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  • A Question of Self-Esteem: The United States and the Cold War Choices in France and Italy, 1944–1958
  • Alan S. Milward
Alessandro Brogi , A Question of Self-Esteem: The United States and the Cold War Choices in France and Italy, 1944–1958. Westport: Praeger, 2002. 315 pp. $74.95.

If read inattentively, Alessandro Brogi's book might appear to be another narrative history of the post-1945 recovery of defeated Italy and divided France and their rise to positions of respectability in the Western alliance. The book is based on solid research in Italian, French, and American archives, although it deals only with the political aspects of recovery. Despite that reservation, its coverage is otherwise at least as good as that of other books on the same theme, and it is pleasantly leisurely and lengthy in its approach.

Brogi's purpose, however, is not simply to provide a narrative but to say something new about the mechanics of Western alliance-building during the Cold War and about international relations in general. He treats the years after the surrender of Italyand the establishment of the provisional government in France as an abandonment of the prewar realpolitik that both countries practiced and as a search for prestige, status, and a favorable image as an alternative to power politics. The only wayfor them to gain prestige, as brief flirtations with neutralism or with the SovietUnion showed, was by offering support to the United States and by being "democratic" in their domestic and international orientation. The narrative history and the archival research are carefully tailored to show the development of these trends.

This approach leads to some conclusions of immediate interest to the history of the Cold War. Some are explicitly drawn, some hinted at, and others, although left aside, are methodologically inherent to the argument.

First, if the politics of prestige and, as the title has it, "self-esteem" was indeed fundamental to constructing the West, it follows that the Cold War, as Brogi argues, changed the nature of international relations. Thus, for example, the Helsinki agreements between West and East should be seen as the logical outcome of the way the Western alliance was built. Second, the competition for prestige between France and Italy, and on this point Brogi is insistent, was of positive value, even though it meant that all four major West European countries were in constant rivalry for continental leadership. It was precisely that rivalry, he argues, that brought cultural civilizational values to the forefront, although nationalism was in no way diminished. Third, and here Brogi is coyer, international relations may have undergone a permanent change as cultural values, human rights, and democracy have advanced as diplomatic weapons at the expense of economic and military power.

The evidence, if considered more fully, allows for two interpretations of the U.S. role in this story. The one preferred by Brogi is that the United States played the part of a subtle and prescient hegemon that induced Italy and France to renounce territorial expansion and empire as prerequisites of national strength and to substitute "prestige" as the road to self-esteem. In this way the United States skillfully made Cold War [End Page 156] allies out of one former enemy and one potential non-supporter. Selecting the evidence by omitting the economic and military aspects of the alliance, as Brogi does, leaves open the door to an alternative "realist" interpretation: Given the immediate postwar leverage of the United States over the European countries, no American subtlety was required. The great hegemon merely pursued its own national interest, and France and Italy had to change their policies to suit. Standing up for principles of international governance, European integration, cultural freedoms, and human rights was all in slavish conformity to Washington's changing definitions of the U.S. national interest, which, as with previous hegemons, had to be presented as morally superior to the interests of others. The "civilizational values" in which it was dressed were no more than fashionable, and thus disposable, clothing. Both Italy and France had, of course, every reason to link themselves after 1945 to statements of a higher morality. That the United States did not...