Conservative Neo-Imperialism vs Jacksonian Neo-Isolationism

As for Trumpism vs. Bushism, one will be no less dependent on “populist nationalism” than the other, to whatever extent it is also successful: In a mass electoralist national system under popular sovereignty, the winner will always be the truest national populist, by definition, if not necessarily the purest national populist according to some external or merely intellectual standard.

What remains, then, is Trumpism. Which is also, in its lurching, sometimes insightful, often wicked way, a theory of what kind of party the Republicans should become, and one that a plurality of Republicans have now actually voted to embrace.

Ross Douthat
“The Defeat of True Conservatism”

The Republican coalition as an effectively neo-conservative coalition was able to bind itself together, or bind citizens to its project as constituents, in opposition to perceived external threats – militarism, fascism, communism, Islamism – that were mirror reverses of its precepts. For conservatives under the most politically effective articulation of their premises, American Idea and American Identity could be conjoined, with whichever war at whatever temperature serving to fuse otherwise contradictory ingredients, while melting away the rough edges of unresolved disagreements and irresolvable frustrations. Though the articulation is most readily identifiable as Reaganism, Reaganism can itself be seen, and is perhaps best understood, as a re-capitulation from the right both of and integrally within an inherited framework. Similarly, Reagan’s loyal progressive and so-called liberal1 adversaries could not stray too far from the same premises without losing their ability to compete and therefore to govern on the national level.

Referencing America’s first year of direct and open engagement in the Second World War, addressing the West Point graduating class, General George C. Marshall defined this simultaneously patriotic, traditionally liberal, and global neo-imperialist consensus: “We are determined that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other.” In our time, the ascents first of Obamism and then of Trumpism, for all of their differences, share in common an attempt forced on American national leaders or their coalitions – on us – to define an alternative sufficient consensus, or popularly accessible binding or integrative force, or source of unifying collective will, of the type without which no nation-state can function as a nation-state.

Those differences between Obamist and Trumpist reactions to this moment or conjuncture are far from trivial, but are a subject for another discussion – perhaps of Progressive Withdrawalism vs Jacksonian Neo-Isolationism. For present purposes – of understanding what has happened to American conservatism or so-called Movement Conservatism – we can observe that Obamism and Trumpism share a significant if inconsistent or not yet consistent divergence from an ideology or civic-religious idea of “Freedom.” Freedom for Americans in Marshall’s time, as for American “Constitutional Conservatives” at any time, referred to central precepts on the “universal” rights of human beings as individuals and the political and economic superstructures thought, and thought proven, to protect as well as to advance recognition of those rights as comprehended in the founding documents of the United States of America, and as re-transmitted, under American tutelage, in the founding documents of the post-war global order. Yet for Obamism as well as Trumpism, freedom on such terms no longer efficiently defines an identity or collective ego ideal as it were internally, but in multiple respects has become externalized as dangerous. In foreign policy any positive attempt to realize the classic American liberal ideal, especially through military force, is taken to produce hopeless, counterproductive, and immoral entanglements: as acute manifestation the failure of Operation Iraqi Freedom; in chronic form a world of evils to be avoided not least because proven insusceptible to the kind of “force” that may once have “overwhelmed” an enemy state, but that has limited utility or seemingly no utility at all against other types of resistance. In domestic or economic policy the so-called Washington Consensus, or “globalization,” was until recently a matter of epochal bi-partisan or mainstream consensus, in key respects re-producing or restoring elements of the old liberal economics: It is now held by many both inside and outside of mainstream and right or left reactionary camps to be responsible for inequality, insecurity, stagnant or declining prospects for the middle and lower classes, and ecologically as well as economically unsustainable levels of consumption: Acutely the 2008 Financial Crisis, otherwise the ills and uncertainties of financialization or “Financialized Neo-Liberalism.”

As for Trumpism vs. Bushism2, one will be no less dependent on “populist nationalism” than the other, to whatever extent it is also successful: In a mass electoralist national system under popular sovereignty, the winner will always be the truest national populist, by definition, if not necessarily the purest national populist according to some external or merely intellectual standard. Differences in presentation and personality between past and present candidates – between President George W Bush and Donald J Trump, as between Trump and Secretary Hillary Clinton, as between Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders – may also coincide with other differences between their platforms and coalitions, but what may matter more is that the People in 2016 seem no longer to believe the same things about the nation, its vital needs, and its illimitable possibilities that the People of 2004 still believed. 2004 may in that sense belong to a different era, a view which would place it historically in some ways closer not just to 2001, but to any year back at least to 1942, than to 2016.


  1. …or social liberal, or perhaps statist liberal. []
  2. This post originated as an expansion upon a tweet in reply to Daniel McCarthy, who identified “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” as a “Trumpian” element in George W Bush’s re-election:



Home Page  Public Email  Twitter  Facebook  YouTube  Github   

Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution. 

