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Projections concerning America's leadership or decline as a world power have failed to exorcise an intellectual demon long-associated with this nation's diplomatic heritage. Public officials and cognoscenti alike embrace an iron law of dualism, requiring one set of philosophical lenses for calculating the obligations a nation has to itself and another for determining the commitments it takes up in behalf of others. Removing "the debris of metaphysical dualism" in a post-cold war environment, as Irving Louis Horowitz notes in Ethics and International Affairs, entails ending the chasm that separates the two premises of policy making: one set of budgetary and allocation decisions for overseas needs, and another for domestic consumption. This self-serving dualism finds expression in the dichotomous positions defended by participants at foreign policy symposia: internationalism-isolationism; geopolitics-interdependence; realpolitik-idealpolitik; unipolar-multipolar.
A new and convincing rationale is needed for a unified view that builds common values into both the general welfare and the national interest. The rationale for doing so is not merely the result of growing interdependence or the emergence of new forms of "power politics" that fuel market forces. A compelling moral reason, bearing upon the character of American democracy, requires that external interests embolden internal purposes. In order to be worthy of our lasting sympathy, a nation must pursue its interests for the sake of a transcendent purpose that gives meaning to the day-by-day operations of its foreign policy. The moral integrity of the national interest--the intersection between internal purposes and external conduct--was the message from one of America's most important political thinkers of the twentieth century, Hans J. Morgenthau (1904-1980).
A refugee from Nazi Germany and professor of political science at the University of Chicago, Morgenthau was the leading advocate in America for political realism in politics and diplomacy. His primary foreign policy texts--Politics Among Nations, In Defense of the National Interest, and A New Foreign Policy for the United States--laid the foundations for a realist theory of international politics. Former Secretary of State George Shultz, following publication of the sixth edition of Politics Among Nations, wrote that this text "has provided a solid intellectual foundation for a generation of students of foreign policy." Stanley Hoffmann described Morgenthau's work, in a review of the new edition for The Atlantic Monthly in November 1985, as "a declaration of war on the legalistic and moralistic tradition that had prevailed in American foreign policy."
Yet, Morgenthau's first love had always been political philosophy and ethics. Too often neglected, though more enduring, are the works (notably Scientific Man vs. Power Politics, The Purpose of American Politics, and Truth and Power) in which he commemorates objective principles of politics rooted in man's moral and spiritual nature. With intellectual horizons deriving mote from the Greek tragic poets and the Hebrew prophets than from behavioral social science, Morgenthau pinpointed a fundamental error that has thwarted American thought and action in world politics--a presumed antithesis between the national interest and moral principles. "The choice," he wrote, "is not between moral principles and the national interest, devoid of moral dignity, but between one set of moral principles divorced from political reality, and another set of moral …