Furthest Right

American Political Theology (Nikolai von Kreitor)

“It is an apparent paradox of history how a particular (and particularly powerful ) nationalism constitutes itself not only as prophetic but also universal, 
crystallizing itself in numerous acts of aggrandizement or interventionism.”
Anders Stephenson*   

 The prominent German jurist Carl Schmitt has characterized the ideology of American imperialism and expansionism as political theology, at the same time totalitarian, dogmatic and pseudo universalistic, equating with the zeal and fervor of a Torquemada the particular national  interests of the United States with the interests of mankind. For him the Wilsonian universalism,  in which confluence  the American  doctrines of  hegemony and expansionism – the Manifest Destiny Doctrine, the Monroe Doctrine and the “open door”  policy, is the most successful  totalitarian ideology  in modern history.
Hans Morgenthau notes that universalism is an ideology that serves the need of imperialism and expansionism. Expansionism is always in opposition to prevailing international order and existing status quo. Expansionism must prove that the status quo which it seeks to overthrow deserves to be overthrown and that the moral legitimacy which in the minds of many attaches to things as they are ought to yield to a higher principle of morality calling for a new distribution of power.(1) “In so far as the typical ideologies of imperialism make use of legal concepts , they cannot well refer to positive international law, that is, to international law as it actually is. In the domain of law it is the doctrine of natural law, that is , of the law as it ought to be, which fits the ideological needs of imperialism…When the expansionist imperialistic policy is not directed against a particular status quo resulting from a lost war, but grows from a power vacuum inviting conquest , moral ideologies which make it an unavoidable duty to conquer take the place of the appeal to a just natural law against an unjust positive law”. (2)



The main objective of the ideology of imperialism is to identify the political aspirations of a particular nation with the moral laws that govern the universe, i.e. a specifically Anglo-Saxon ideology to clothe particular aspirations and actions in the moral purposes of the universe, an ideology originated by Great Britain, but perfected and absolutized by the United States. “To know that nations are subject to the moral law is one thing, while to pretend to know with certainty what is good and evil in the relations among nations is quite another. There is a world of difference between the belief that all nations stand under the judgment of God, inscrutable to the human mind, and the blasphemous conviction that God is always on one’s side and that what one wills oneself cannot fail to be willed by God also.”(3)
A school example of such blasphemy is probably President McKinley’s assertion that the annexation of the Philippines (and the subsequent mass murder of civilians) was a sign of divine providence, that it was undertaken after the president received a Providential sign. Admiral Dewey claimed that the conquest of the Philippines was a token of divine approval.” I should say that the hand of God was in it”(4)
The arguments for the conquest of the Philippines centered on to religious themes. ”those themes were expressed in the words Duty and Destiny. According to the first , to reject annexation of the Philippines would be to fail of  fulfilling a solemn obligation. According to the second, annexation of the Philippines in particular and expansion generally were inevitable and irresistible”(5) , American imperial expansionism was a Manifest Destiny under a Providential sign. The Calvinist Doctrine became a ideological weapon for war of aggression and expansionism. “The quick victories won by American arms strengthened the psychological positions of the imperialists. The feeling that one may be of wrongdoing can be heightened when the questionable act is followed by adversity. Conversely, it may be minimized by the successful execution of a venture. Misfortune is construed as Providential punishment; but success, as in the Calvinist scheme, is taken as an outward sign of an inward state of grace…’Duty’, said President McKinley, ’determines destiny’. While duty meant that we had a moral obligation, Destiny meant that we would certainly fulfill it, that the capacity to fulfill it was inherent in us. Ours had been a continuous history of expansion; it had always succeeded before, therefore it was certain to succeed in the future. Expansion was a national and ’racial’ inheritance, a deep and irresistible inner necessity…Providence has been so indulgent to us, by giving us so richly of success, that we would be sinful if we did not accept the responsibilities it has asked us to assume.”(6)
The American imperialism developed a powerful theology of  chosennes. The American idea of providential or historical chosenness, inherent in the Manifest Destiny Doctrine, fused God and geopolitics and gave “legitimacy” for conquest and expansionism. 


