Thursday, May 10, 2012

Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and modern American imperialism

One thing I find to be very ironic is how modern progressives will decry evil "American imperialism", yet even a cursory view of the history of the 20th century progressive era will expose the obvious: Progressives own it. It is progressives who own modern American imperialism. They're upset about what it is that their own forefathers began! On page 18 of the book "Public Opinion", Walter Lippmann quotes Senator McCormick stating the following:
Mr. Knox, interested in the question, forgets that he asked for an inquiry, and replies. If American marines had been killed, it would be war. The mood of the debate is still conditional. Debate proceeds. Mr. McCormick of Illinois reminds the Senate that the Wilson administration is prone to the waging of small unauthorized wars. He repeats Theodore Roosevelt's quip about "waging peace."

This may be a bit anecdotal, but it still applies and does carry weight given that it's coming from a sitting senator. Even the term "Wilsonianism"(as in Woodrow Wilson) is still in some quarters in use to this day. It's a term that is specifically used to describe interventionist policies in foreign affairs. As Conservapedia points out, and Wikipedia largely says the same thing about Wilsonianism. It's not 'isolationist', it's 'interventionist'.

Enter Theodore Roosevelt. For all that can be said about how awful that Wilson was(which is all true and perhaps even understated) and how he can be pointed to as the center point of progressivism during those days, Theodore Roosevelt is really the grandfather of progressivism. How much of what Wilson did was merely an extension of Roosevelt's grandiose anti-constitutional schemes? In a speech titled "True Americanism and Expansion" on December 21st, 1898 Roosevelt said the following:

No; the tasks are difficult, and all the more for that reason let us gird up our loins and go out to do them. But let us meet them, realizing their difficulty; not in a spirit of levity, but in a spirit of sincere and earnest desire to do our duty as it is given us to see our duty. Let us not do it in the spirit of sentimentality, not saying we must at once give universal suffrage to the people of the Philippines - they are unfit for it. Do not let us mistake the shadow for the substance. We have got to show the practical common sense which was combined with the fervent religion of the Puritan; the combination which gave him the chance to establish here that little group of commonwealths which more than any others have shaped the spirit and destiny of this nation; we must show both qualities.

Gentlemen, if one of the islands which we have acquired is not fit to govern itself, then we must govern it until it is fit. If you cannot govern it according to the principles of the New England town meeting - because the Philippine Islander is not a New Englander - if you cannot govern it according to these principles, then find out the principles upon which you can govern it and apply those principles. Fortunately, while we can and ought with wisdom to look abroad for examples, and to profit by the experience of other nations, we are already producing, even in this brief period, material of the proper character within our own border, men of our own people, who are showing us what to do with these islands.

This arrogance from progressives, I don't care who they are or what party they were in, is beyond infuriating. First off, note how at the very beginning of the speech, it began with a toast from Charles B Davenport - the eugenicist. It seems that Roosevelt is at his worst when Davenport is around. Second, we can't just go around taking everything over and being a bully - There are large sections of the world that hate America because of how progressives have abused the power we have built for ourselves. If we have to go in and make a mess for whatever reason, then we have to. Contrast Roosevelt with Jefferson, who got involved with the Barbary Pirates, did what needed to be done, then left. George Washington, who in his farewell address (audio direct download mp3) stated the following:

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?

There is a bit more of this address that applies, but that makes it clear. Our founders intended us to be a lot more like Switzerland than the intrigues of progressivism demand. There are, naturally, times when you have to get involved - and afterward it makes sense to help with rebuilding. But the act of long term foreign governing is not the role of the US. We can't police the world. Even though that's what it appears that Roosevelt wanted. From his 1904 address (What we would recognize as a SOTU):

All that this country desires is to see the neighboring countries stable, orderly, and prosperous. Any country whose people conduct themselves well can count upon our hearty friendship. If a nation shows that it knows how to act with reasonable efficiency and decency in social and political matters, if it keeps order and pays its obligations, it need fear no interference from the United States. Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.

This is the Roosevelt Corollary. This is the road to bankruptcy. This is a road to serfdom. Nations that become empires inevitably place themselves into the ash heap of history. I don't want to live in the post-constitutional empire of progressivism. I want my constitutional republic back. On getting involved in foreign intrigues, the progressives have it wrong and the Founders (as usual) provide the correct model. Only when necessary.

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