Frank Foer’s got a round-up essay on the the history of conservatives in the NYT (man would I love to write something similar on the history of liberals some day). Anyway, it’s not a bad recap, even if I’d quibble with parts. For instance, while Foer concedes, quietly, that plenty of liberals and leftists were also Isolationists he does it in a bloodless way. It’s as if isolationism is central to his conception of conservative ideology while it’s merely tangential to the history of liberalism. This is the conventional wisdom among liberals and the conventional wisdom is simply wrong. After all Charles Beard and John Dewey, to name probably the two most influential liberal thinkers of the 20th century, were just as isolationist — if not more so — on WWII than, say, Charles Lindbergh.
Another complaint: He starts his essay by suggesting George Will’s second thoughts on the Iraq war constitute a movement towards isolationism. This is a gross over-reading of Will if you ask me. I don’t recall anyone claiming that the New Republic was moving towards isolationism when it voiced its second thoughts about the war — a war it supported too. After all, John Kerry’s griping about how we could spend that $200 billion better at home and be a better example to the world is completely consistent with the Beardian isolationism that resides at the core of modern American liberalism.
Isn’t it funny that when liberals reevaluate their foreign adventures they become reasonable, but when conservatives do they become “isolationists”?