The moral and religious gobbledygook of  the Doctrine of Manifest Destiny, so typically American in its profound primitivism, is easy to dismiss as an ideological rubbish. And yet, this repugnant rubbish became a foundation of the American political theology and foreign policy. Imperialist expansionism was elevated into a positive obligation, a duty. The more ruthless the expansionism was, the more divine approval was attached to it. The will of the American imperialists was equated with the will of God. Imperialism became “a virtue of the call of God.” To hold back was to ’ reject divine leadership.” Senator Albert J. Beveridge declared “God has not been preparing the English-speaking peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle contemplation and self-admiration. No! He has made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns. He has made us adepts in government that we may administer government among savages and senile people.”(7)
“The theme of Destiny was a corollary of the theme of Duty. Repeatedly it was declared that expansion was the result of a ’cosmic tendency’, that ’destiny always arrives’, that it was the ’inexorable logic of events’, and so on. The doctrine that expansion was inevitable had of course long been familiar to Americans; we all know how often Manifest Destiny was invoked throughout the nineteenth century. Albert Weinberg has pointed out, however, that this expression took on a new meaning in the nineties. Previously destiny had meant primarily that American expansion, when we willed it , could be resisted by others who may wish to stand in our way. During the nineties it came to mean that expansion ’could not be resisted by Americans themselves, caught, willing or unwilling’, in the coils of fate. A certain reluctance on our part was implied. This was not quite so much what we wanted to do; it was what we had to do. Our aggression was implicitly defined as compulsory – the product not of our own wills but of objective necessity (or the will of God).”(8) The Destiny had always Destination and that Destination was equated with geopolitical expansionism and thus the source of American imperialism was the will of God given to the elected as a Destiny.




Kenneth M. Coleman defines the political (and geopolitical) corollary to the Manifest Destiny Doctrine- the Monroe Doctrine – as political mythology:
“ A political mythology has emerged among North Americans to justify the reality of U.S. hegemony in the Americas. The Monroe Doctrine is an example of political myth creation that accompanied the creation of the American empire. It was necessary to find a rhetorical vehicle through which to suggest not expansionist intent, but self-abnegation…From its inception the Monroe Doctrine has been a rhetorical vehicle designed to reconcile professed values of disinterest and self-abnegation with highly self-interested, expansionist intentions. Thus the first defining characteristic of a political mythology is present…Hegemony, just as much as empire, requires the creation of legitimating mythology…In imperial situations the mythology must hold that ‘we rule you because it is your best interest to be ruled by us…In hegemonic situations , the mythology must generate the belief that existing relationships are mutually beneficial and that those who do not so perceive them are misguided or evil”(9) …The political mythology of hegemony is distinctive in that it denies the existence of political and economic domination. It is similar to the mythology of imperialism in asserting that existing relationships are just, appropriate, inevitable, or otherwise normatively defensible…The Monroe Doctrine carries a normative massage…that current causes are just, morally defensible, and in accord with the highest principles of a political order superior to other political orders”(10) and that American imperialism serve a higher moral purpose- the Manifest Destiny preordained by God himself.
Kenneth M. Coleman quotes Salvador de Madariaga who described the nature of the Monroe Doctrine in the following words:
“I know only two things about the Monroe Doctrine: one is that no American I have met knows what it is; the other is that no American I have met will consent to its being tampered with…I conclude that the Monroe Doctrine is not a doctrine but a dogma…not one dogma, but two, to wit: the dogma of the infallibility of the American President and the dogma of the immaculate conception of the American foreign policy”.(11) 


The belief that Americans are people chosen by God for continental expansion was inherent in both the Manifest Destiny Doctrine and the Monroe Doctrine. “The term that captured this sense of moral certainty in geographic expansion, Manifest Destiny, betrayed the comforting Calvinist certainty that God would reveal those who warranted His grace by making them prosperous”. If the United States represents the Promised Land of the Chosen People then “ its is all but impossible to conceive a situation in which the interests of mankind are not highly similar to those of the United States. Given such a presumption , opposition to the Manifest Destiny (of the United States) was no simple political opposition- it did not represent a mere difference in opinion . Rather it was a heresy against the people chosen by God Himself…If the authorities of the United States- the authorities chosen by the people favored by God himself- were in favor of a given policy, then to criticize the justice or the morality of that policy was impossible”.(12)
In this respect one may recall Werner Sombart’s conclusion that “Calvinism is the victory of Judaism over Christianity” and that “America is the quintessence of Judaism”. The political immorality of the Manifest Destiny Doctrine, the geopolitical expansionism under the space conquering Monroe Doctrine and the economic imperialism under the American “open door” policy , fused subsequently together in the Wilsonianism, are in fact the historically malignant appearances of the old Talmudic immorality.


