Conservative internationalism : armed diplomacy under Jefferson, Polk, Truman, and Reagan

Conservative Internationalism in American Foreign Policy
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The Best Diplomacy Is Armed Diplomacy

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Liberal internationalism is, of course, the only, all-encompassing tradition of internationalism in the study of American foreign policy. America has a mission to change the world by spreading freedom and doing so in a way that builds up international institutions and diminishes the role of force and the balance of power in world affairs.

If you agree with that, you are a liberal internationalist, and if you don't, you are a realist or a nationalist. Realists believe in the balance of power to promote stability in the world but not to spread freedom, and nationalists believe that countries value their sovereignty and independence above everything else and some may never wish to be free. Conservatives are usually realists and nationalists.

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Hence there is no such thing as "conservative internationalism. I intended to argue against this common view, to contend that many conservatives are also internationalists, that is, they, like liberal internationalists, believe that the world can be changed and freedom spread. However, they also believe that this can be achieved only through the realist's commitment to the use of force and the nationalist's commitment to respect and preserve national sovereignty.

Conservatives, therefore, are more inclined to expect the use of force in international affairs and less sanguine about the role of centralized institutions, foreseeing a world in which nations remain armed even as they become democratic. I had identified the basic tenets of an overlooked tradition of conservative internationalism and backed up my argument with historical examples from the foreign policies of four American presidents: Thomas Jefferson, James Polk, Harry Truman, and Ronald Reagan. I entered the room brimming with confidence and gave my lecture. Little did I expect that my principal challenge would come from a fellow conservative, not the more numerous liberal colleagues who have always dominated my intellectual surroundings.

As the question period opened, a skeptical conservative friend intoned: "Henry, what is so conservative about spreading freedom? Conservatives do not support such revolutionary aims; they value stability.

So let me begin with some definitions. They never satisfy anyone, not least because they pin labels on people and we all prefer to be considered as objective. But we can make no distinctions without definitions.

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Account Options Sign in. Henry R. John Ikenberry argues that the crisis that besets the American-led order is a crisis of authority. Ikenberry provides the most systematic statement yet about the theory and practice of the liberal international order, and a forceful message for policymakers, scholars, and general readers about why America must renegotiate its relationship with the rest of the world and pursue a more enlightened strategy--that of the liberal leviathan. In the past, conservatives and Republicans have tended to agree more than they disagree on such issues.

Definitions are not categorical; they are comparative and identify relative not absolute differences. With that caveat, what do I mean by liberal and conservative? What are the different strands of conservatism? Louis Hartz got it right when he said that all Americans are liberals. He meant, pure and simple, we are all children of the Declaration of Independence, of the revolutionary idea that "all men are created equal. Traditional authority, rooted in religion and monarchy, restrained freedom from Roman times on and was often identified as conservative.

Rationalist dogma, an outgrowth of modern times, shackled freedom to the dictates of reason and was often identified as radical. At the extreme, traditional authority led to fascism and the exaltation of myth, culture, and race; rationalist dogma led to socialism and communism and the exaltation of the intelligentsia, expertise, and the state. But the American Revolution yielded neither fascism nor socialism let alone communism.

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Unique among modern Western countries, the United States experienced no fascist except fleetingly perhaps in the Old South or socialist extremes. There was no monarchy or state church to destroy and hence no fascist or socialist utopias to build. In that sense, the American Revolution was not a revolution but an evolution, a continuation of the experiment in self-government running from classical times to the Magna Carta, to the Glorious Revolution, to the Whig politics of the late eighteenth century.

In short the American Revolution was conservative. It built on the liberal antecedents of Western and English thought and advanced freedom incrementally, not radically. The Declaration did not liberate black slaves or white women, and it extended the franchise only to white male property owners, who comprised roughly 60 to 70 percent of the white male population at the time. And the Constitution did not legislate change; in fact it did just the opposite.


It divided powers and made it difficult to legislate change — hence the protracted struggle against slavery and on behalf of women's suffrage. While both advances, franchise and constitutional, went beyond what existed in England at the time, they were not radical.

Conservative Internationalism: Armed Diplomacy under Jefferson, Polk, Truman and Reagan

The American Revolution conserved as much as it changed, legitimating progress by precedent rather than by dogma. If the American academy were conservative rather than liberal, Hartz might well have written, "all Americans are conservatives. Either way, whether all Americans are liberals or conservatives, America's traditions reject political extremes. Indeed, once we define these traditions, we see that they collaborate to rule out radical outcomes. In America, liberals and conservatives compete for the center of the political spectrum, not the polar extremes. Department of State. In that capacity he worked in the office of the Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to organize a major conference on science, technology, and foreign policy. From to Nau served as a senior staff member of the National Security Council responsible for international economic affairs. Outside government, Nau continued his public service. From to , he directed the U.