Stanley Hoffmann and Heroic Idealism: from World Disorders to Chaos and Violence in the company of Gulliver Unbound. Part Two


Hoffmann is a towering intellect who has substantially shaped American political discourse even if his name and works are not widely known or popular in the general public. Part Two on his post-Cold War writings follows below…



Stanley Hoffmann and Heroic Idealism:  from World Disorders to Chaos and Violence in the company of Gulliver Unbound. Part Two




by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.



Gulliver Unbound (2004)


The idea of writing L’Amérique vraiement impériale? (Is America Really Imperial?) was put to Stanley Hoffmann by one of his former students and it was realized in the form of transcribed responses to questions posed by another of his former students, the historian Frédéric Bozo, who is a Professor at the University of Sorbonne. A year later an English language edition appeared under the title Gulliver Unbound, which for those with long memories, alludes to one of Hoffmann’s early works, Gulliver’s Troubles, published back in 1968. The English edition had a couple of new chapters written in 2004 by Stanley Hoffmann on his own and bringing the material on Iraq up to date.


The impulse for this work was to elucidate for interested readers on both sides of the Atlantic how it was that America and France found themselves in a sharp diplomatic row in 2002- 2003 over America’s armed intervention in Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein. French efforts in the UN Security Council effectively stymied a resolution sought by the Americans to provide diplomatic cover for their planned invasion. The result was outrage and a loud anti-French campaign across America which put those with dual French-American sympathies like Hoffmann in a soul-searching position.



Gulliver Unbound explores the nature of the American Empire under George W. Bush as its French title indicates. And the opening question he grapples with is typically the priority concern of every Parisian intellectual: is the imperial behavior we are witnessing in present-day America just more of the same, a line of continuity, or something genuinely new, a ‘rupture,’ as the French put it.


On the one hand, Hoffmann tells us we see in the policies of the Bush administration the legacy ‘exceptionalism’ that can be traced back to Woodrow Wilson. On the other hand, the break with the past is considerably more important than continuity: what Hoffmann calls the ‘directed multilateralism’ of Bush Sr. and Clinton was replaced under Bush Jr. by a ‘triumphant unilateralism.’


From this point on, Gulliver Unbound meanders this way and that. Hoffmann is behaving rather like a Lilliput, describing an ankle, then an elbow, then an ear but not giving us a comprehensive portrait of Gulliver, not providing an integrated explanation of what he clearly believes is a frightening authoritarian political climate developing in the imperial America of George W. Bush.

In what follows, I will string together Hoffmann’s passing remarks on what should be the pillars of American pluralism and, using his own words, draw the missing picture of Gulliver.


© Gilbert Doctorow, 2010

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For the full analysis, see the author’s 2010 book Great Post-Cold War American Thinkers on International Relations.   G. Doctorow was a 2010-2011 Visiting Scholar of the Harriman Institute of Columbia University. He is today (2013) an occasional lecturer at St. Petersburg State University and a Research Fellow of the American University in Moscow. His latest work, published in April 2013, is Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Non-conformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12. Both works are available from and amazon websites worldwide in paperback and e-book editions. They are also on sale at Barnes & Noble and other leading bookstores..