September 13, 2003

The Jeffersonians...

She [the United States] well knows that by once enlisting under banners other 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, of individual avarice, envy and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.... She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.
-- John Quincy Adams
I've been re-reading Walter Russell Mead's book Special Providence. I'm sure you've heard of it. It's the one where he divides American foreign policy into 4 schools, Hamiltonian, Jeffersonian, Wilsonian and Jacksonian. (With lots of caveats: the categories are not hard-and-fast, they cut across party lines, there are other parties and interests...) But the 4 schools really clarify a lot of things. If you haven't read it I urge you to do so.

One thing that really struck me this time was how well the Jeffersonian label fits our friend Dave Trowbridge. He and I tend to look at the same events, especially the War on Terror, and see weirdly different pictures. From my Wilsonian-Jacksonian perspective, Dave often seems eccentric and obscure (stimulating me to write many a blogpost. He probably thinks me a rash enthusiast.) But if I think of Dave as belonging to the Jeffersonian school, then his writings are perfectly reasonable and consistent. (Some of them may even be correct.) The same could be said of John Quincy Adams, who has always been a bit of a puzzle to me.

Here are a few quotes from Mead on the Jeffersonians...

Liberty is infinitely precious, and almost as infinitely fragile; that is the core belief of the Jeffersonian movement..

Few things were clearer to the Jeffersonians than that the growth of the American republic into an intercontinental empire was a bad business all around...

War was the first and greatest evil Jeffersonians sought to avoid...

If avoidance of war is the first principal of Jeffersonian statesmanship, the second is the constitutional conduct of foreign policy. Here Jeffersonians often stand alone...

Jeffersonians [of 18th & 19th Cent.] hated and feared the national debt with a passion that today is difficult for even the most dedicated "debt hawks" to appreciate...

The Jeffersonian mind does not scan the foreign policy horizon in a search for opportunities; rather it sees threats...

...the classical and unmistakable tone of Jeffersonian diplomacy. Speak softly and carry the smallest possible stick.

The libertarian movement is an expression of Jeffersonian thought...

Posted by John Weidner at September 13, 2003 7:48 PM
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