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Opposing the Crusader State
Alternatives to Global Interventionism
By Robert Higgs, Carl P. Close
The Independent InstituteCopyright © 2007 The Independent Institute
All rights reserved.
Imperialism, Noninterventionism, and Revolution
Opponents of the Modern American Empire
JOSEPH R. STROMBERG
From one angle of vision, nonintervention is the essential American perspective on foreign affairs. Honored in the breach more than in practice, nonintervention may nevertheless be the foreign-policy option most consistent with the broadly libertarian values of the liberal republicanism that characterized the American Revolution (Arieli 1964, Bailyn 1967). It is the application of that libertarian heritage to foreign affairs.
Libertarianism, as a full-wrought ideological system, rests on every individual's self-ownership. On this axiom, no one can own another, and all possess equal liberty by virtue of their self-ownership. Equal liberty entails everyone's right to acquire and exchange property, along with a right to defend person and property. Hence, it follows that no one may initiate the use of force. It is legitimate to use force only in self-defense, and it is possible to establish firm criteria for what constitutes genuine self-defense (Rothbard 1998, esp. 161–97).
It serves ethical consistency, as well as certain practical results, if the standards that apply between individuals are applied as far as possible to the actions of states, armies, and bureaucracies. Nonintervention, sometimes miscalled "isolationism," is thus the application of classical liberal (libertarian) principles to foreign policy. Hence, libertarians typically wish that the U.S. government restrict its use of force to repelling actual attacks on the territory of the United States (Rothbard 2000, 115–32). Unlike liberals, conservatives, and even some radicals, who argue over how much — and what kinds of — aid to send to which oppressive regimes abroad, or exactly where to apply American military might, libertarians reject the imperial path and all arguments for empire: economic, power-political, or "humanitarian."
Of course, not everyone arrives at nonintervention by such an organized, ideological route. There are other paths and differing degrees of theoretical rigor. Nevertheless, nonintervention reflects a number of basic themes in American cultural history. One of these is the Puritan, and later typically American, notion of America as a "City on a Hill," aloof from the Old World's quarrels yet able to influence the world through the good example of a successful, free, and prosperous commonwealth eschewing militarism and imperial expansion. In the original Puritan view, of course, the example involved a particular kind of Calvinist piety, and this theme could slide over into sundry secular, liberal, or republican missions of wielding state power and armed force to right the world's wrongs (see Tuveson 1968, Hatch 1977). A recent writer uses the term "exemplarism" for the City-on-a-Hill ideal and sees a tendency for its adherents to turn toward "vindicationism" (armed intervention) when the American example is not embraced (Monten 2005).
Many statesmen of our revolutionary era espoused the cause of nonintervention. George Washington, in his celebrated Farewell Address to the American people in 1796, urged Americans to avoid taking sides in foreign quarrels. America, he said, should maintain liberal and impartial commercial relations with the rest of the world, but "have with them as little political connection as possible." President John Adams practiced successful nonintervention by maneuvering to avoid war with France in spite of strong pressures from within his own Federalist Party. His successor, Thomas Jefferson, also advocated nonintervention, despite partisan differences with the Federalists on other issues. In his First Inaugural, Jefferson called for "peace, commerce, and honest friendships with all nations, entangling alliances with none" (quotations from Washington and Jefferson from Commager 1963, 174, 188, emphasis in original).
Reinforced by geographical isolation from the rest of the world, the traditions of British insularity, and public preoccupation with expansion into contiguous land areas, nonintervention became the seldom-questioned premise of U.S. relations with established European powers and their empires. Nearer to home, in 1823, the Monroe Doctrine signaled U.S. pretensions to hegemony over the Western Hemisphere, although few interventions came of it until the late nineteenth century.
Despite some lapses, nonintervention was still the accepted rhetorical standard of traditional U.S. foreign policy, and the lapses were deviations from it. This is an important point because today's overseas interventions enjoy the blessings of the political-intellectual establishment at the outset.
John Quincy Adams summed up the noninterventionist creed in his justly famous Fourth of July Address in 1821:
America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standards of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.
As expressed by Adams and others, nonintervention, or strict noninterference in the internal affairs of other nations as well as strict neutrality in conflicts between nations, remained a key force in U.S. public opinion and actual policy up to 1898 and even to 1917. After the disillusioning experience of World War I, nonintervention enjoyed a strong revival in the 1920s and 1930s, only to be buried by World War II and subsequent events.
Already in the early nineteenth century, despite U.S. adherence to nonintervention in overseas territories, there existed a consensus that saw the gradual absorption of contiguous land areas as desirable, convenient, and even imperative for any number of reasons. As historian William Appleman Williams has written, James Madison, "father of the Constitution," was an especially persuasive and influential theorist of expansion. According to classical republican political theory, territorial expansion necessarily weakens free, representative institutions, but Madison stood this argument on its head, reasoning that larger territory would diminish the evils of "faction" and thereby make constitutional government safer (Williams 1973, 157–65).
