Paul Gottfried: Liberal Internationalism Not Limited to Particular Political Party

The following post is sponsored by The Committee for Responsible Foreign Policy (CRFP).

Dr. Paul Gottfried, the Raffensperger professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, spoke on Wednesday in Washington, DC, about the failures and intellectual development of liberal internationalism and how it drives America’s perpetual wars.

The Committee for a Responsible Foreign Policy (CRFP), a non-profit organization that advocates for a restrained foreign policy aligned with the Constitution, sponsored the event.

In a preview for his speech, Gottfried said he would give a “no holds barred” attack on liberal internationalism. Liberal internationalism professes that liberal, democratic states, should intervene in foreign countries to pursue liberal objectives, such as spreading democracy, human rights, and liberal values.

Ed Martin, president of the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, introduced Gottfried, noting that elite foreign policy experts have popularized phrases such as “regime change,” “nation building,” and “empire,” instead of more America First terms such as “national interest” and “common good.” Martin said that these experts have rarely been penalized for being wrong on declaring war, such as the war in Iraq.

In his opening remarks, Gottfried suggested that he will give a “historical overview” of American political thought reaching back to the beginning of the twentieth century.

Professor Gottfried explained:

At least since the first World War and America’s entry into the international scene as a world power, our foreign relations have been characterized by a missionary spirit that intermittently turns belligerent. The spirit is hardly restricted to a single, national party.

Mainstream historians presented the Civil War, World War I, and World War II as providential occasions for spreading our democratic principles and fought them to a bitter end, or so I was told, in order to advance universal ideals, like making the world safe for democracy or undertaking a war to end all wars. There is also a widespread notion among our foreign policy elites that our statecraft is amoral or immoral unless it is tied to the goal of making others look like us. That is espousing the values that our foreign policy elites and national media would like others to have.

The scholar then noted that advocating for “democracy” takes whatever political stage America has reached at the time.

For instance, Gottfried explained that neoconservative foreign policy expert James Kirchick once argued that the United States should bestow upon the Russians gay rights and that Hillary Clinton suggested that feminism should serve as a part of foreign policy.

Turning to the liberal internationalist push to have America intervene in World War I in favor of the British, Gottfried said pro-British interventionists such as New Republic writer John Dewey and “patricians” such as Henry Cabot Lodge helped push for intervening in World War I in favor of the United Kingdom.

Liberal internationalists also have engaged in academia for nearly a century. The early twentieth-century patricians also founded the Council for Foreign Relations in 1921. Gottfried noted that it “has helped maintain liberal internationalism as the cornerstone of American foreign policy. Among high-placed foreign policy advisers, being for democracy has served as the base for distinguishing friends from enemies.”

Further, advocates for waging war in Vietnam in the 1960s consisted of “liberal Democrats and liberal internationalist Republicans,” according to Gottfried. Gottfried said President Lyndon Johnson’s administration promised to bring the Great Society welfare programs to Vietnam once they won the war.

Conservatives took a dynamic shift after World War II. The Old Right, of which Gottfried considers himself a member, said that more internationalist and neoconservative conservatives took power over the less interventionist Old Right Republicans. Gottfried said most of the post-World War II conservative movement’s “lifeblood” consisted of strong anti-communism, which was more focused on what it opposed than any particular vision or moral order for America.

Gottfried contended that President George W. Bush embraced much of the liberal internationalist framework. Bush often used the liberal internationalist “proselytizing language” such as spreading democracy and democratic values in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Professor Gottfried charged that President Woodrow Wilson and liberal internationalism continue to influence America’s foreign policymaking.

“In a very real sense, the global democratic crusaders who led us into World War I never departed this world. President Wilson continues to preside in the making of American foreign policy,” Gottfried said. “As I began to say, the liberal internationalist matrix is not limited to any one side of our conventional political spectrum; it is present throughout.”

The Committee for Responsible Foreign Policy is a 501(c)(4) organization with the mission of pursuing a more restrained foreign policy that adheres to the Constitution. The organization aims to increase awareness of Congress’ Article I responsibility to oversee war. For more information on CRFP, please visit


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