Charles Austin Beard: The Return of the Master Historian of American Imperialism

Charles Austin Beard: The Return of the Master Historian of American ImperialismRichard Drake presents a new interpretation of Charles Austin Beard‘s life and work. The foremost American historian and a leading public intellectual in the first half of the twentieth century, Beard participated actively in the debates about American politics and foreign policy surrounding the two world wars. Drake takes this famous man’s life and rewrites his intellectual biography by placing the European dimension of Beard’s thought at the center. This radical change of critical focus allows Drake to correct previous biographers’ oversights and, in Charles Austin Beard, present a far more nuanced appreciation for Beard’s life than we have read before.

Drake proposes a restoration of Beard’s professional reputation, which he lost in large part because of his extremely unpopular opposition to America’s intervention in World War II. Drake analyzes the stages of Beard’s development as a historian and critic: his role as an intellectual leader in the Progressive movement, the support that he gave to the cause of American intervention in World War I, and his subsequent revisionist repudiation of Wilsonian ideals and embrace of non-interventionism in the lead-up to World War II. Many of his dire predictions about the inevitable consequences of pre-World War II American foreign policy have come to pass. Drake shows that, as Americans tally the ruinous costs—both financial and moral—of nation-building and informal empire, the life and work of this prophet of history merit a thorough reexamination.

Publication in December 2018, by Cornell University Press.

Beard’s oeuvre should be made whole again in the canons of American intellectual history. This book will be a major step in that direction. Moreover, Drake has broad theoretical, literary, and historiographical range that makes him a master intellectual historian. More people need to read him and this book is a great place to start.” –Andrew Hartman, Professor of History, Illinois State University, and author of A War for the Soul of America

“It is a brave and much needed redemption of Beard, and a retrieval of intellectual history in the 20th Century, without falling into traps of over-simplification, or over-sympathy for its subject.” –Lloyd Gardner, Professor Emeritus of History, Rutgers University, and author of Road to Tahrir Square: Egypt and the United States from the Rise of Nasser to the Fall of Mubarak

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The Education of an Anti-Imperialist: Robert La Follette and U.S. Expansion (2013)

The Education of an Anti-ImpreialistRobert M. La Follette (1855-1925), the Republican senator from Wisconsin, is best known as a key architect of American Progressivism and as a fiery advocate for liberal politics in the domestic sphere. But “Fighting Bob” did not immediately come to a Progressive stance on foreign affairs.

In The Education of an Anti-Imperialist, Richard Drake follows La Follette’s growth as a critic of America’s wars and the policies that led to them. He began his political career with conventional Republican views of the era on foreign policy, avidly supporting the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars. La Follette’s critique of of Empire emergedin 1910, during the first year of the Mexican Revolution, as he began to perceive a Washington-Wall Street alliance in the United States’ dealings with Mexico. LaFollette subsequently became Congress’s foremost critic of Woodrow Wilson, fiercely opposing United States involvement in World War I. Denounced in the American press as the most dangerous man in the country, he became hated and vilified by many but beloved and admired by others.

La Follette believed that financial imperialism and its necessary instrument, militarism, caused modern wars. He contended they were twin evils that would have ruinous consequences for the United States and its citizens in the twentieth century and beyond.

“Richard Drake’s superb biography of Robert La Follette is a fresh, fascinating, and highly readable account of a great figure in American history. But it is also an important, indeed stimulating, analysis that can instruct our era how this popular U.S. Progressive Senator from Wisconsin repeatedly and courageously stood up against his era’s reactionary and avidly pro-war politicians.” —Walter LaFeber, Cornell University

“This book addresses big themes: republic or empire, progressive politics, freedom and censorship in wartime, and congressional and executive foreign policymaking powers. A vivid portrait of Robert La Follette that shows why he was such a thorn in the side of those who sought to conduct ‘business as usual.'” —Susan Brewer, author of Why America Fights

“There are other biographies of Robert La Follette, obviously, but none that probes so deeply into the intellectual development of an American anti-imperialist. This is a very important piece of scholarship that deserves a wide reading.” —Lloyd Gardner, author of Three Kings: The Rise of an American Empire in the Middle East after World War II

