Supporters of Ron Paul have re-launched an old ad promoting the old idea of American isolationism. “We now are a nation known to start war,” Paul is quoted as saying. “We feel compelled because of our insecurity that we have to go over and attack these countries to maintain our empire.” The message here (and repeated elsewhere) is that Paul’s isolationism is aligned with the Founding Fathers and “what is truly American and truly constitutional.” Not only is this refrain a gross misrepresentation of American history but it offers dangerously misleading guidance to a nation that faces serious challenges at home and abroad.

Following this lead, some are tempted by the myth that our Founders were isolationists who sought to withdraw from the world and focus solely on the home front. At a time of international fatigue and anxiety about America’s future, I understand the sentiment. But it’s simply not the case.

The Founders rejected modern approaches in American foreign policy—whether power politics, isolationism or crusading internationalism. They especially disagreed with the “visionary, or designing men, who stand ready to advocate the paradox of perpetual peace,” as Hamilton put it in Federalist 6. Instead, they designed a truly American foreign policy—fundamentally shaped by our principles but not ignorant of the place of necessity in international relations.

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