The implications of territorial expansion were not lost on several generations of Americans bent on grabbing the land adjoining their own. Territorial expansion as such does not immediately involve a nation in the problems of empire in quite the same way that "saltwater," or overseas, expansion does; and expansion into neighboring lands can in principle be accomplished by peaceful means, such as the (probably unconstitutional) Louisiana Purchase. Nonetheless, the characteristic use of force to take land, as in the Seminole War, other Indian wars, and the Mexican War, began to stretch the republic's institutional balance early on. Thus, although James Polk set a precedent for "presidential war" by maneuvering U.S. troops into an incident with Mexico, historian William Earl Weeks has argued that U.S. diplomacy with regard to Florida and Oregon had already shifted power away from Congress and into the hands of the executive branch two decades earlier (1992, esp. 181–85).
The bitter struggle between North and South over the status of slavery in the western territories led directly to the War for Southern Independence, revealing the downside of Madison's expansionist rationale. Northern victory in turn drastically shifted the institutional balance away from that of the original union. As classical-liberal historian Arthur A. Ekirch describes the process in The Decline of American Liberalism (1969) and Ideas, Ideals, and American Diplomacy (1966), the "agricultural imperialism" of Manifest Destiny helped to engender "civil war," which in turn strengthened the hand of mercantilism in federal policy — for example, in tariffs, excises, conscription (the supreme violation of individual liberty), paper money, and the like — and weakened localism or "states rights."
Powerful ideas accompanied this practical retreat from American liberal, pacific ideals. One of these ideas was Manifest Destiny, the doctrine of inherent necessity and righteousness in U.S. territorial aggrandizement by whatever means. Another significant idea was a sense of the superiority of U.S. republican institutions; Madison's belief that expansion was a positive good led to the view that U.S. ideals and forms of government could usefully be extended by force of arms. This view ironically is similar to later Soviet rhetoric, which held that the extension of the USSR's influence was the expansion of the area of freedom.
This messianic sense of American mission survived into the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Combined with it was a newer strategic formulation of U.S. "interest," supposedly "economic" in character. As historians William Appleman Williams and Walter LaFeber have shown in The Roots of the Modern American Empire (1969) and The New Empire (1963), respectively, some U.S. statesmen and businessmen toward the turn of the century came to believe that American prosperity hinged on access to foreign markets for the "surplus" products of American farms and factories, as well as for "surplus" capital. Economic depressions in the 1870s and 1890s were taken as proof of that analysis (see also Gardner 1966; McCormick 1967). Libertarians, stressing Austrian economic analysis and Say's Law of Markets, would of course dispute this "overproduction" hypothesis, and some would argue that a prior inflation of the money supply by federal policies was at fault. Depressions are not inherent in a market economy, though; they are caused by the state's disruptive monetary policies. Hence, the demand for foreign markets to be secured by a vigorous — ultimately imperial — foreign policy came out of faulty analysis, exporters' self-interested claims, and later, the coherent weltanschauung of corporate liberalism advanced by reformers and business groups.
It is especially important to grasp that the same Progressive reformers who sought broad departures from (relative) economic liberty at home likewise sought a more vigorous, imperial foreign policy. Very close in spirit and analysis to English and European "social imperialists," the Progressive activists (who overlapped with the businessmen they were supposedly going to regulate for the common good) sought the strong state at home and abroad as the instrument of power and social justice. This point is important because later usage of political labels has thoroughly confused the identities of the contending factions. That the modern liberals' policies ultimately strengthened a great many objectively (situationally) conservative social groups — Big Business, Big Labor, Big Government, the military, defense contractors, and the like — should never be allowed to obscure the newer liberalism's ideological role in blessing the policies.
With the increasing acceptance of the theory that the U.S. economy had to expand as a system into foreign markets, America's leaders pushed the country more and more into hemispheric interference and finally into "world leadership." The supposed expansionist logic was ably articulated by such publicists and statesmen as Frederick Jackson Turner in "The Significance of the Frontier in American History" ( 1920), Brooks Adams in America's Economic Supremacy (1900), Theodore Roosevelt in numerous essays and speeches, and many others of the then "best and brightest."
Economists chimed in, especially Charles Conant, John Bates Clark, and Jeremiah W. Jenks, who proclaimed that a general crisis of "overproduction" and falling profits menaced American economic life — a crisis so severe, according to them, that only state-assisted engrossment of overseas markets could allay it.
The Spanish-American War (1898) was the first important conflict occasioned by the new strategy of economic empire. By containing the Cuban Revolution and rendering Cuba a virtual U.S. colony, policymakers secured markets there. Cuba also proved useful as a "laboratory" for Progressive reformers (Pérez 1985, 1988; see also Gillette 1973). In addition, the war allowed the acquisition of the Philippine Islands from Spain; the added territory, like the earlier acquisition of Hawaii, was seen as an important stepping-stone to the markets of Asia. In a foretaste of things to come, this adventure in formal colonial imperialism soon led to a guerrilla war — the Philippine Insurrection — in which U.S. forces ultimately prevailed by means of overwhelming firepower and atrocities. By the end, some 220,000 Filipinos had perished.
