to 1946. Under his leadership, the Commission crafted its vision articulated in the “Six Pillars of Peace” in 1943, which was important in the later formation of the United Nations. Dulles was the most powerful Presbyterian layperson from 1949, when he attended the Council of Foreign Ministers in Paris, until his death just months after cancer forced him to retire from the State Department in 1959.
But Dulles bucks Doran’s Progressivist system in one principal aspect—he was not consistently anti-Zionist. True, he had anti-Zionist sympathies prior to becoming secretary of state. He was a member of the anti-Zionist Holy Land Emergency Liaison Program, which was connected with the American Council for Judaism. But as Samuel Goldman observes in his God’s Country: Christian Zionism in America, he resigned from this group by 1952 because “it was too critical of Israel.”
Dulles was arguably not anti-Zionist. At the very least, Dulles pursued a policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflicts during his tenure at State in terms of “friendly impartiality,”[i] as he said to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February 1956. Even more explicitly, though, the Republican presidential platform of 1952, which Dulles endorsed, called for “peace between Israel and the Arab states” but also “a national home for the Jewish people.”[ii]
In his statement to the Foreign Relations Committee, Dulles proposed the sending of non-military aid specifically to Israel, and also said that “the United States does not exclude the possibility of arms sales to Israel at a time when it will preserve the peace.”[iii] By July 1956, the State Department announced an aid package of $3.5 million for “scientific and humanitarian projects in that country.”[iv] All this was to shore up Israeli security in the face of alienation with Egypt after the Suez Crisis, in an effort to undermine Soviet designs on the Middle East. As ever, Dulles’ commitment to Israel, which became more explicit after the 1956 Suez Crisis, was practical rather than doctrinal.
Doran brings up the anti-Zionist CIA front group, the American Friends of the Middle East (AFME), in his essay. He is right to point out its activism against the state of Israel, particularly in the Congress as it sought to undermine Israel even after President Truman recognized it (whose Zionist bona fides might themselves be questioned, given his support of the Bernadotte Plan, which called for the partition of Israel after its May 1948 declaration of independence). And it is true that several figures close to Dulles were either actively involved in the AFME or were closely associated with it. William Eddy was a supporter of the AFME, but so was Kim Roosevelt, a grandson of Theodore Roosevelt with close ties to Allen Dulles from their time in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and later the CIA. Perhaps most pertinent to Foster Dulles was the fact that Edward L. R. Elson, pastor of the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, of which Foster and his wife Janet were affiliate members, became a member of the board of the AFME in 1954.
Elson wrote to Dulles frequently, sending him copies of sermons, inviting him to special services (always making sure to reserve the pew occupied by his famous grandfather and uncle, who were also secretaries of state), and asking him to serve on various church councils and committees. Elson wrote with a consistently flattering tone, for example, praising him for things like “how superlatively I believe you are handling the responsibilities of your high office.”[v] He also regularly exerted pressure on Dulles to tack toward the AFME and its agenda, especially from 1955 to 1957. Dulles was not swayed by Elson’s overtures, but consistently and politely resisted his pastor with regard to the AFME. For example, in 1957, Cornelius Engert and Elson, both members of the AFME board, invited Dulles to a special dinner, from which Dulles begged off specifically because his staff advised him that “the organization is a partisan Arab group.” In early 1958, Elson made a point to ask Dulles to make a special stop in Cairo while he was on his way to attend a Baghdad Pact meeting in Tehran. Elson thought it would be important for Dulles to cultivate “a better working relationship between the Egyptian Government and the United States.” Furthermore, Elson wrote that “some of our real and trusted friends would be greatly encouraged by your personal appearance in Cairo.”[vi] Dulles rebuffed Elson, concerned that visiting Cairo would encourage Gamal Abdel Nasser, President of Egypt, to perceive such a visit as weakness. In fact, each time Elson brought up issues pertaining to the Middle East in his correspondence with Dulles, the secretary either rejected his proposals or ignored him. It appears from the evidence then, that far from exerting anti-Zionist influence on Dulles as an AFME board member, Elson had little tangible influence on Dulles.
These complicating factors do not necessarily undermine Doran’s overall argument in his thoughtful piece. But they do stand in opposition to a simple theological binary conflict in American history. Policing up some of these important historical realities would lend further credibility to Doran’s project.
John D. Wilsey is Associate Professor of Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is 2017–18 William E. Simon Visiting Fellow at the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He is writing a biography of John Foster Dulles for Eerdmans’ Library of Religious Biography series.
Photo Credit: A bust of the Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the United States, at the National Portrait Gallery. By Phil Roeder, via Flickr.
[i] JFD Statement Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, February 24, 1956; John Foster Dulles Papers, Box 104, Reel 40; Public Policy Papers, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.
[ii] Bernard Katzen to Roderic O’Connor, October 21, 1954; John Foster Dulles Papers, Box 82, Reel 32; Public Policy Papers, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.
[iii] JFD Statement Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, February 24, 1956.
[iv] Cultural and Scientific Aid to Israel, July 17, 1956; John Foster Dulles Papers, Box 104, Reel 40; Public Policy Papers, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.
[v] Edward L. R. Elson to John Foster Dulles, September 30, 1953; John Foster Dulles Papers, Box 69, Reel 25; Public Policy Papers, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.
[vi] Edward L. R. Elson to John Foster Dulles, January 3, 1958; John Foster Dulles Papers, Box 128, Reel 50; Public Policy Papers, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.