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February 2002

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Periclean America: Dodging the Cold War's Statist Bullets
Review by Greg Domin

bookcoverIn the Shadow of the Garrison State: America's Anti-Statism and Its Cold War Grand Strategy. By Aaron L. Friedberg. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000. Pp. 362. $69.50 cloth; $21.95 paper.)

In this exhaustive revisionist account of postwar political history, Aaron L. Friedberg, professor of politics and international affairs and director of the Research Program in International Security at Princeton, convincingly argues that anti-statist inclinations prevented Cold War anxieties from transforming the United States into a garrison state. War—or the threat of war—usually strengthens states at the expense of its citizens and their liberties. In the case of the United States, however, the comparative absence of any military threat and its favorable geographical location allowed it to emerge and thrive during the first one hundred and fifty years of its existence without developing into a central state (where the government taxes, raises an army, exerts control over industrial production, and dampens internal dissent in order to built a military-industrial complex).

By the mid-twentieth century, the imminent threat of war produced enormous pressures within the United States for the permanent construction of a powerful central state. In the American case, these internal forces came comparatively late in the process of its political development. Fear of a strong central power was deeply embedded in an American republic based on federalism, separation of power, and checks and balances. This suspicion of centralized authority was further counterbalanced by strong anti-statist influences present at the founding; the basic structure of American governmental institutions, the interests and relative strength of vanous groups (both public and private), and a fervent belief in liberal democracy. Persistent domestic forces during the first decade and a half of the Cold War allowed the United States to preserve its economic vitality and technological progress by preventing some of the worst excesses of statism. The strategic synthesis that emerged by the 1960s enabled Washington to deter, contain, and ultimately outlive the Soviet empire and its “allies” precisely because the U.S. government did not limit or infringe upon its citizens' political, personal, and economic freedoms.

Friedberg's book is rich in research and analysis. His work represents a cogent, mature, and well-researched reassessment of the Cold War and contributes much to our understanding of the American military-industrial complex in general and its organization specifically. Given its obvious implications, this volume needs to be read by academics and policy-makers alike. Its clear and relatively idiom-free prose make it accessible to students interested in understanding why the United States did not turn into a garrison state and how it “won” the Cold War. The author's analysis of America's potent anti-statist tradition is convincing and should be required reading for anyone interested in this important subject.bluestar


Greg Domin teaches political science at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.

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