3 comments on “Conservative Neo-Imperialism vs Jacksonian Neo-Isolationism

Commenting at CK MacLeod's

We are determined to encourage thoughtful discussion, so please be respectful to others. We also provide a set of Commenting Options - comment/commenter highlighting and ignoring, and commenter archives that you can access by clicking the commenter options button (). Go to our Commenting Guidelines page for more details, including how to report offensive and spam commenting.

  1. I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea of Obama representing a philosophy of withdrawal when we’ve not actually seen significant withdrawal on the part of the US under him. He may have won in 2008 on the specific example of Iraq, but the actual existing president has long proven those who backed the candidate for that reason to be fools. There’s even still troops there!

    Re: military force as a tool of liberal ideals… I’d say that gives the advocates for it credit they don’t deserve, but even that would leave aside whether their motivation is even in good faith in favor of just assuming they’re incompetent or naive. There comes a time after someone keeps reaching a result that’s terrible for most people on the ground when it is safe to consider that was the plan all along.

Commenter Ignore Button by CK's Plug-Ins

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Noted & Quoted


[C]limate scientists have a strange kind of faith: We will find a way to forestall radical warming, they say, because we must.

It is not easy to know how much to be reassured by that bleak certainty, and how much to wonder whether it is another form of delusion; for global warming to work as parable, of course, someone needs to survive to tell the story. The scientists know that to even meet the Paris goals, by 2050, carbon emissions from energy and industry, which are still rising, will have to fall by half each decade; emissions from land use (deforestation, cow farts, etc.) will have to zero out; and we will need to have invented technologies to extract, annually, twice as much carbon from the atmosphere as the entire planet’s plants now do. Nevertheless, by and large, the scientists have an enormous confidence in the ingenuity of humans — a confidence perhaps bolstered by their appreciation for climate change, which is, after all, a human invention, too. They point to the Apollo project, the hole in the ozone we patched in the 1980s, the passing of the fear of mutually assured destruction. Now we’ve found a way to engineer our own doomsday, and surely we will find a way to engineer our way out of it, one way or another. The planet is not used to being provoked like this, and climate systems designed to give feedback over centuries or millennia prevent us — even those who may be watching closely — from fully imagining the damage done already to the planet. But when we do truly see the world we’ve made, they say, we will also find a way to make it livable. For them, the alternative is simply unimaginable.

Comment →

They were concerned that any pre-election response could provoke an escalation from Putin. Moscow's meddling to that point was seen as deeply concerning but unlikely to materially affect the outcome of the election. Far more worrisome to the Obama team was the prospect of a cyber-assault on voting systems before and on Election Day. They also worried that any action they took would be perceived as political interference in an already volatile campaign. By August, Trump was predicting that the election would be rigged. Obama officials feared providing fuel to such claims, playing into Russia's efforts to discredit the outcome and potentially contaminating the expected Clinton triumph.

This, right here. This is where they choked. The American people had damned close to an absolute right to the information their government already had. The most fundamental act of citizenship is the right to cast an informed vote. The idea that the Obama administration withheld the fact that the Russians were ratfcking the election in order to help elect a vulgar talking yam is a terrible condemnation of the whole No Drama Obama philosophy. Would Donald Trump have raised hell if the White House released what it knew? Of course, he would have. But, as it was, the American people went to vote with only about half of the information they needed to assess his candidacy. This was a terrible decision.

Comment →

Changing views of U.S. presidents over past decade and a halfAs Pew Research Center’s global surveys from George W. Bush’s presidency illustrated, many of Bush’s key foreign policies were unpopular, and by the time he left office Bush was viewed negatively in most of the countries we polled. His successor, Obama, generally received more positive ratings throughout his White House tenure.Today, in many countries, ratings for President Trump look very similar to those for Bush at the end of his term. This pattern is especially clear in Western Europe. In the UK, France, Germany and Spain, the low levels of confidence in Trump are very similar to the poor ratings for Bush in 2008.

Comment →

State of the Discussion

CK MacLeod
Comments this threadCommenter Archive
+ BTW, I recently upgraded some this and that on the back end of the blog, and it does seem to make comments post much faster [. . .]
Gutenberg: The Invention of the Printing Press, the Destruction of WordPress
CK MacLeod
Comments this threadCommenter Archive

For WordPress self-hosted people, there is already a "restore legacy editor" plugin, even though Gutenberg hasn't been installed yet as the default.

Gutenberg: The Invention of the Printing Press, the Destruction of WordPress
CK MacLeod
Comments this threadCommenter Archive
+ I thought you were on, not self-hosted WordPress. I can't find any info on and Gutenberg or Gutenbergerish editing, so I don't know [. . .]
Gutenberg: The Invention of the Printing Press, the Destruction of WordPress

Extraordinary Comments

CK's WP Plugins