Friday, December 21, 2001

THE JACKSONIAN TRADITION: Charles over at little green footballs reminds me of this article by Walter Russell Mead I heard about via Virgina Postrel back in April. It's all about competing strains in our foreign policy, named Jeffersonian, Hamiltonian, Jacksonian and Wilsonian. Mead is introducing the Jacksonian tradition in his article, after Andrew Jackson. If you haven't read it yet, please do so, it's really good.

UPDATE: Lake Effect Dan points out this talk given by one of Mead's collaborators, Sherle Schwenninger. It seems like Schwenninger and Mead are notable for trying to move past isolationism versus interventionism in describing American foreign policy:

Let me begin by introducing some broad notions of American foreign policy, deal with some of the catch notions which you've probably all come across in your study of the United States, but which I think may not be fully adequate in helping you understand the American foreign policy tradition and process and the evolution of American foreign policy, particularly during this period of time. It's often heard that the U.S. struggles between isolationism and internationalism, between withdrawal from the world and a very activist approach. It's also often posed that the United States has to choose between a moralist tradition that emphasizes values and human rights, and a more realist tradition that's concerned about hardcore interests and geopolitics. And often you'll hear, as you do in the current debate, particularly over the concern with the popularity of Pat Buchanan, about the risk of isolationism in American foreign policy today.

Well again, I believe this sort of oversimplifies what has gone on historically, and I think it's important to understand that there's a richer tradition of American involvement in the world that sort of defies these two categories. And I would break it up by saying that there's three sort of cultural traditions that the United States draws from and that you see manifested in its foreign policy. One is called the Hamiltonian tradition, which is named after Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, who represented sort of the big monied interests of the United States, the central banks, the sort of high politics of finance and geopolitics. This is the American equivalent of realism; it represented the tradition of the Anglo-American elite, the house of Morgan--Morgan was one of the largest Anglo-American banks, it had enormous influence on the early development of the United States; it was later represented by Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt. It's very much in the American great power tradition, that's concerned about the expansion of trade, but also building political alliances that underpin that trade.

But that's not the only tradition, or even the dominant one. There's also a very strong what I call Jeffersonian tradition in American foreign policy, and here's perhaps where people draw the relationship to the moralistic streaks of American foreign policy, the concerns about human rights, about international law, the Wilsonian tradition, Wilson is often to some degree associated with [the Jeffersonian tradition], named after Thomas Jefferson, who though he wanted to avoid entangling alliances, was very much concerned that American values inform the larger international order. Now I think the Jeffersonian tradition is best represented by the American missionary spirit. There's a rich history, even during the period when the United States was considered the most "isolationist," you had American missionaries on all the continents, very prominent in China in the 19th century, but also in Africa and Latin America,the tradition of going and spreading the American way of life and also the American religion. Today's equivalents of this missionary spirit are the human rights groups and the sort of transnational civil society that is predominantly, there's a lot of Anglo-French involvement in the NGO's, human rights and humanitarian organizations, but you'll notice that many of them are American. And I think this was perhaps well illustrated in the first days after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of democracy in Central Europe, you had a lot of twenty-something Americans as well as a lot of foundations, both individuals and institutions poured into the region to spread the American ethos of democracy and market economy.

The third tradition may be less noble, and I think this is where Pat Buchanan draws much of his resonance, and that is what I call the Jacksonian tradition, named after Andrew Jackson, who was president of the United States in the early 19th century. It's a populist, anti-internationalist, slightly paranoid, inward-looking, somewhat xenophobic, anti-immigrant tradition in the United States that has deep roots. It's often also aligned against the great banks. William Jennings Bryan, in the late 19th century, who ran for president in 1896 on the platform of doing away with the gold standard, which was a conspiracy by the Anglo-American banks to bankrupt American farmers and small businessmen, is part of that tradition. In a strange way, Jessie Jackson borrows some of those attributes, though he also borrows heavily from the Jeffersonian tradition. There was an element of paranoia in this American Jacksonian tradition that is also familiar to people from the Central European region, and I think was reinforced by a lot of refugees from the Second World War who brought a lot of anxieties about having lived in the shadow of German Nazism and Soviet Stalinism and reinforced that tradition, surprisingly.

Read it in full. It's good background reading if you were intrigued by what James Woolsey was saying in that Jerusalem Post article.

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