Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Isolationism — As American as Apple Pie

Dissent Magazine's Zach Dorfman offers a useful primer — What We Talk About When We Talk About Isolationism. Some excerpts:
    The idea that global military dominance and political hegemony is in the U.S. national interest—and the world’s interest—is generally taken for granted domestically. Opposition to it is limited to the libertarian Right and anti-imperialist Left, both groups on the margins of mainstream political discourse. Today, American supremacy is assumed rather than argued for: in an age of tremendous political division, it is a bipartisan first principle of foreign policy, a presupposition. In this area at least, one wishes for a little less agreement.


    Today, isolationism is often portrayed as intellectually bankrupt, a redoubt for idealists, nationalists, xenophobes, and fools. Yet the term now used as a political epithet has deep roots in American political culture. Isolationist principles can be traced back to George Washington’s farewell address, during which he urged his countrymen to steer clear of “foreign entanglements” while actively seeking nonbinding commercial ties. (Whether economic commitments do in fact entail political commitments is another matter.) Thomas Jefferson echoed this sentiment when he urged for “commerce with all nations, [and] alliance with none.” Even the Monroe Doctrine, in which the United States declared itself the regional hegemon and demanded noninterference from European states in the Western hemisphere, was often viewed as a means of isolating the United States from Europe and its messy alliance system.

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Blogger Mark D. said...

Great post but I would differ in terminology. Isolationism has never been American policy. We have never been an isolationist country -- America has traded and had reciprocal relationships with other countries throughout its history. What we were at our Founding and should return to be is non-interventionist. Friendly to all -- business, diplomatic relations, cultural & scientific exchanges, etc. -- but intervening only when direct and immediate American interests are threatened. And by "threatened" I mean something tangible via military action.

The terminology may appear to be minor in difference but I think it is important. We don't want to close off from the world. We want to be engaged with the world. But not control it, police it or run it. We aren't for walling off America, but we don't want a metastasizing America either.

August 9, 2012 at 2:13 AM  
Blogger Pints in NYC said...

I agree - "non-interventionist" is the phrase I'd use also.

I enjoy and recommend Walter A. McDougall's book from the late 1990s on these issues:

"Promised Land, Crusader State"

August 9, 2012 at 6:34 AM  

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