The Arrogance Of Power by J. William FulbrightThe Arrogance Of Power by J. William Fulbright

The Arrogance Of Power

byJ. William Fulbright

Paperback | January 23, 1967

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“The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has suddenly become the most celebrated public critic of the nation’s foreign politics. . . . His new book, The Arrogance of Power, is remarkable because it . . . transforms mere criticism into bitter condemnation. It portends, or perhaps already speaks, the alienation of a great many thoughtful citizens from their government. . . . From disagreement with the national policy, the Senator has escalated to an indictment of the national character. Where once he blamed ignorance, he now finds also arrogance. And he offers psychological as well as political judgment and testimony to make the point.

“Nor is [Senator Fulbright] merely quarreling with Lyndon Johnson’s conduct of affairs. He objects to the whole postwar habit of intervention. . . . We have set out to police the world and to rescue mankind, he argues, neglecting our duty to put our own house in order and dissipating the chance to inspire others by our example. . . . The Senator has much else to say, of course. His book is a very specific protest against the war in Vietnam and a plea that we get out, even if it hurts. It is an angry cry against all war. It is an articulate statement of the duty to dissent. . . . 

“True to himself, Mr. Fulbright conveys his outrage in calm, often elegant prose. He entertains even as he alarms. . . . It is an invaluable antidote to the official rhetoric of government.” – Max Frankel, The New York Times Book Review
J. William Fulbright (1905–1995) was a Democratic senator from Arkansas and served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was first elected to Congress in 1942 and became a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he introduced the "Fulbright Resolution," calling for the participation by the United States...
Title:The Arrogance Of PowerFormat:PaperbackPublished:January 23, 1967Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0812992628

