FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: Essays for the Presidency

The Permanent Bases of American Foreign Policy

Hoover and Roosevelt on Inauguration Day, 1933. Library of Congress

An attempt to state the permanent bases of any nation's foreign policy opens a range for discussion too broad for the compass of a single article. History, tradition, political structure, geographical location, commercial interests, all these, to say nothing of the ambitions of statesmen and the exigencies of the moment, go to the making of a foreign policy. Some of these factors are fixed and stable. Others must change with the changing times. Rarely is there entire consistency in the pursuit of the policies to which these factors give rise. It is only in the most abstract sense therefore that any policy or the bases on which it rests can be called permanent. Yet it is possible, with the aid of history, to give a hurried summary of certain ideals and purposes which seem to have run with reasonable persistence throughout the course of American diplomacy and which cannot be ignored in predicting its future direction.

Of these, the first in point of time, if not in point of importance, is the wish to abstain as far as possible from any participation in foreign questions in general and European questions in particular. The roots of this feeling go deep into the American past. It has as its background the world situation at the time the United States of America came into being. The instruments employed by European monarchs in the midst of their quarrels and jealousies to advance their several interests, the alliances and counter-alliances, the balances of power, the armaments and counter-armaments, the treaties open and secret, were stigmatized en bloc by the American colonists as the European system. Looking at the turmoil it had bred and the burdens it imposed, they set up after the Revolutionary War a government republican in character based upon ideas of human equality, personal liberty and popular sovereignty, which, whether original or borrowed, new or old, they were pleased to call American. They asked nothing more of the world at large than a chance

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