chapter  1
38 Pages

In Search of Consensus

WithRichard A. Melanson

Consensus, like balance of power, national interest, and bipartisanship, is a frequently used and much abused term. The sociologist Edward Shils offered a classic definition: Consensus is a particular state of the belief system of a society. The Cold War cultural consensus was firmly grounded in a set of values that one study called “cosmopolitan liberalism.” According to this definition of national identity, to be an American a person had only to subscribe to values such as liberty, individualism, popular sovereignty, and equality of opportunity. Central to the procedural Cold War consensus was a series of votes in the Congress from 1945 to 1964 highly supportive of major presidential initiatives. The so-called foreign policy establishment constituted the most important parainstitutional expression of the Cold War consensus. Indeed, so invisible did the establishment seem that few observers even noted its existence until it had begun to disintegrate in the late 1960s.