ISBN - 13:9780812992625


Read from the Book

1   The Citizen and the University   TO CRITICIZE one’s country is to do it a service and pay it a compliment. It is a service because it may spur the country to do better than it is doing; it is a compliment because it evidences a belief that the country can do better than it is doing. “This,” said Albert Camus in one of his “Letters to a German Friend,” is “what separated us from you; we made demands. You were satisfied to serve the power of your nation and we dreamed of giving ours her truth…”   In a democracy dissent is an act of faith. Like medicine, the test of its value is not its taste but its effect, not how it makes people feel at the moment but how it makes them feel and moves them to act in the long run. Criticism may embarrass the country’s leaders in the short run but strengthen their hand in the long run; it may destroy a consensus on policy while expressing a consensus of values. Woodrow Wilson once said that there was “such a thing as being too proud to fight”; there is also, or ought to be, such a thing as being too confident to conform, too strong to be silent in the face of apparent error. Criticism, in short, is more than a right; it is an act of patriotism, a higher form of patriotism, I believe, than the familiar rituals of national adulation. If nonetheless the critic is charged with a lack of patriotism, he can reply with Camus, “No, I didn’t love my country, if pointing out what is unjust in what we love amounts to not loving, if insisting that what we love should measure up to the finest image we have of her amounts to not loving.”   What is the finest image of America? To me it is the image of a composite, or better still a synthesis, of diverse peoples and cultures, come together in harmony but not identity, in an open, receptive, generous, and creative society. Almost two hundred years ago a Frenchman who had come to live in America posed the question “What Is an American?” His answer, in part, was the following:   Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great change in the world. Americans are the western pilgrims, who are carrying along with them that great mass of arts, sciences, vigour, and industry, which began long since in the east; they will finish the great circle. The Americans were once scattered all over Europe; here they are incorporated into one of the finest systems of population which has ever appeared, and which will hereafter become distinct by the power of the different climates they inhabit.… The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas and form new opinions. From involuntary idleness, servile dependence, penury, and useless labor, he has passed to toils of a very different nature, rewarded by ample subsistence.—This is an American.…   With due allowance for the author’s exuberance, I think that his optimism was not far off the mark. We are an extraordinary nation, endowed with a rich and productive land, a humane and decent political tradition and a talented and energetic population. Surely a nation so favored is capable of extraordinary achievement, not only in the area of producing and enjoying great wealth, in which area our achievements have indeed been extraordinary, but also in the area of human and international relations, in which area, it seems to me, our achievements have fallen short of our capacity and promise.   My question is whether America can close the gap between her capacity and performance. My hope and my belief are that she can, that she has the human resources to conduct her affairs with a maturity which few if any great nations have ever achieved: to be confident but also tolerant, to be rich but also generous, to be willing to teach but also willing to learn, to be powerful but also wise.   I believe that America is capable of all of these things; I also believe she is falling short of them. If one honestly thought that America was doing the best she is capable of doing at home and abroad, then there would be no reason for criticism. But if one feels certain that she has the capacity to be doing very much better, that she is falling short of her promise for reasons that can and should be overcome, then approbation is a disservice and dissent the higher patriotism.   The Fear of Dissent   The discharge of the duty of dissent is handicapped in America by an unworthy tendency to fear serious criticism of our government. In the abstract we celebrate freedom of opinion as part of our patriotic liturgy; it is only when some Americans exercise it that other Americans are shocked. No one of course ever criticizes the right of dissent; it is always this particular instance of it or its exercise under these particular circumstances or at this particular time that throws people into a blue funk. I am reminded of Samuel Butler’s observation that “People in general are equally horrified at hearing the Christian religion doubted, and at seeing it practiced.”   Intolerance of dissent is a well-noted feature of the American national character. Louis Hartz attributes it to the heritage of a society which was “born free,” a society which is unnerved by serious criticism because it has experienced so little of it.5 Alexis de Tocqueville took note of this tendency over a hundred years ago: “I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.” Profound changes have occurred since Democracy in America first appeared and yet it may be asked whether recognition of the right of dissent has gained substantially in practice as well as in theory. The malady in Tocqueville’s view was one of democracy itself: “… The smallest reproach irritates its sensibility and the slightest joke that has any foundation in truth renders it indignant; from the forms of its language up to the solid virtues of its character, everything must be made the subject of encomium. No writer, whatever be his eminence, can escape paying this tribute of adulation to his fellow citizens.”   From small-town gatherings to high-policy councils Americans are distressed when a writer or a politician or even a private citizen interrupts all this self-congratulation and expresses himself with simple, unadorned candor. The problem is worsening, among other reasons, because more and more of our citizens earn their livings by working for corporations and other large organizations, few of which are known to encourage political and other forms of heterodoxy on the part of their employees. The result is that more and more Americans face the dilemma of how, if at all, an individual can safely exercise honest individual judgment, indeed retain his capacity for it, in an environment in which the surest route to advancement is conformity with a barren and oppressive orthodoxy.   The problem is acute in the federal bureaucracy, whose congenital inhospitality to unorthodox ideas, were its dimensions only known, would allay the anxieties of the most agitated superpatriot. In most if not all government agencies originality, especially at the lower levels, is regarded as a form of insolence or worse, and the most valued, therefore the most professionally rewarding, quality is “soundness,” which has very nearly become a euphemism for pedantry and mediocrity. The State Department, for example, with which I have had some experience, has many intelligent, courageous, and independent-minded Foreign Service Officers, but I have had occasion to notice that there are also sycophants and conformists, individuals in whose minds the distinction between official policy and personal opinion has disappeared. That, I suppose, is the worst of it: the censorship of ideas after a while no longer needs to be imposed; it is internalized, and the individual who may have begun his career as an idealist, full of hopes and ideas, becomes his own censor, purging himself of “unsound” ideas before he thinks them, converting himself from dreamer to drone by the time he reaches that stage in his career at which he can expect to be entrusted with some responsibility.   This is unfortunate indeed because the most valuable public servant, like the true patriot, is one who gives a higher loyalty to his country’s ideals than to its current policy and who therefore is willing to criticize as well as to comply.   Some time ago I met an American poet, Mr. Ned O’Gorman, who had just returned from a visit to Latin America sponsored by the State Department. He said, and previously had written, that he had been instructed by American Embassy officials in the countries he visited that if he were questioned, by students and intellectuals with whom he was scheduled to meet, on such “difficult” questions as the Dominican Republic and Vietnam, he was to reply that he was “unprepared.” Poets, as we all know, are ungovernable people and Mr. O’Gorman proved no exception. At a meeting with some Brazilian students he finally rebelled, with the following result as he described it: “… the questions came, swirling, battering, bellowing from the classroom. Outside the traffic and the oily electric heat. But I loved it. I was hell bent for clarity. I knew they wanted straight answers and I gave them. I had been gorged to sickness with embassy prudence. The applause was long and loud. The embassy man was furious. ‘You are taking money dishonestly,’ he told me. ‘If the government pays you to do this tour you must defend it and not damn it.’ It did no good when I explained to him that if I didn’t do what I was doing, then I’d be taking the money dishonestly.…”   A high degree of loyalty to the President’s policy is a requirement of good order within the Department of State, but it escapes me totally why American diplomats should not be proud to have American poets and professors and politicians demonstrate their country’s political and intellectual health by expressing themselves with freedom and candor. As O’Gorman put it, “… I spoke with equal force of the glory and the tragedy of America. And that is what terrified the Americans.”