Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Is the Tea Party Really Serious About a Return to the Founding?

In 1793, in reaction to the French Revolution, much of Europe broke out into war. At the time, there was also an intense internal battle going on between the Hamiltonian Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans that was turning nasty and venomous.  In fact, both men deplored one another and sought to sabotage the efforts of each other whenever possible. Nonetheless, even in the midst of this nasty rivalry that almost tore Washington's cabinet apart they were able to agree on one thing:  Neutrality in the conflicts of Europe.   A founding era foreign policy that lasted the better part of 150 years. 

Here is the text of Washington's Proclamation:

"Whereas it appears that a state of war exists between Austria, Prussia, Sardinia, Great Britain, and the United Netherlands, of the one part, and France on the other; and the duty and interest of the United States require, that they should with sincerity and good faith adopt and pursue a conduct friendly and impartial toward the belligerant Powers;
I have therefore thought fit by these presents to declare the disposition of the United States to observe the conduct aforesaid towards those Powers respectfully; and to exhort and warn the citizens of the United States carefully to avoid all acts and proceedings whatsoever, which may in any manner tend to contravene such disposition.
And I do hereby also make known, that whatsoever of the citizens of the United States shall render himself liable to punishment or forfeiture under the law of nations, by committing, aiding, or abetting hostilities against any of the said Powers, or by carrying to any of them those articles which are deemed contraband by the modern usage of nations, will not receive the protection of the United States, against such punishment or forfeiture; and further, that I have given instructions to those officers, to whom it belongs, to cause prosecutions to be instituted against all persons, who shall, within the cognizance of the courts of the United States, violate the law of nations, with respect to the Powers at war, or any of them.
In testimony whereof, I have caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed to these presents, and signed the same with my hand. Done at the city of Philadelphia, the twenty-second day of April, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the seventeenth."

There you have it. After reading this and understanding that non-intervention was the foreign policy for majority of our time as a nation, one has to wonder if conservatives that support having troops in 70% of the world are not being a little disingenuous with all this "return to the founding" talk.  If Tea Party folk are elected this November and this does not change one will have to wonder:

Is the Tea Party Really Serious About a Return to the Founding?

This is not a partisan shot in that I am partial to much of what the Tea Party stands for but deplore the duplicity of some.


Brad Hart said...

I realize that it wasn't a military move but the Jay Treaty (which Washington fully backed) was clearly not a neutral move.

Tom Van Dyke said...

An odd but interesting post. Had there been no such thing as Nazism or Communism ["Sovietism," for all you marxists out there], I suppose the idea would hold.

Washington's riff was "avoid foreign entanglements," namely the bizarre system of European alliances that had you at war every 50 years or so with somebody you probably had no beef with.

The zenith of this madness was WWI, where over 10 million were murdered in a mindless war nobody could even remember why they were fighting.

The US eventually jumped in, tipped the equilibrium, and stopped the slaughter. But America's isolationism returned immediately, and left the victorious Allies to impose unpayable reparations on Germany.

No surprise, the Europeans were back at it again within a generation. This time, America stuck around for the peace and instead of an abusive Treaty of Versailles, imposed a rebuilding Marshall Plan that made peaceable world citizens out of the Germans.

Then there were the Soviets, who had already conquered much of Eastern Europe even before Hitler was dead. Best to stick around and keep an eye on them, lest we have to return for a third time.

That's it in a nutshell, without even going into the Empire of Japan's literal rape of China, Korea, and the western Pacific Rim, which we did our best to ignore or at least contain. At one point, the Axis dominated nearly half of the surface of the earth!

So, the "foreign entanglements" riff has some weight again now that the Nazis and Soviets are gone and it seems unlikely that jihad will go worldwide. But we've scarcely had the chance to breathe, to re-evaluate.

The Korean War is perhaps the most difficult and ambiguous illustration of the problem. We lost 30,000+ there to "win" a stalemate. Today 50 million rather ungrateful South Koreans live in freedom and prosperity instead of starvation and tyranny under Kim Jong Il's boot. Were we to withdraw next Tuesday, Kim's troops would be across the border on Wednesday.

After over a successful century-plus of heeding Washington's dictum of avoiding foreign entanglements and eventually ignoring him and entering WWI, the US has been on the horns of a dilemma. Once in, as one of the few decent nations on earth, to leave seems to make things even worse. And now that murder travels this globe at the speed of sound, we can no longer hide behind the geopolitical safety of oceans as we could in Washington's day, or even be content to enforce the Monroe Doctrine of a later day in only one hemisphere.

What's a decent nation to do? Damned if you do, attacked at Pearl Harbor if you don't.

King of Ireland said...

"An odd but interesting post"

Intended to be as a break from the usual. Also timely with the elections that Brad was talking about coming up.

King of Ireland said...


Many of the countries we are in have nothing to do with the Cold War. I think it is 135.

You had it right the seal was broken in WWI and in my opinion we should have stayed out of it. WWII is a hard one. I think Russia was a boogey man. My fear is that militant Islam is too in many ways.

