Recently, more than a few blogs and news outlets have been writing about the Tea Party and this new found Jacksonian idea about foreign policy and how it will shape American foreign policy in the the coming years. I would argue that this new found Jacksonianism isn’t a new phenomenon at all. Jacksonianism has never left the average American, it was always in the hearts of those of us here in fly-over country. You know us, we are the people who send our sons to fight in the wars and disdain sending out troops to war over a theory in a book from an academician, no matter how ‘smart’ the writer is. It took the Tea Parties to become a cohesive force in politics and a voice for the average American for ‘Jacksonianism’ to be rediscovered of the press and the so called chattering class of ‘elites’. The ‘elites’ never had to pay much attention to the average Americans, the average Americans were too busy producing, building America, and paying taxes for Progressive programs to have the time to get a real cohesive, and powerful trans-party political voice until the anger at the Progressives became so unifying that the Tea Parties were formed out of frustration and hope.
The ‘elitist’ progressives on both the right and left parted with the traditional Jacksonian foreign policy many years ago and replaced it with Wilsonianism while a silent majority of Americans retained the ideas of Jacksonian foreign policy and war-fighting. The Progressive minds who embrace Wilsonianism are also just like the Tea Parties in the fact that they are both trans-political voices. There are Independent, Democrat and Republican members of both the Progressive Ideology and the the Tea Parties. The Tea Partiers think in quantitative benefits for America and her allies as the defining factor of foreign policy while the Progressives and their fellow travelers believe in foreign policy that is driven by ideas and theories that might lead to representative governments run by an elected elite who, in theory, are then the key to global stability. Its easy to be a Wilsonian Progressive when it isn’t your son going to fight a war over a theory in a book from an academician.
So what is this newly rediscovered Jacksonianism that the Progressives and the ‘elites’ are so worried about? Jacksonian foreign policy and its approach to war is very Realist and very easily measured. International institutions (like the UN) are viewed with suspicion at best, with contempt as an enemy at worst. These should be used only when very necessary and used sparingly. There needs to be a clear national security and national interest driven reason to use force, and this application of force must be utterly overwhelming. America is viewed as sovereign, exceptional, and, as Reagan said, ‘the last refuge of man-kind’. Therefore American exceptionalism and ideals are worth going to war over as long as that war strengthens the American position in the world stage. Jacksonians take American God given constitutional rights over the Wilsonian idea of government granted (and thereby government removed) human rights.
The idea of ‘spreading democracy’ in the Islamic World as a response to 9/11 and intractable jihad-driven Islam is anathema to the Jacksonian. A Jacksonian would have taken decisive and overwhelming action after the first WTC bombing and the USS Cole bombing, perhaps preventing 9/11. The classic Jacksonian action was the American occupation of Europe after WW2, which ended the near perpetual state of war in Europe for the prior ten centuries. The Jacksonians occupied and forced peace on Europe after WW2, the Wilsonian Progressives tried and fail to create peace with diplomats in Europe after WW1.
The Wilsonian Progressive belief system is founded on the thoughts of Woodrow Wilson, the professor and President. Wilson, like his adherents are driven by a belief and confidence in self that borders on outright arrogance. They see themselves as the enlightened leaders of the great unwashed masses. The Wilsonian Progressive foreign policy is driven by Immanuel Kant’s 1795 essay ‘Perpetual Peace’, Kant states that democracies are less likely to go to war than dictatorships and monarchies because the people in the democracy are participants in the government process, not just subjects. This is the underpinning of Wilsonian Progressive foreign policy: the belief that democracy can be laid over or forced upon any society. If democracy could be forced on all states, then a stable world can be governed by the enlightened. It is irrelevant to a Wilsonian Progressive if democracy is not possible in a given society. Wilsonian Progressiveism is purely ideologically driven, where Jacksonianism is driven by Realism. The Wilsonian Progressiveist will go to war over an idea or a theory in the belief that he alone is correct and his idealism about exporting American Democracy world wide will convince the enemy of America to become our friends. Or, they will go to war as Bill Clinton did in Kosovo over ‘human rights’ violations.
The Wilsonian Progressives response to Islamic terrorism before 9/11 was to do more or less nothing. Allow the international structures to aid the US in a ‘law enforcement’ problem to stop the terrorists. Since they beleive that all people see the world the same way they do, they assumed this would be enough to stop terrorists, because the terrorists should have a fear of law enforcement. As we know, they do not. After 9/11 the Progressives that run American foreign policy invaded Afghanistan (a good move even for the Jacksonians) and then the mission creep occurred and the American policy in Afghanistan was to create a democracy, where democracy will not work. The Jacksonian approach would have been overwhelming and decisive force in many more places than Afghanistan, perhaps work with Sadam Hussein, then occupy areas as needed or go home after complete destruction of the sponsoring states.
Jacksonians go to war over national security issues while Wilsonian Progressives will eschew national interests and go to war over ideals and theories. Both beleive in the American model, which is why Obama is not a Wilsonian Progressive, he is a Third World Liberation theologist. Jacksonains and Wilsonian Progressives do diverge on the means to protect America both at home and abroad. It is most ironic that the Jacksonians have been ‘rediscovered’ as a threat by the ‘elites’, Jacksonianism never went away outside of the beltway, the fly-overs have always been Jacksonians. It was the Progressive governmental policies from both the GOP and the Democrats that woke the average American, many of whom are Jacksonian at heart, and forced the formation of the Tea Parties who will help shape foreign policy in the next few years. Old Hickory would be proud