The “mind your own business” approach to foreign policy seems to evoke instant contempt and derision in elite Republican circles: yet it makes common sense, and sneering “isolationist” at its proponents is a mere bullying tactic.
A word’s change in meaning often exposes the heart of an entire Zeitgeist. “Passionate” used to signify behavior which is impulsive—opposed to reason and heedless of reason’s hand on the reins. For about twenty-five hundred years, the word was so understood. Ancient philosophers regarded passion as the origin of what Christians would call sinful acts: one knows the wrongness of violence but strikes in anger, one knows the wrongness of theft but steals in envy, etc. Now, and indeed for at least three decades, to be passionate is considered good, or even mandatory for certain promotions and honors. A candidate must be passionate about his cause, an architect must be passionate about building homes, a Nike salesman must be passionate about shoes, and so forth. We apparently view lack of animation—of entertainment value—as the unpardonable sin. Or perhaps we intend this denigration of cool, objective reasoning to be proof of sincerity. If a person is worked up, you can trust him; if he calculates his moves before making them, he’s a shyster. We seem to have forgotten that human beings often get swept up—quite sincerely—in endeavors that must lead straight to the destruction of others, or of themselves.
Every resident of the twenty-first century knows that you can call someone a racist and instantly turn the mob against him. In truth, genuine racism is rather rare. It requires that its proponent have a fully developed belief system wherein important moral aspects of human worth—fidelity, courage, modesty, fairness—are determined by DNA. One race may certainly tend to have more foot speed or intelligence or talent for singing than another, but none of these attributes affects the essential worth of the human being, as moral qualities do. Early Texas settlers often remarked among themselves that Mexicans were savagely cruel, a bestial trait that Texans and Mexicans alike would also have ascribed to Apaches. Blacks are represented in films of the thirties (if they make any appearance at all) as timorous and naïve to a childish degree. Such views harbor racism. Most tribalists who group according to skin color, however, are bigots (a word that seems to originate in the pseudo-piety underlying the German expression for “by God”). Bigots have not evolved any particular set of criteria. They simply notice that “he isn’t one of us, don’t you know, old boy.” It’s a dull way of looking at the world; but then, most bigots do not mature in environments that encourage thinking. Few of them are very “passionate” in their prejudices. Those that are, if not white, seem to be received with uncommon indulgence. For that matter, a passionate bigot is usually a racist, because people tend to hate other people for being “bad”, not for being merely different.
Lately the word “isolationist” has been drawing the same hisses and curls of the lip as “racist”. The latter’s effect we owe to the emotional profile, paralyzed in adolescence, of the political Left: the newer shorthand for “I hate you” comes primarily from the dubiously named neo-conservatives (speaking of abused words). Anybody who is loath to invade designated despots is an isolationist. Anybody who can hear of children dying in Waziristan without sending his son to enlist is an isolationist. Anybody who does not want to bomb potential owners of a nuclear weapon who may potentially not like us is an isolationist. The isolationist is a coward who will cause us all to die. He is a fool who will create a world where our grandchildren must learn Nazi salutes. He is a feckless idler who will bring humiliation upon the Stars-and-Stripes while also facilitating the release of so much radioactive fallout that only crocodiles and roaches will survive to utter jeers. Our “get control of the world and change it the right way” Republicans (a.k.a. Supply-Side Progressives) hate the isolationist more than their progenitors ever hated Stalin or Mao. Indeed, their granddaddies once made common cause with that diabolical duo to annihilate Hitler—a glory of which those dim-witted hayseeds, the isolationists, very nearly deprived them.
One of my objectives in this space is simply to remark the gross hypocrisy of such contempt, inasmuch as the “responsible global engagement” of neo-cons almost always accompanies a host of “don’t tread on me” positions on domestic issues. These critics of the secure, self-sufficient island do not want the government telling them what to feed themselves or their children. They resent being required by law to insure themselves when they enjoy perfect health or have made other provision for catastrophe. They don’t understand why a plainspoken person should be deprived of property or liberty for uttering an unvarnished version of the truth as he sees it. They snigger and scoff at warnings stamped under Big Brother’s watchful frown that advise against using a chain saw as a toy or sticking drill bits in bodily orifices. They steam and fume when the State instructs their kindergarteners in the fine art of shrouding cucumbers in condoms. They write checks and attend rallies when ordered by Nanny-Caesar to surrender their sole effective means of defense against sudden home invasion.
These, if you please, are the same people who insist that the United States must police the world because the world is an overgrown child incapable of playing nice on its own. I’m sure that we all act hypocritically every day in some manner: it is a weakness to which flesh is heir. The neo-con “mission” to rule the world, however, while inhabiting a libertarian utopia at home is rank hypocrisy to the nth degree—a Golden Gate Bridge, a Lincoln Memorial, a Colossus, of hypocrisy. We are told that we—or they—have the mystical ability to read the motives of agents in distant cultures today, and to read the intent of such agents years into the future; and we are exhorted, therefore, to let a priestly elite of high-tech neo-con witch-doctors rearrange destiny in a fashion more to our nation’s taste. No wonder the world hates us! It’s the same reason that we hate our own government.
The other point I should like to advance pro insulatore is that an intelligent raising of the drawbridge really makes very good sense as foreign policy. You and I don’t want to raid our volatile neighbor’s house to affirm that he has no gun on the premises… but neither do we wish to live beside him without a handy weapon or two in our shack. He’ll behave civilly enough if he sees us just once on the target range. The international stage offers plenty of unstable neighbors who may or may not be packing a piece. You can’t preempt all that a despot might do unless you corrupt him, depose him, or render his people abjectly poor (the three primary strategies in the neo-con playbook). You can secure yourself from his possible future flirtation with world-conquest, though, simply by building walls and distributing shields. My information is that, to this day, the U.S. still lacks a reliable airborne shield against missile strikes—and we can see how serious our ruling class is about securing terrestrial borders by its current immigration policy. Why not bring home the troops that are teaching native forces to do our bidding, keep at home the millions with which we bribe tyrants to advance our policies, convert our stratospheric assassination-machines into intel-gathering spycraft, and hunker down? Such a reversal of policy would at once render our citizens far more secure while also removing many of the motives that foreign powers have to loathe us.
Unfortunately, at a street-by-street level, we have not yet the technological means of blocking our psychotic neighbor’s bullets: massive retaliation, as supplied by Messrs. Smith and Wesson, is still the best way to keep him in line. But we could very soon have the means, with determination and intelligent leadership, to deflect missile attacks and snare intruding saboteurs. We could also develop (and indeed must develop, for such an approach to work) our natural resources so as to become utterly independent of the rest of the planet’s food and energy. In fact, an abundance of such wealth would be far and away the most effective stimulant in making bad boys behave: they would want to become our friends so as to share in the prosperity.
These are not new ideas. Yet when I see the likes of Jonathan Goldberg, whose judgment I have always held in the highest esteem, referring to isolationism with a condescension just within the bounds of good humor, I sense that the case must be made again. And again. It doesn’t help matters when naive souls like Ron Paul speak of our fanatical neighbors as if they were good family men and solid citizens. We must recognize that we inhabit a pretty tough ghetto. Shooting everybody else until we create a ghost town isn’t the way out, however. Neither is shooting the loudest bravo of the bunch every week so as to keep all the others quailing in their boots. That’s not Realpolitik: it’s political punkery.