Protecting & preserving the American Idea |
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Protecting & preserving the American Idea

It is a common belief that the main role of conservatives in U.S. national security during the second half of the 20th century was to militarize U.S. foreign policy or to demonize anyone who opposed them.

The untold story of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War era, however, is that many people from the conservative ranks worked with Democrats, Libertarians, and independents to defend the nation through activities that are today called community organizing.

R. Daniel McMichael was one such American. Starting in the late 1950s, he joined with individuals like the late Frank Barnett to develop strategies rooted not in partisan politics but in the American Idea. They believed that a nation-state firmly founded on the principles of liberty, equality, democracy, property rights, religious and political freedom, and limited government could withstand the challenges a national government might pose to those principles.

In taking on this monumental assignment, Mr. McMichael found his life’s mission. To begin, and in order to secure as much freedom as possible for the United States in the cauldron of 20th-century world politics, he studied geopolitics and the impact of ideological warfare on U.S. national security.

By the early 1960s, he was working with Dick Scaife. Throughout the next six decades, they and their colleagues poured time, ideas and resources into educating Americans, including lawmakers and thought leaders, about how to protect and preserve the American Idea during ideological battles between East and West.

They invested in scholarship that helped develop security studies, a discipline that barely existed in U.S. universities when they began funding research in the early 1960s but is thriving today. Some of the scholars they supported at leading research universities and think tanks later served at the highest levels of U.S. government or devoted themselves to educating students and teachers about national security.

Over the years, Mr. McMichael and Mr. Scaife also invested in small conferences and leadership seminars that informed U.S. citizens of the dangers of calling the Cold War merely a major misunderstanding.

From the Hoover Institution to the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, The Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., the Scaife Foundation has provided crucial financial and intellectual support to many of the nation’s top academic and policy centers. These organizations have relentlessly engaged in generating and disseminating the ideas necessary to sustain free thought.

The purpose of these efforts was to build a national consensus on the necessity to fight the Cold War as much through the contest of ideas as through the use of bombs or commerce.

When historians study the impact of U.S. conservatism on the Cold War, they will find that a number of so-called conservative elites worked with anyone who would join them in building a coalition of a diverse set of Americans, united in the belief that defending ideas would lead to a better world. This is Dan McMichael’s inspiring legacy.

Kiron Skinner is director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for International Relations and Politics and a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

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