Non-interventionism, sometimes called neutrality or “isolationism” (more often by its detractors), refers, unsurprisingly, to a government’s deliberate policy of abstaining from interfering in the affairs of other countries. It was the foreign policy of such early American statesmen as George Washington (as seen in his Farewell Address), Thomas Jefferson (as seen in his First Inaugural Address), and John Quincy Adams (as seen in his July 4, 1821, address as Secretary of State) and of later political leaders such as Senators Robert LaFollette and Robert Taft.

Traditional American non-interventionism was combined with advocacy of free international trade and the free movement of people, which is why the term “isolationism” was inappropriate. These policies are consistent because they avoid intervention in the affairs of foreign nations and in the private transactions of international finance and commerce. Today many left and right opponents of abstaining from military intervention nevertheless want the government to limit private global commercial relations. In fact, both proponents of military interventionism and opponents of free global trade and capital flows are the true “isolationists.

Classical liberals also oppose neo-mercantilist policies--that is governmental subsidization of industry through subsidies of the use of armed force to open or guarantee foreign markets. But the classical-liberal descendants of America’s founding generation (libertarians) consistently uphold non-intervention and private global free-market activity. They oppose both economic nationalism and the sort of globalism that entails trade managed by governments or their international organizations, realizing that both approaches require government control over private resources and individual liberty.

Non-interventionism averts the perilous dynamic of its opposite policy, in which government meddling creates crises that in turn rationalize more power and further meddling. For this reason, it has also been called the foreign policy of peace.


Further Reading

Ron Paul, A Foreign Policy of Freedom: "Peace, Commerce and Honest Friendship", Lake Jackson, Foundation for Rational Economics and Education, 2007.