The subsequent Open Door Notes (1899, 1900) represented a statement of American determination to have access to world markets, whether the peoples of the world willed it or not. Directed at the problem of exclusive European spheres of trade in China, the notes nonetheless reflected U.S. official policy toward the world as a whole. Hence, U.S. policy since the notes can conveniently be referred to as Open Door Imperialism. It is worth pointing out that the supposed "open door" swung mostly one way and did not imply equal access to U.S. markets for foreign companies and countries; it was to be imposed by force if necessary — another indication of how far the Open Door was (and remains) from true free trade.
Firmly convinced of the need for foreign markets, the rightness of gaining them by force, and the "liberalism" of their aims, American administrations from the late nineteenth century to today have subsidized exporters, lobbied abroad for business, brought down "unfriendly" governments by pressure and force, and ultimately gone to war in pursuit of the Open Door and against all apparent threats to its realization. This multifaceted program has composed the essence of U.S. "liberal internationalism" in the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. First the Central Powers, then the Japanese and Germans in the 1930s and 1940s, then the USSR, the People's Republic of China, and most recently revolutionary movements in small Third World countries have all somehow failed to play a U.S.-defined economic role and had to be met head on, "contained," and shown the error of their ways. World War I, World War II, and the conflicts of the past sixty years display great continuity upon examination of the record.
By the same token, the domestic opposition to U.S. interventionism has shown a moral and ideological continuity that derives from old liberal ideas of laissez-faire, peace, and nonintervention. Although the antiwar forces have allowed themselves to be divided by labels and the loss, at times, of historical self-consciousness, nonetheless a rough tradition has persisted from the opponents of the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Spanish-American War (who were in this case, more properly, the Anti-Imperialist League, which heroically sought to expose massacres in the Philippines) to the opponents of World War I, World War II, the Cold War, Vietnam, and all the wars since then. The continuity and tradition of the antiwar forces concern me here. I begin with a summary of some early antiwar movements.
EARLY WARS, EARLY CRITICS, AND OPPONENTS
Most American wars have generated dissent well beyond the ranks of traditional pacifist groups, which should not be surprising in view of the cosmopolitan neutrality and pacific inclinations of our original individualist liberalism. These tendencies cut across party lines and narrower concerns. Thus, the supposedly pro-peace Jeffersonians shortsightedly embroiled America in the War of 1812, partly through mercantilist measures of economic warfare (Stagg 1981) that were intended to "coerce" Britain and France and thereby to achieve U.S. aims short of war. The war itself proved to be extremely unpopular in New England, and remnants of the moribund Federalist Party rallied much of New England in opposition to it, even keeping local militia out of the conflict. Denounced as "traitors," these Federalist activists met in the much-maligned Hartford Convention (1814) and proposed an interesting series of amendments to the Constitution that would have greatly limited the ability of U.S. administrations to wage aggressive and unpopular wars. A high point in the struggle over carrying out the war came with the defeat of a conscription bill in 1812 — an interesting and neglected precedent!
Excerpted from Opposing the Crusader State by Robert Higgs, Carl P. Close. Copyright © 2007 The Independent Institute. Excerpted by permission of The Independent Institute.
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Table of Contents
ContentsIntroduction Robert Higgs and Carl P. Close,
PART I AMERICAN NONINTERVENTIONISM,
1 Imperialism, Noninterventionism, and Revolution: Opponents of the Modern American Empire Joseph R. Stromberg,
2 New Deal Nemesis : The "Old Right" Jeffersonians Sheldon Richman,
3 On the Brink of World War II : Justus Doeneke's Storm on the Horizon Ralph Raico,
4 The Republican Road Not Taken: The Foreign Policy Vision of Robert A. Taft Michael T. Hayes,
PART II THE CASE AGAINST NATION BUILDING,
5 The Prospects for Democracy in High-Violence Societies James L. Payne,
6 Does Nation Building Work? James L. Payne,
7 Did The United States Create Democracy in Germany? James L. Payne,
8 A Matter of Small Consequence: U. S. Foreign Policy and the Tragedy of East Timor Jerry K. Sweeney,
PART III DEBATING THE DEMOCRATIC PEACE,
9 Democracy and War Ted Galen Carpenter,
10 Democracy and War: Reply R. J. Rummel,
11 Democracy and War: Rejoinder Ted Galen Carpenter,
12 Stealing and Killing: A Property-Rights Theory of Mass Murder Stephen W. Carson,
PART IV FREE TRADE AS A PEACE STRATEGY,
13 Commerce, Markets, and Peace: Richard Cobden's Enduring Lessons Edward P. Stringham,
14 The Diffusion of Prosperity and Peace by Globalization Erich Weede,
About the Editors and Contributors,
Praise for Opposing the Crusader State,
About the Independent Institute,
Independent Studies in Political Economy,