What defines the contours of left and right in our foreign policy debate? The intra-Protestant religious controversies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century have played a larger role than is often recognized. The foreign policy debate was part and parcel of the struggle between modernists and fundamentalists, a struggle that came to a head in the 1920s with the Scopes Monkey Trial. The controversy over Darwinism was much more than a fight over the teaching of biology: it was a clash between two cosmologies, two rival understandings of human nature, the proper relationship between state and society, and the direction of history. It was also a clash over the character of America, and its role in the world.
Before the election of President John F. Kennedy, the American elite—political, economic, and cultural—was overwhelmingly Protestant. Since 1960, however, American society has become ever more multi-ethnic and multi-religious, while the general culture has become thoroughly non-religious. But even though post-Protestant America has developed amnesia regarding the openly theological controversies that once drove the national debate, our cultural categories have retained the shape and the intensity of their Protestant origins.
Such is saliently the case, with respect to the debate over Zionism. How you feel about Israel indicates how you feel about America: are we an exceptional country, or just another nation among many nations? It reveals your attitudes about our domestic arena, and how we should influence others abroad.
Michael Doran is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. He specializes in Middle East security issues. Before coming to Hudson, Doran was a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He has also held teaching positions at NYU, Princeton, and the University of Central Florida. He is the author of Pan-Arabism before Nasser, which analyzes the first Arab-Israeli war as an inter-Arab conflict, and most recently, Ike's Gamble: America’s Rise to Dominance in the Middle East. He appears frequently on television, and has published extensively in Foreign Affairs, The American Interest, Commentary, Mosaic Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.
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