…offers a fresh perspective that often surprises with its insights…..a scholarly, readable, and sometimes highly opinionated account of the philosophical journey by La Follette toward an unshakeable belief in anti-imperialism and opposition to U.S. involvement in foreign wars….Even a seasoned historian who has made a focused study of La Follette will find much that is new here….serious research went into the preparation of this book, which is well documented…. Summing up: Highly recommended.” — S. K. Hauser, Choice

The title of this very fine study is peculiarly apt: its subject is political education….In The Education of an Anti-Imperialist, [Drake] describes La Follette’s transformation from an unreflective supporter of U.S. policy into an ardent opponent of American imperialism. In effect, Drake traces the impact of critical ideas on one formidable politician’s  understanding of statecraft….the passage of time has not lessened the value of La Follette’s prophetic warning that global leadership ‘would make us the object of endless jealousy and hazards, involve us in perpetual war, and lead to the extinction of our domestic liberty.’” —Andrew Bacevich, The American Conservative

“Following close upon the revival of Theodore Roosevelt’s reputation by best-selling author Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit, another fresh and exciting volume brings us TR’s nemesis within the Progressive Movement, Wisconsin’s own Robert M. La Follette….They parted sharply on U.S. foreign policies, but in ways never clearly understood until The Education of an Anti-Imperialist….[The book] is an intense intellectual history of the most famous Wisconsin politician, how he grew and shifted his opinions dramatically.” —Paul Buhle, Wisconsin State Journal

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Apostles and Agitators: Italy’s Marxist Revolutionary Tradition (2004)


Apostles and AgitatorsOne of the most controversial questions in Italy today concerns the origins of the political terror that ravaged the country from 1969 to 1984, when the Red Brigades, a Marxist revolutionary organization, intimidated, maimed, and murdered on a wide scale.

In this timely study of the ways in which an ideology of terror becomes rooted in society, Richard Drake explains the historical character of the revolutionary tradition to which so many ordinary Italians professed allegiance, examining its origins and internal tensions, the men who shaped it, and its impact and legacy in Italy. He illuminates the defining figures who grounded the revolutionary tradition, including Carlo Cafiero, Antonio Labriola, Benito Mussolini, and Antonio Gramsci, and explores the connections between the social disasters of Italy, particularly in the south, and the country’s intellectual politics; the brand of “anarchist communism” that surfaced; and the role of violence in the ideology.

Though arising from a legitimate sense of moral outrage at desperate conditions, the ideology failed to find the political institutions and ethical values that would end inequalities created by capitalism.

In a chilling coda, Drake recounts the recent murder of the economists Massimo D’Antona and Marco Biagi by the new Red Brigades, whose Internet justification for the killings is steeped in the Marxist revolutionary tradition.

“This is a gem of modern Italian political and intellectual history. It appears at a timely juncture when many parts of the world once again are falling prey to revolutionary violence and terrorism.”—Charles F. Delzell, Emeritus, Vanderbilt University

Apostles and Agitators is a tour de force of intellectual history and a model of how to recover historical memory. Richard Drake brings forcefully to the attention of today’s readers such forgotten revolutionaries as the anarchist leader Carlo Cafiero, the Marxist thinker Antonio Labriola, and Italy’s foremost disciple of Georges Sorel, Arturo Labriola. He also courageously places the young Benito Mussolini — unhappily famous as the founder of Fascism — squarely within the Marxist revolutionary tradition. This book is an honest and hard-hitting work that unravels the mystery of why ideological terrorism had so much appeal for the left in the Italy of the 1970’s — and why it remains a potential threat.”—Spencer M. Di Scala, University of Massachussetts, Boston

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The Aldo Moro Murder Case (1995)

Aldo Moro Murder Case

Aldo Moro’s kidnapping and violent death in 1978 shocked Italy as no other event has during the entire history of the Republic. It had much the same effect in Italy as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy had in the United States, with both cases giving rise to endless conspiracy theories. The dominant Christian Democratic leader for twenty years, Moro had embodied the county’s peculiar religious politics, its values as well as its practices. He was perceived as the most exemplary representative of the Catholic political tradition in Italy. The Red Brigades who killed him thought that in striking Moro they would cause the collapse of the capitalist establishment and clear the way for a Marxist-Leninist revolution.

