Home/Daniel Larison/Isolationists


As a follow-up to this post at the Scene, I should make a few clarifications.  I don’t like, and generally try not to use, the word isolationist, because the word is pretty much meaningless and leads to all sorts of misunderstandings.  The word isolationist is inherently pejorative and is an extremely loaded term, and moreover there are not actually any real isolationists yesterday, today or at any other time.  These figures are the bogeys of progressive globalists.  They are to domestic foreign and trade policy debate what “Nazi” and “fascist” are to descriptions of foreign governments targeted by Washington: convenient props to be used to justify current policy and tar opponents with words with strong negative associations.  Like these latter attacks on foreign governments, the terms “protectionist” and “isolationist” reflect the time warp and warped sense of history that progressive globalists of both parties share, in which it is perpetually the 1930s, the next Hitler is always on the rise and they must, like FDR and Churchill, boldly resist their domestic foes to prevent catastrophe, yadda yadda yadda. 

As Pat Buchanan said last week:

Isolationist is an epithet used to smear those patriots who adhere to Washington’s admonition to stay out of foreign wars, Jefferson’s counsel to seek “peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none” and John Quincy Adams’s declaration that America “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.”

Now it is true that there is a strong sentiment, especially in the Democratic Party, that we should “mind our own business” in the world, and there is a strong backlash against free trade agreements.  What is remarkable, then, is not that the Democratic presidential candidates have been touting their antiwar and anti-NAFTA positions in an election year, but that they are still broadly extremely interventionist and supportive of free trade generally.  As on the right, you cannot actually find any living, breathing isolationists on the left; you might find some protectionists, but the are clearly not in charge of anything.  In this sense, Lieberman is going overboard by trying to make a much narrower disagreement over Iraq into the occasion for declaring that the Democratic Party left him, and not vice versa.  The problem isn’t that the Democratic Party has really turned away from the hawkish internationalism of the past, but mainly that Lieberman is so hawkish that he feels compelled to support every use of force regardless of whether it continues to make sense to do so.  However, the broader shift of the party to the left is real and it is a good development from the perspective of the progressives who are winning the internecine fights.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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