The Bell Foundry

Rediscovering and recovering lost and endangered American liberties by studying our Founders' ideas, contemporaries, and etymology – because our united States "…are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States…"

Why Aren’t Conservatives Non-Interventionists?


In Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address, he listed what he considered to be “the essential principles of our Government.”  Among providing “equal and exact justice to all men,” supporting the state governments, and preserving the Federal Government “in its whole constitutional vigor,”  were the following precepts: “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”  NoentanglementsThe American Republic largely had a heritage of non-interventionism up until the occupation of the Philippines under President Theodore Roosevelt during the Spanish-American War.  In fact, during the Revolutionary War, Congress resisted forming an alliance with France until it seemed that the American Revolution could be a success only by doing so.  Thomas Paine argued against such alliances in his impactful 1776 Common Sense pamphlet.  James Monroe likewise declared, “In the wars of the European powers, in matters relating to themselves, we have never taken part, nor does it comport with our policy, so to do. It is only when our rights are invaded, or seriously menaced that we resent injuries, or make preparations for our defense.”  President John Quincy Adams, in a speech on foreign policy to Congress in 1821, echoed the same sentiments: “[America] has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own. [America] has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings…”  He added, “…she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy,” and, “She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue…the fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force….she might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit….”

In light of the American history of such isolationist ideals, how did the use of unprovoked military intervention, which can hardly be considered a traditionally conservative ideal, come to be approved and lauded by so many conservatives in recent history?

Tom Woods notes in his book Real Dissent1 that American involvement in World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War was promoted by liberal presidents, not conservative ones: Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy were sitting presidents during our entry into major wars of the 20th century.  Kennedy’s first inaugural address, in contrast to Jefferson’s views, declared that Americans are “unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights…to which we are committed today at home and around the world.”  He added, somewhat ambiguously, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

The answer to the above question is that many conservatives today do not hold to the same ideological values that their predecessors did before the 1970’s, according to journalist Michael Lind.  He claims that a new breed of Conservatism, called Modern Neoconservatism, came into being in the 1970’s “as a movement of anti-Soviet liberals and social democrats in the tradition of Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Humphrey…

Modern Neoconservative values are defined by Stefan Halper as being characterized by three common themes:

  1. A belief deriving from religious conviction that the human condition is defined as a choice between good and evil and that the true measure of political character is to be found in the willingness by the former (themselves) to confront the latter.
  2. An assertion that the fundamental determinant of the relationship between states rests on military power and the willingness to use it.
  3. A primary focus on the Middle East and global Islam as the principal theater for American overseas interests.

Halper portrays Neoconservative ideology as holding to “a conviction that they alone hold the moral high ground,” and that Americans should use military strength to right whatever wrongs they see committed by foreign entities.

Neoconservatives believe in the ‘Bush Doctrine‘ – the concept that American military force should be used without hesitation for preemptive strikes, as detailed in a document titled ‘National Security Strategy of the United States,’ and it reads, in part, “To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively…”

Ron Paul opined in his article The Truth About Neoconservatism that conservatives (and perhaps some liberals) were swept into a “patriotic fervor” that espoused Neoconservative preemptive interventionist ideals: “Neoconservatives are obviously in positions of influence and are well-placed throughout our government and the media. An apathetic Congress put up little resistance and abdicated its responsibilities over foreign affairs. The electorate was easily influenced to join in the patriotic fervor supporting the military adventurism advocated by the neoconservatives.”

Even if it can be argued that some foreign military intervention, even preemptive intervention, is necessary for the survival of America, has not such intervention been abused greatly, and used where largely (if not completely) unnecessary?

Whatever the correct verdict on military intervention may be, it’s obvious, at least to some, that an evolutionary metamorphosis has occurred, mostly in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, where the progressive, imperialistic tendencies of American leaders have replaced, at least for some, the previous Conservative ideals of peace and non-interventionism.  At the end of his speech to Congress on foreign policy, John Quincy Adams concluded with his understanding of America’s established hertitage:

“[America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.”

1Woods, T. (2014). Real Dissent. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.  ISBN-10: 1500844764

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