Over the past two weeks, the American foreign-policy debate has dramatically changed. The key to understanding why lies in a book.
The book is called Special Providence. Published 13 years ago by Walter Russell Mead, it remains, for my money, the best analysis of American foreign policy written in our time. Mead argues that America has four foreign-policy traditions. He calls the first “Wilsonianism.” It represents America’s missionary desire to spread civilization across the globe. Once upon a time, spreading “civilization” meant spreading Christianity. Now it means spreading democracy and human rights. Samantha Power is a Wilsonian.
The second tradition is “Hamiltonianism.” It refers to the belief that America, as a trading nation separated from our largest markets by vast oceans, must make the world safe for American commerce. For our domestic prosperity, we must maintain an economically open, politically stable world order. George H.W. Bush is a Hamiltonian.
The third is “Jeffersonianism.” It reflects a deep-seated fear that if America entangles itself in imperial ventures abroad, we will destroy liberty at home. Glenn Greenwald and Ron Paul are Jeffersonians.
The fourth—and for our purposes most relevant—is “Jacksonianism.” It refers to the peculiar combination of jingoism and isolationism forged on the American frontier. Bill O’Reilly is a Jacksonian. Jacksonians don’t want to fashion other countries in America’s image. They don’t care about fattening corporate bottom lines. But if you mess with them—violate their honor—they’ll pursue you to the gates of hell.