Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 21–34 | Cite as

The cultural roots of isolationism and internationalism in American foreign policy

  • Lane CrothersEmail author


This article examines the question: why have Americans supported both internationalist and isolationist foreign policies at various points in history? It argues that part of the answer to this question can be found in the structure and nature of American political culture. American political culture frames the terms in which the programmes and plans debated by political leaders ‘make sense’ to the ordinary people whose consent is fundamental to the making of a democratic foreign policy. The article offers an account of the central components of American political culture that are shown to frame four core cultural orientations towards foreign affairs: Liberal Internationalism, America-as-Model, Nativism and Triumphalism. Two dimensions, Liberal Internationalism and America-as-Model, are illustrated through a discussion of contemporary arguments in favour of and opposed to the 1848 Mexican—American War. The article then offers suggestions of how the four categories of American foreign policy orientations can be applied in cases beyond the Mexican—American conflict. Both isolationism and internationalism are shown to be core components of American political culture. They are, as a consequence, eternal features of American foreign policy.


isolationism internationalism American political culture Mexican—American War 


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Copyright information

© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Politics and GovernmentIllinois State UniversityNormalUSA

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