I do agree the world is different than it was in the says of GW but not that much different in many ways.

King of Ireland said...

Good point about Jay's Treaty Brad. But it did not entangle us in war as you pointed out. Sure pissed a lot of people off though.

Brad Hart said...

I agree that WWII was a game changer. We had to get involved on a grand scale. The threat was legitimate and millions of people were in real danger. No need to rehearse the stories of WWII. We should all know them by now. Sufficeth to say that America had to temporarily discard Washington's admonition. It simply had to be done.

As for the aftermath, well, it's hard to say. I read a book a while back that compared the post-WWII Soviet-USA conflict to the ancient battle for supremacy between Rome and Carthage. Once Carthage was out of the picture, Rome became the world's only remaining "super power." As a result, Rome went on a feeding frenzy for land, power, riches, etc. Shortly thereafter, the republic had to go bye bye. After all, it's sort of hard to maintain an empire without first having and EMPEROR. I'm not sure I buy the overall argument but it was interesting nonetheless. There's no doubt that our doctrine has shifted. Heck, I've though for a long time that 1945 was as big of a benchmark year in American history as is 1776, 1789, 1492, etc. A whole lot changed in the post-WWII world and I don't think we can ever hope to fully return to the "good ol' days" of before.

T. Greer said...

Speaking of those who wish to return our national security strategy to the founding....

Col. Pat Yingling wrote an article for Armed Forces Journal* that may be of interest to this crowd:

The Founders Wisdom.
Pat Yingling. Armed Forces Journal. January 2010.

*For those who frequent military circles rarely, AFJ is to the military establishment what TNR was to the Clinton Administration, the National Review was to the Bush administration, and the New Yorker and New York Review of Books is to everybody else.

More or less.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Very good stuff on the Jay Treaty, Brad. I hope you do more on it. Jefferson and Madison's opposition is key---considered judgment or mere partisanship? I read up on it based on your comment. Thx.

Working backward from the present, the rest of America's choices cannot be understood without considering World War I, I argue, and tried to. I hate Europe, as the Founders did, mostly. That's what they or their forefathers came here to escape.

We as a nation may have chosen wrongly or rightly in WWI and thereafter, but we did the best we could, knowing what we knew at the time. Without careful consideration of WWI, or the Korean War, both morally and geo-politically ambiguous, the rest descends into nonsense.

King of Ireland said...

I guess the question is was World War I really any different than the European War that was raging when Washington issued the Proclamation? I am no expert in either. I studied WWI a little in college but know almost nothing about the Wars of Europe in 1793.

But I think it a good question and one that needs to be discussed and never is other than by Ron Paul. I like the link that T. Greer supplied. I cannot say I agree with all that was written in that article but at least someone is talking about the founders.

We haven't even gotten into standing armies yet. How does a nation that did not want standing armies sitting on their soil from Europe and goes to great lengths in the Constitution to forbid it do the same to 135 nations 200 years later. I would argue we have become Great Britain. They used to say they were doing it to protect people too.

This history thing is a real killer for people in charge. If people will only read it one will realize that as far as we have come in some areas in others not so much.

eli said...

Brad said:

"... America had to temporarily discard Washington's admonition. It simply had to be done."

Continuing the theme of KOI's post, had the US government stayed true to the founding all along, it would have been nearly impossible to finance a war in Europe, and Brad's comment would be moot.

Our central bank, an evil and insidious institution, made the war possible, and ironically, made it "immoral" to stay out of the war.

Yes, I like Ron Paul too.

King of Ireland said...


This post was more about the truth of the founding and modern views about it than actual policy but I here you loud and clear. I am a big Ron Paul fan.

But I think more of his followers should be reading and participating in blogs like this to learn the nuances of all the issues involved with the founding. I have said for a while we need an American Creation blog for economics too. It comes up some here but would steer this blog away from its foundations if it came up too much.

eli said...

KOI said:

"This post was more about the truth of the founding and modern views about it than actual policy but I here you loud and clear."

I understand the nuance - you wanted to make a statement without derailing the blog into polemics.

This blog is exceptionally neutral in its exposure of the two basic opposing narratives about the founding. Because of this, I was interested to observe Brad and TvD promoting the standard hagiographic narrative of the role of the US in world history.

In other words, I suggest that this blog's value derives primarily from its friendly but firm posture toward narrative and storytelling, and, in the spirit of the blog, it cannot hurt too much to gently point out narratives that creep in when the subject goes off topic.

If I were a contributor here, I'd now suggest we do a group reading of the third chapter of "Natural Right and History".

Tom Van Dyke said...

Hagiography, Eli? Moi? Surely you jest.

As a matter of fact, moi is currently discussing [with Straussians] Strauss' "natural right" vs. the Christian idea of "human dignity" which leads to equality [which "natural right" doesn't recognize] and therefore liberty and "rights," which are not synonymous with "right."

King of Ireland said...

What's moi?

King of Ireland said...

So Stauss excepts Locke's theology but throws out his theology?

King of Ireland said...

Where are you discussing this?