In his thorough account of the long and anguished quest for justice in the Moro murder case, Richard Drake provides a detailed portrait of the tragedy and its aftermath as complex symbols of a turbulent age in Italian history. Since Moro’s murder, documents from two parliamentary inquiries and four sets of trials explain the historical and political process and illuminate two enduring themes in Italian history. First, the records contain a wealth of examples bearing on the nation’s longstanding culture of ideological extremism and violence. Second, Moro’s story reveal much about the inner workings of democracy Italian style, including the roles of the United States and the Mafia.

These insights are especially valuable today in understanding why the Italian establishment is in a state of collapse.

The Moro case also explores the worldwide problem of terrorism. In great detail, the case reveals the mentality, the tactics, and the strategy of the Red Brigades and related groups. Moro’s fate has a universal poignancy, with aspects of a classical Greek tragedy. Drake provides a full historical account of how the Italian people have come to terms with this tragedy.

“Richard Drake’s The Aldo Moro Murder Case is, by its very nature, a fascinating book. It has all the elements of a great story: murder in high places, whodunit, conspiracy, collective obsessions, international intrigue. As the author points out, the Moro case is also a milestone in contemporary Italian history. Moro gave the name to a period, and the Moro case — like the Kennedy assassination in this country — won’t let go of the Italians, even today. “—Claudio Segre, University of Texas at Austin

“[E]ven today, Italian political literature still lacks a serious, detached, and neutral work on this subject. Nearly all the books to have appeared until now are testimonies, confessions, ideological pamphlets, and political-judicial harangues. In this state of affairs, Drake has played a role akin to that of the foreign mayors invited to govern Italian cities in the Middle Ages whenever the factions of the cities were unable to decide on a communal government. In order to carry out his task with precision and objectivity, Drake studied the Italian judicial system, read thousands of documents, and consulted the newspapers and media reports of the time, took part in some of the hearings at the last trial, and personally interviewed several magistrates. The result is an exemplary book or, if you prefer, a pathway that gradually unfolds through a jungle of emotion, theses, and polemics. It is my impression that “Mayor” Drake’s book will be more useful to the Italians than to the Americans.” —Sergio Romano, The Journal of Modern History

“The American Richard Drake, historian of the contemporary period and expert on terrorism, who has read his way through thousands of pages of trial records, offers an intelligently composed summary of the insights gained to date [regarding the Aldo Moro murder case]…. Drake has written the best introduction to date into a complicated topic…. —Jens Petersen, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

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The Revolutionary Mystique and Terrorism in Contemporary Italy (1989)


Terrorist acts, by both the Left and the Right, have been a scourge in Italy since 1969, the year of the Piazza Fontana explosion in Milan. In the aftermath of that massacre no other Western country of comparable development had suffered from terrorism on the scale that Italy has. In offering an explanation of this violent phenomenon, Richard Drake examines the violence itself — it’s perpetrators, its program statements, and its victims — as well as its social, economic, political, and cultural origins. The Revolutionary Mystique and Terrorism in Contemporary Italy describes the fateful encounter between the country’s historic revolutionary traditions and its present severe social and political equilibrium.

“…the best thing that I have yet read on the subject of Italian terrorism. [Drake’s work] puts this difficult topic in historical perspective and avoids the sensationalism and partisanship that infect the rest of the literature on the topic. From this book I learned a great deal…”—Roland Sarti, University of Massachusetts

“Interesting and important. …a pleasure to read.”—Felix Gilbert, Princeton University

“Richard Drake’s book will certainly, and immediately, establish itself as the standard work on the subject. …his conclusion is a gem of writing and analysis. It ably summarizes and explains the reasons for modern Italian extremism while masterfully connecting it to a political action on the peninsula.”—Jack Reece, University of Pennsylvania

Winner in 1989 of the Helen and Howard R. Marraro Prize in Italian History, awarded in 1989 by the Society for Italian Historical Studies
Full Marraro Prize citation:
“Understanding the genesis and role of terrorism in contemporary Italy is a major intellectual challenge. Richard Drake’s The Revolutionary Mystique confronts this challenge courageously and successfully. Thoroughly researched and cogently argued, this study examines the ideological and social roots of political terrorism since the 1960s. But The Revolutionary Mystique is more than a study of political tendencies. It is also the story of how individual men and women have responded to historical change in personal and unpredictable ways. The result is a study that considers political terrorism in broad context without depersonalizing it and illuminates the phenomenon without concessions to the spirit of sensationalism.”

