Forget about getting a backbone. America needs an iron constitution for the era of great power competition that is now upon us.
So warns conservative scholar Colin Dueck in his new book—Age of Iron: On Conservative Nationalism from Oxford University Press (2019).
Dueck, a former “Never Trumper,” starts and ends his book with an unexpected assertion about the Founding Fathers: that Washington, Jefferson, and the rest of the cast of “Hamilton” would have been perfectly content with the foreign policies of President Donald Trump. What’s more, he argues, Trump policies will help twenty-first-century America deal effectively with modern threats posed by the likes of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
When America opened for business, Dueck argues, “conservative nationalism” basically was American foreign policy, a set of core beliefs that held in common. Back then, they just called it nationalism.
Nationalism included a shared civic creed. Our founding fathers had a belief in the rule of law, individual liberty, free enterprise, equality, and limited government. They believed in popular sovereignty. And they expected that foreign policy would foster the state’s national interests.
They saw this organization of principles and policies as unique and exceptional and welcomed the mantle of America the “exceptional nation.”
Dueck doesn’t argue that American orthodoxy demands a one-size-fits-all foreign policy. George Washington campaigned for no “entangling alliance,” not because he was a libertarian or an isolationist, but because he recognized the danger of a young Republic getting embroiled in Europe’s perpetual power struggles.
In contrast, after the Spanish-American War, William McKinley became a reluctant imperialist, annexing the Philippines because U.S. officials believed it needed a Pacific foothold to defend its Asian interests against the Japanese and the Europeans in China.
Over the years, some presidents warred, others shrank from the global stage. Still, they all pursued foreign policies rooted in the basic belief of nationalism fostered by the founding fathers.