Carl Schmitt has pointed out that the transformation of the Monroe Doctrine from a concrete Grossraum into an universal principle, i.e. the theologization of a particular-American imperialism into a universal World and Capital Power, allegedly serving the interests of the humankind, is the beginning of the theologization of American foreign policy objectives.(13) This process of theologization started during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, but first President Woodrow Wilson elevated the Monroe Doctrine into a world-principle (Weltprincip). In the Talmudic morality of Woodrow Wilson the American weltherrschaft became the substance of his advocacy of a Monroe Doctrine for the whole world.




Case in point is the American slogan of “manifest destiny” which served the expansion of the Monroe Doctrine or the principle of self-determination which President Wilson used at the Paris Peace Conference to expand Anglo-Saxon spheres of influence and create a Cordon Sanitarire around Germany and Soviet Russia in Europe consisting of buffer states. Naturally President Wilson, in salivating about the right of self-determination, never denounced the Monroe Doctrine, which embodies the absolute negation of the very same right he propounded. What he meant with right of self-determination was clearly shown in 1914, when United States , subverting the elected government of  Mexico, bombarded the Mexican city of Vera Cruz, killing hundreds of civilians. After the bombardment, which ultimately led to the collapse of the Mexican government and installation of an American puppet, President Wilson, emphasizing the identity of American policy and universal justice, assured the world that “the United States had gone down to Mexico to serve mankind.”(14) (sic!) President Wilson truly believed in the Providentially assigned role of the United States to rule the world.
Today, if one looks at the situation in Yugoslavia, one can see that again the pseudo-universal principle of right of self-determination is used as an ideological device to overthrow an existing status quo, namely the border settlement in Europe reached through the Helsinki Accord, as well as to legitimize the war atrocities of first Bosnian and then the Kosovar-Albanian armed gangs, in fact an European equivalent of the Nicaraguan so called Contras, armed , trained and subsidized by the United Sates.
A historical irony is that Nazi Germany borrowed many American ideological concepts. Thus Nazi Germany based its demands for the revision of the status quo of the Versailles treaty primarily upon the principle of equality which the Treaty of Versailles had violated. Realizing that the existing international law was nothing but the universalization of Anglo-Saxon hegemony as well as theologization of particular national interest, German jurists spoke of a new international law which would serve German national interest and also used the concept of a “Just New World Order” as justification for expansionism and preparation for the overthrow of the existing international status quo through war.
The basic tenets of the American political theology can be summarized as follow:
a. The national interest of the United States is universalized as to be the universal interest of the human kind or the international community. Consequently American imperialist expansionism is then seen as advancement of the human race, promotion of democracy, struggle against totalitarianism etc. American interests, international law , and international morality are equated. What serves American interests is unabashedly said to further law and morality- in all cases.(15)
b. As a consequence of the universalization of the American national interest and  its transnational legitimization  in institutions of hegemony  which serve as a supra legitimacy facade- , is the apparent deligitimization of  the national interests of other countries. Through the Monroe doctrine the Latin-American countries were denied any national interests distinct from or opposed the American national interest , although an objective historical analyses clearly shows that the authentic national interest of Latin-American countries is by necessity opposed to the national interest of the U.S. The effect of the Monroe doctrine was that Latin-American countries ceased to exist politically, becoming protectorates and in true sense captive nations.
c. Beginning with the Briand-Kellog Pact , United States undertakes the next step in globalizing her political theology. Wars waged from national interests opposed those of the United States are branded as aggressive wars, while aggressive wars waged by the United States are constructed as “just wars”. U.S.’s reservations to the Kellog Pact are of particular importance: United States reserves for herself the right to be the sole judge of what constitutes a war of aggression. The American doctrine of recognition and non-recognition of states is also of significance: United States reserves for herself to be the sole judge of which state to be recognized and which not and the grounds on which U.S. is willing to recognize a state are synonymous with the national interest of the U.S. To what degree of dangerous but also farcical absurdity that can lead one can see in the example of American non-recognition of China after the W.W.II and the corresponding recognition of the puppet regime of Chiang Kai-shek, installed and maintained by the United States. U.S. used her doctrine of non-recognition, blocking China’s admission to the U.N., in order to sabotage the United Nations and also in fact to control two seats on the U.N. Security Council.
d. The ideological appropriation of the concept of war and the principles of recognition and non-recognition leads also to the dehumanization of the American adversaries: from an enemy with equal national interest they  become  international outcasts.
e. The final consequence of the development of the American political theology is the identification of international law- the Law of Nations – with the system of American imperialism, its source being, in the New World Order, solely the will of the United States. Such international law is obviously not the Law of Nations but the Law of the Land- an embodiment of American hegemony and expansionism. The national interest of the U.S. has in the New World Order being universalized to be the interest of the international community, and, moreover, United States herself, as a trans-national, omnipotent subject, has been universalized as world community itself.
The American political theology is inherently incompatible not only with the principle of state equality and sovereignty but also with any organization that purports to be a genuine international organization such as the United Nations. A state in the New World Order can exist only as a non-political entity, the prerogatives of  being political in Carl Schmitt’s terminology, being reserved solely for the United States. And an international organization can exist only if it is a functional equivalent of O.A.S.( Organization of American States) i.e. only as a multilateral facade for legitimization of American hegemonical will.
The British historian Edward Hallet Carr remarked in his book “The Twenty Year’s Crisis, 1919-1939″, published originally in 1939, that shortly before the entry of the United States in the W.W.I , in an address to the Senate on war aims, President Wilson explaining previously that the United States had been “founded for the benefit of humanity”(16) (sic!), stated categorically: ”Those are American principles, American policies…They are the principles of mankind and must prevail”.(17) Carr points out that “it will be observed that utterances of this character proceed almost exclusively from Anglo-Saxon statesman and writers. It is true that when a prominent National Socialist asserted that ’anything that benefits the German people is right, anything that harms the German people is wrong’ , he was merely propounding the same identification of national interest with universal right which had already been established for English-speaking countries by Wilson.”
Carr gave two alternative explanations to the universalization of particular national interest. The first, prevalent in continental countries was that English-speaking people are past masters in the art of concealing their selfish national interests in the guise of the general good, and that this kind of hypocrisy is a special and characteristic peculiarity of the Anglo-Saxon mind. The second explanation was more sociological: Theories of social morality are always the product of a dominant group which identifies itself with the community as a whole, and which possesses facilities denied to subordinate groups or individuals for imposing its view of life on the community. Theories of international morality are, for the same reasons and in virtue of the same process, the product of dominant nations and group of nations. For the past hundred years, and more especially since 1918, the English-speaking people have formed the dominant group in the world; the current theories of national morality have been designed to perpetuate their supremacy and expressed in the idiom peculiar to them.(18)