“This volume constitutes one of the very few informed and updated, documented and balanced syntheses of both terrorist phenomena in the years of lead, the black as well as the red…. Though the entire volume is dense with particulars and rich in acute and precise observations, its originality and depth depend above all on an exploration of the revolutionary mystique…. [I]ts many merits include a sober, even brilliant style, a taut and well-paced narration, rich in details and never prolix… a study of great value and interest.” —Gianfranco Pasquino, Polis: Ricerche e Studi su Società e Politica in Italia (il Mulino)

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Byzantium for Rome: The Politics of Nostalgia in Umbertian Italy, 1878-1900 (1980)

Byzantium for RomeRichard Drake’s Byzantium for Rome is a study of politics and culture in Unbertian Italy, 1878-1900. The book focuses on the political thought and activity of a highly influential group of reactionary intellectuals in the post-Risorgimento period: Giosuè Carducci (1835-1907), Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863-1938), and the other so-called bizantini writers on publisher Angelo Sommaruga’s Cronaca bizantina staff.

Mazzini and others in the Risorgimento generation of intellectuals had confidently predicted the beginning of a Third Rome once the country was unified, a modern Rome worthy of its classical and medieval past. Post-Risorgimento events did nothing to confirm this sanguine vision. Instead, after 1860, the country met with disaster at every turn: massive social and economic dislocations, humiliating affronts to its prestige in international affairs, and shattering defeats in war.

Post-Risorgimento Italy provoked the scorn and hatred of practically everybody then writing about the country’s political life, especially the disciples of Mazzini. Among Italian writers Carducci was the leading Mazzinian of his generation, and his most famous denunciation of liberal Italy expressed in poetic form the country’s disgust: “Italy the unready called for Rome/Byzantium they have given her.” He became a cultural and political hero to the Umbertian intellectuals belonging to D’Annunzio’s generation. They were horrified by the dissolution of the Risorgimento’s virile Roman ideal into the Post-Risorgimento effeminate Byzantine reality. “Byzantium for Rome” summarizes their sense of loss, betrayal and disillusionment.

The “politics of nostalgia” which arose from an aesthetic critique of liberalism, developed in this atmosphere of intense and constantly exacerbated intellectual alienation. Blaming the stress of contemporary life on the rule of businessmen, the esthetes looked back nostalgically to Italy’s past and longed for a revival of political traditionalism that alone, they felt, would make possible a new Latin Renaissance.

These reactionary ideas pervaded Italian cultural and political life long after the disappearance of Sommaruga’s Cronaca bizantina in 1885. The author carries his study forward to 1900 when the politics of nostalgia underwent a final crisis in the career of Enrico Corradini (1865-1931), leading to the development of a fresh ideological alternative for the country’s politically right-wing intellectuals — nationalism, itself an important link between nineteenth-century traditions of conservative protest and the twentieth-century ideology of fascism.

“Richard Drake’s Byzantium for Rome is an unusual and original piece of historical writing both as it is conceived and as it is executed…. [T]his book is well written, and the author is gifted in his ability to turn most appropriate and felicitous phrases on almost every page…. [The book] explores some of the leading political and cultural problems of the so-called post-Risorgimento. . . . [It] makes an original and significant contribution to Italian history. The late nineteenth century is an especially neglected period and it has seldom been looked at on its own terms. Drake’s work has the additional merit of exploring an area, cultural history, which for various reasons. . . has been almost totally neglected by Italian historians.”
Benjamin F. Brown, Editor and Director of the Opera Omnia di Sidney Sonnino
Byzantium for Rome was republished in 2012 as a University of North Carolina Press Enduring Edition


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