The Warfare State


Yet it hasn’t. America is much more than its government. As the political scientists Robert Tucker and David Hendrickson have observed, the ideals of American life remain Jeffersonian, despite the powerful and sometimes potentially corrupting institutions reared by past wars. At the end of the Cold War, after nearly fifty years of full or partial national mobilization, civil society in America remains stronger, more independent-minded, and more anti-statist than in virtually any country of Europe or Asia. The rapid decline of the U.S. defense budget following the collapse of the Soviet empire, the absence of influential voices calling for the maintenance of a large U.S. presence overseas, and the growing intensity of anti-incumbent, anti-Washington sentiment all point to the survival of that whiff of rebellion that Jefferson deemed vital to democracy.

The genius of the Constitution was that it created a structure that would allow civil society to continue in freedom even as the nationstate that was its political manifestation became a global military power. In this sense, at least, America still remains the great exception. The very weakness of the American state as an apparatus of power is the source of its greatest fundamental strength: a vibrant, free, and flourishing society, whose achievements in peace have both surpassed and made possible its successes in war.