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Friday, November 18, 2005

In Defense of "Isolationism"

Greetings. I am pleased and honored to have been invited to blog here. I start with some  reflections about the U.S. and the international "community." 

No good liberal likes to be an isolationist. Isolationism is "bad," a hangover of primitive pre-globalization times.  So we have assumed (yours truly included) that the United States had to be in harmony with the international community, not against it.  Thus, many have criticized the United States' rejection of the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court Treaty, as well as the decision to invade Iraq without Security Council authorization. These are, after all, actions that alienate us from the rest of the world. Perhaps these criticisms have some merit.

Sometimes, however, hard as this may be to believe, the United States is right and the international “community” is wrong and thus being "isolated" is correct.  Two recent examples. The first is the signing (in Paris, of all places,) of an embarrassing treaty on “cultural protection.” This is, at best, an attempt (led by France and Canada) to protect their inefficient artists (yes, there are inefficient artists), and at worst the latest ejaculation of Anti-American phobia.  Dictators of the world, always ready to decide for their hapless citizens what movies they should watch, were delighted to join.

The second is more alarming: the attempt to regulate the Internet (see Lou Dobbs on CNN, Nov. 15, available on Lexis). These good dictators (again, with the support of the Europeans, albeit less enthusiastic) are pushing to take the Internet off the hands of the United States and giving it to the UN – an institution eminently corrupt and hostile to freedom. The international "community" follows the example of Fidel Castro, who tightly controls access to the Internet (unless, of course, you are a member of the government). Kudos to the  United States government, which is vocally opposing these (goofy) assaults on freedom. Sometimes "isolationism" is, simply put, the ethical thing to do. As we say in Argentina: mejor solos que mal acompañados.

Posted by fteson on November 18, 2005 at 08:54 AM in Current Affairs, Fernando Teson | Permalink


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Thanks so much for this article. I think you're on the right track, we do need to be somewhat isolationist, not to be unfriendly to the world, but as a defense of American rights.

Posted by: Aaron | Dec 19, 2007 10:19:49 AM

this article really helped me in my debate .thanks a lot. then again the last comment was correct. You didn't really explain how it was a good thing. You just stated and explained why "isolationism" is used wrongly. Thanks again.

Posted by: tiffany anderson | Nov 28, 2007 5:11:43 PM

I'm not all that good at grand verbal posturing, so I'll be blunt. Isolationism is good. Clearly we are increasingly tied down year by year to the U.N. and all the Global treaties that mysteriously and invariably hamper, or outright damage the U.S. Any plans these many foreign entities lay for us are with few exceptions designed to degrade or hurt the U.S. Yet our (so-called) leadership stumbles along in tow as if tied to some invisible chord. The only plan that will work now is a radical one. We must close all our embassies worldwide. We must close all of our military bases and posts and our military must be place on high alert during this process. Our nuclear forces should be made ready for use. Our military should be realigned to physically secure both our main borders. Any non-citizens should be expelled. The massive flood of imports would have to be abruptly stopped. Foreign owned and/or allied media should be shut down. Only once these things are done can we begin to focus on doing what is actually "good" for the U.S. "Our" sovereignty and "our" needs could be met first. I'm sure however that the majority of our "Ivy League" scholars and "mainstream" media would object and insist that we remain engaged in a world that hate the U.S. and spits on us daily. Who then are our real enemies?

Posted by: Rober Lopez | Oct 13, 2007 3:28:00 PM

I appreciate Adil's subtle remarks. I agree that neither "isolationism" not exceptionalism", which are loaded words, capture what I want to say, which is simply that there is no compelling "default" view that the U.S. (or anyone else, for that matter) should follow what the majority of other governments want. I happen to believe that (subject to criticism for various blunders, etc. etc.) the U.S. did the right thing in deposing Saddam, and it is doing the right thing in using its influence to prevent these other idiotic things that the international "community" wants to achieve. True, refusal to follow others should be grounded on some principle, as opposed to merely asserting that you are "exceptional" or "above the law". But "following others" should also depend on the merits, not on some vague "faux" cosmopolitanism that we should join the "civilized world."

Posted by: Fernando Teson | Nov 18, 2005 1:09:46 PM

I see. The point is not that isolationism is a good thing, but rather that the term "isolationism" is used irresponsibly. Similarly, "exceptionalism" gets thrown around, which indicates that a state hopes other states will adhere to multinational agreements without being bound in turn. That seems like a plausible charge against the U.S. position with respect to the use of military force, development of nuclear weapons, ICC jurisdiction, and some environmental agreements. But the treaties that concern Professor Teson seem to be ones the U.S. hopes no country signs. So the point is to disentangle critical engagement (or some such thing), which is positive, from a variety of defective policies.

Posted by: Adil Haque | Nov 18, 2005 11:55:46 AM

Yes, Adil, you're correct, which is why I think the quotation marks are used to signify the difference between being isolated from others without being isolationist qua disengaged.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Nov 18, 2005 10:27:33 AM

I think there is a difference between disengagement and critical engagement. I took "isolationism" to refer to the former, but you appear to be referring to the latter. The two often converge as to results, but there seems to be a difference of principle. To take one example, a state might decline to participate in global poverty relief because it believes states should only be concerned with the well-being of their own citizens, or because it accepts the goal as valid but believes the relief initiatives proposed will not achieve them. Those seem different to me.

Posted by: Adil Haque | Nov 18, 2005 10:16:01 AM

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