January 7, 2007


Jonah Goldberg writes for National Review Online, and has been predictably neocon on the Iraq war.

Imagine my surprise when he published a column in The Whale suggesting that although often wrong, non-interventionists are not all bad, and sometimes might have a point:
The truth is that "isolationism" was always a misnomer. Most "isolationists" believed in a strong military as well as trade and diplomatic engagement around the globe. "Non-interventionism" is a much better term and has a venerable American pedigree, starting with Washington's Farewell Address and his admonition against "entangling alliances." Secretary of State John Quincy Adams warned in 1821, "Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will [America's] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy." That line has been used a lot by liberals of late.

But that's exactly where the non-interventionists of the 1930s were coming from too. Theirs was not a pro-Nazi argument, as so many jingoist New Dealers insisted. It was a moralistic argument that held that empire-building was injurious to liberty at home and inept at fostering it abroad. Nor was it exclusively right-wing. Members and allies of the infamously "isolationist" America First Committee included Joseph Kennedy (who was pro-Nazi) as well as his sons Joe and John. (At Harvard, JFK sent the committee $100 with a note saying, "What you are doing is vital.")

John Dewey, the 20th century's most important liberal philosopher, was a non-interventionist, and Charles Beard, its most influential progressive historian, was an extreme one. Sens. Robert La Follette Sr. and Jr., both Progressive heroes, were passionately opposed to foreign intervention, as was Socialist Norman Thomas, financier Bernard Baruch and countless others. Many came to their stance after having been disillusioned by the hypocrisy, bloodshed and absurdity of World War I, which most of them supported.
Perhaps that old oxymoron of G.W.F. Hegel's that "We learn from history that we do not learn from history" is not always correct, and Jonah is not invincibly ignorant, as Daniel Larison is wont to suggest.

By the way, Washington's farewell address, which was really an essay, never used the term "entangling alliances." The closest he came was this:
Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?
George's question is still a good one.

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