Front Page Titles (by Subject) Bryan & Moralistic Foreign Policy - Literature of Liberty, Summer 1981, vol. 4, No. 2
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Bryan & Moralistic Foreign Policy - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Summer 1981, vol. 4, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Bryan & Moralistic Foreign Policy
“Above the World: William Jennings Bryan's View of The American Nation In International Affairs.” Nebraska History 61 (Summer 1980): 153–171.
The image Williams Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) gained from the dramatic Scopes Trial (the 1925 trial involving the teaching of evolution in Tennessee's public schools) has been paradoxically either a “defender of the faith” or mountebank of prohibition and Christendom, yet this perception has neglected one of the major elements in Bryan's intellectual and political life, his vital patriotism and nationalism. That neglect in turn has obscured the dynamic consistency of Bryan's diplomacy.
Central to Bryan's Populism of 1896 and his anti-evolutionary Puritanism in 1925 was his belief in the American nation, God's will embodied in and through the common people. America was not like European nations; it was uniquely Christian and democratic to the degree that “the people” were to have absolute power. Democratic Christianity and progressive patriotism were the pillars of Bryan's intellectual heritage and style. He was convinced that Americans had a destiny to civilize the world, yet he did not presume this destiny to be bestowed by a subjective God. Rather, a basic tenet of his Americanism was that the nation controlled destiny, not the reverse.
Bryan assumed that to remain potent, the United States must remain pure in terms of both ideal and racial composition. America must “insist upon the unity and homogeneousness of our nation” for its strength, thus Bryan was alarmed at the “Yellow Peril's” threat to “white supremacy.” This same belief was the basis of his case against the Scopes. The people had the right to exclude “false teaching” because they had a prior obligation as citizens—to be united and to be subordinate to the cause they served.
Bryan did not think in terms of individuals but in terms of “the people.” For Bryan national interest had to be understood as a people united in a cause. The national interest was totally separate from the interests of individual nationals. Because each individual needed to devote himself to the overriding purpose of the nation, private interests of individual Americans were subordinate to national interest rather than constituting it. For Bryan, not individuals, but “the people are the source of power.” Building from early emphasis on “homogeneousness,” Bryan's beliefs required unquestioning obedience to the will and voice of the people, and the nation's vitality depended on legitimate expression of the will of the people. America would triumph because there “the voice of the people...(is) the voice of God.”
But total domestic unity and harmony was only the foundation upon which Bryan built his proud Americanism. Inspired by the ever-newly-created unity, America had to be unique, an exemplary manifestation of idealism and God's will. As God's extraordinary people, the “voice of God” in the midst of an explosive and despotic world, Bryan's “conquering nation” was a dynamo to regenerate the world. To remain genuinely unique America had to be independent from and superior to European nations. As he fought to prove at the Scopes trial, evolution was an import from the Old World and therefore to be expunged by the people. Bryan's brand of Americanism required that America be involved in the world's affairs only on its own terms. The United States sought world cooperation only in order to secure its foremost position in international affairs.
The final element of Bryanesque nationalism was his belief that because of the United States' historical association, economic dependency, cultural affinity, and geographical proximity, she had special responsibilities as the civilizing benefactor to the world. Domestically, Bryan thought the United States could be a monolithic community. Internationally he thought America still dominated her hemisphere and could by sheer energy and purity of commitment re-order the world.
So enchanted was Bryan by the bright glow produced by the flame of American nationalism, that he understood neither the destructive potential in the coercive domestic power of American nationalism nor the limitations of other countries, nationalism and national interests. Yet the America he believed in was totally vulnerable to domestic intolerance and international arrogance, as events in the twentieth century have glaringly proven.