One aspect of the political theology is the mythologization and ideomatization of the American expansionism as universal international morality. And what are the characteristics of the universalist mythology? To transform the meaning of political reality into a repressive illusion and to neutralize and deligitimize the language or acts of resistance. In other words political mythology is always a reality-robbery. And articulated language or acts of resistance, robbed by political theology, offer little resistance. To paraphrase Roland Barthes(19) , the political theology is expansive, it invents itself ceaselessly. It takes hold of everything, all aspects of international relations, of diplomacy, of international law. The oppressed countries are nothing, they have only one language, that or their emancipation, and that emancipation has already being deligitimized, the oppressor, the United States, is everything, her language has been elevated into dogma. In other words:, in the framework of the political theology, United States has the exclusive right to meta-language which aims to eternalize American hegemony. The political theology as a myth negates the empirical character of  the political reality; therefore theology resistance must aim to recapture and emancipate that same  empirical reality.
During the course of the American expansionism, inherent in the Monroe Doctrine and its various extensions, and in particular during the Cold War and its ideological justification in such documents as NSC-68, a destruction and ideologization of the language was accomplished. The history of the Cold War is the history of the collapse of American English into Pan-American jargon, with its weakness for slogans, simplifications, falsehoods and pompous clichés such as totalitarianism, defense of democracy, the red danger . American expansionism and the colonial machinations of the perfidious Washington forced in the language precisely what it needed to give voice to its savagery, disguised as universalism serving the mankind; to delegitimaze resistance and legitimize conquest and hegemony. It forced a big subversion of the language on which contemporary America has been nurtured.
To paraphrase Georg Steiner, America’s rulers built between the American mind and the empirical reality a wall of myth. Gradually words lost their original meaning and acquired the contents of the political theology. The language became a deception to the point the language was not able any longer to capture or express the truth. Words became instrumentalities of falsehood and disinformation, conveyors of deception and hegemony. “The language was infected not only with those great bestialities. It was called upon to enforce innumerable falsehoods”(20) , to persuade and indoctrinate Americans that numerous acts of subversion of nations and of international law, of military aggression and war crimes in Korea, Vietnam and most recently in Panama , Iraq and Yugoslavia, served the principles of mankind. The subversion of the language in the American political theology not only made the empirical truth unspeakable, it build a wall of silence and deception, it facilitated the collapse of English into Pan-American jargon. And when the language “has been injected with falsehood, only the most drastic truth can cleanse it.”(21)
There is a very peculiar American phenomenon not found in Europe: a Man of God- usually a preacher- who turns out to be con man. Well, on the political arena after the end of the W.W.I. President Wilson was such a Man of God veiling American expansionism in large quantities of moral saliva. For Wilson United States had a Providentially assigned role to rule the world. Wilsonianism was the origin and the embodiment of the universalist American totalitarianism.
Now the little Wilson, President Clinton, in the post- Cold War and post-Yalta international landscape, with all the moral saliva of a Man of God, has embarked on a course of neo-Wilsonian universalist expansionism with the same old Manifest Destiny and political theology infused in the New World Order. But once again the concepts of American universalist political theology unveil themselves as opium for the international community.






