Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America

  • Published

Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America by Nils Gilman. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007, 344 pp.

Nils Gilman has written an instructive work on a topic germane to Air Force leaders considering the design, development, and implementation of national security strategy. Gilman earned his doctorate in intellectual history from University of California, Berkeley in 2000. His book offers a perspective on the development of a social science theory which became the prevalent security strategy during the Johnson administration in the 1960s. While the theory is not now in common usage, the benefit for Air Force readers is to become even more aware of the migration of academic thought to public policy formulation and the national security decision-making processes from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations as these political leaders marched our country into the Vietnam conflict.

This well-written and well-documented work offers readers an illustration of how a specific academic theory—modernization theory—became the dominant national security policy of the Johnson administration. Through exhaustive research, Gilman clearly and successfully describes the pathway through which this social science theory was developed at Harvard University and brought to the highest political offices in Washington, DC. His book captures these developments while also articulating the countervailing arguments against which modernization theory became the prevalent security mantra of the 1960s and then fell away from favor during the 1970s.

One of the major characters in this guided tour through political and social science theory formulation and application is Dr. Walter Whitman Rostow, who was a major spokesperson for modernization theory while within academic circles and then brought this political concept to Washington as he served in various high-ranking, politically appointed positions in our national government. Specifically, Rostow became the national security advisor for Pres. Lyndon Johnson and used the principles of modernization theory as the foundation of US national security strategy. I am of the opinion that this work is worthy of the time and effort needed to read it and reflect upon the relationship between academic thought, political goal formulation and attainment, and, specifically, the use of military elements of national power to achieve those stated political goals.

For the casual reader of history, this book also has value. Gilman illustrates through the lens of historical events within the United States during this period (1950s and 1960s) to place the readers in a position to decide for themselves whether modernization theory was worthy of its high place on the mantle of political thought. Throughout this work, Gilman takes extraordinary efforts to describe the concerns of others as this social science theory became a dominant political method of national security. Of special interest were the comments by Seymour Lipsett and Samuel Huntington, as Gilman is able to compare and contrast their thoughts with those of Rostow to present a seemingly reasonable depiction of the discussions that must have ensued in this period of American history when modernization theory was being designed, developed, discussed, implemented, and then discarded.

Overall, the reader is better equipped from having read this case study to render an informed position when evaluating future political processes and the use of academic theories for the attainment of national goals.

Col Joe McCue, USAF, Retired

Springfield, Virginia

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."