* Anders Stephenson Manifest Destiny. American Expansion and the Empire of Right (Hill and Wang, New York, 1995).


(1) Hans J. Morgenthau -Politics Among Nations- (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1948) at p. 64.


(2) Hans J. Morgenthau – Politics Among Nations -ibid., at p. 65.


(3) Hans J. Morgenthau -Politics Among Nations – in Stanley Hoffman (ed) -Contemporary Theory in International Relations (Prentice Hall, Inc, Englewood Cliffs, 1960) – at p. 61.


(4) Louis A. Coolidge -An Old Fashioned Senator: Orville H. Platt (New York, 1910) – at p. 302.


(5) Richard Hofstadter -The Paranoid Style in American Polics (The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1965) – at p. 174.


(6) Richard Hofstadter – ibid., at p.p. 175, 176, 177.


(7) Claude G. Bowers -Beveridge and the Progressive Era (New York, 1932) – at p. 121.


(8) Richard Hofstadter – ibid. – at p. 177.


(9) Kenneth M. Coleman The Political Mythology of the Monroe Doctrine : Reflection on the Social Psychology of Domination, p.p. 99, 100, 110.


(10) M. Coleman –ibid p. p. 97, 103.


(11) M. Coleman –ibid. p. 102. Coleman quotes after Salvador de Madariaga Latin America Between the Eagle and the Bear (Praeger, New York, 1962) p. 74.


(12) Coleman- ibid pp 105, 109.


(13) Carl Schmitt -Grossraum gegen Universalismus in Position und Begriffe- im Kampf mit Weimar-Genf-Versailles 1923-1939 ( Duncker& Humblot, Berlin , 1988) – p.p. 295-303.


(14) Edward Hallett Carr -The Twenty Year’s Crisis 1919-1939 (Harper Torchbooks , New York, 1964)- at p. 78; also R.S. Baker Public Papers of Woodrow Wilson: The New Democracy.


(15) see on that subject – Keneth W. Thompson -Toynbee and the Theory of International Politics- in Stanley Hoffman (ed) -Contemporary Theory in International Relations- ibid., at p. 97.


(16) R. S. Baker (ed) -Public Papers of Woodrow Wilson: The New Democracy- at p.p. 318-319.


(17) Edward Hallet Carr -The Twenty Year Crisis- ibid., at p. 79; also Toynbee -Survey of International Affairs, 1936, at p. 319.


(18) Edward Hallet Carr – ibid., at p.p. 79, 80.


(19) Roland Barthes- Mythologies (Hill and Wang, New York, 1987) at p.p. 131, 148, 149.


(20) Georg Steiner A Reader (Oxford University Press, New York, 1984)- at p. 212.


(21) Georg Steiner- ibid. p. 219.



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