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Romantic Nationalism, Trade, & Moral Contingency ~ The Imaginative Conservative

It is the perennial task of the conservative to disentangle the truth from the weeds of confusion which keep growing up around it. Samuel Francis and Patrick Buchanan have greatly contributed to the present resurgence of conservative elements rising up in America. Whatever political victories may come of their work should certainly be celebrated.

“Go to New Hampshire and call yourself a patriot, a nationalist, an American Firster, but don’t even use the word ‘conservative.’ It doesn’t mean anything any more.” Samuel Francis, Chronicles


“To generalize is to be an idiot.” So said William Blake. Obviously his statement is a generalization and, of course, idiots are idiosyncratic, by definition. Can we generalize about historical lessons that may apply to the current situation regarding trade between nations and their desire to advance their national interests? Certainly, conservatives, almost by definition, rely on history and principles to clarify the swirl of current events. But, because they are not always in agreement about either the history or the principles, debates and confusion continue.

One historian has lamented that United States betrayed its “benign neutrality, international modesty, and pacific inclinations that generally guided our relations with other countries for nearly a century,” and replaced them with “the wholehearted, even passionate, espousal of globaloney, world-meddling, and perpetual war for perpetual peace….This transition has been one from the tradition of Monroe to the Orwellian system which now dominates the majority of the civilized world…”1 So runs the complaint about, it seems, the character of 21st century American foreign policy. But it isn’t quite that. Rather, it is an assessment by Harry Elmer Barnes writing in Modern Age in… 1958. Interestingly, Barnes emphasizes “international modesty” and “pacific inclinations” of the century before 1917. Even though this was an era of tariffs in America, the larger context showed it to be one of modest protection for most countries and if not free trade at least liberal trade which involved respect for national differences.

But now this “globaloney” is being replaced, so it is argued, with a new patriotism, a new nationalism, not only here in the United States but around the world. Of course, nationalism comes in different forms and the Orwellian system in America was its own brand of nationalism. The current form, however, is one of two populist forms emphasizing peoples’ desire to shape policy around traditional identities of culture, religion, ethnicity and race, so-called tribalism, while others want to reshape policy according to multi-racial core values, and other forms of national identity, so-called civic associations. (And there is a third variant, the so-called civilizational state.) But either way, a form of nationalism is being sought. And with it, especially in the United States, come changes in economic policy to strengthen, ostensibly, material well-being as well as national security.

One may refer to this as “romantic” in the sense in which it is used by historians to describe tendencies in the late eighteenth century. It describes those countries which emphasize their own particularities and distinctions, linguistic, religious, cultural, etc. in reaction to those who advocate the ideal of universal humanity, where certain laws apply to all nations and where a global/internatinalist character is preferred. The romanticist, says historian Joseph Schumpeter, “would feel a healthy disgust at the utilitarian tendency to reduce the colorful variety of social patterns and processes to a few bald generalizations about thoroughly rationalized hedonic interests. And he would build where utilitarianism leaves a void…a shrine for the historically unique and for the values of the extrarational (though…these values differed greatly from one romanticist to another).” It is, he says, “the romance of national history against the artefacts of the Enlightenment.” It involved an “extreme subjectivism, which knew no binding rule…”2 Still more explicit, another historian writes: “The concept [of natural law] has survived to this day in jurisprudence and ethics, especially in those civilizations that are attached to the ideal of a universal humanity. Countries where the ideal of a romantic nationalism has been stronger, such as was true of the German tradition, have been inclined to disregard natural law.”3 And this last feature clearly impacts views on globalism and international trade, where some nationalistic distinctives become parameters for economic policies.

Taken together these traits lead to the now familiar attitude of the “America First” movement commonly associated with former president Donald Trump, though actually expressed by others well before his accession to power. To understand this current movement better, then, it is necessary to take a look back at the writings of those who have influenced it as well as their current works. Two of the best known of those pathfinders who paved the way for Mr. Trump were the late Samuel Francis, and author and former White House speech writer, Patrick J. Buchanan. Their perspectives on these matters will be taken to serve as representative of current America First views on nationalism and its corollary, international trade and globalism, supplemented by other writers. This will be followed by a critique and evaluation of these views with suggestions for improvement. The latter will include two main conclusions: (1) that the characteristics of the new American nationalism are not all conservative; and (2) the disposition which informs issues of trade is deficient to the extent it is not rooted in the Christian view of man’s contingent, moral nature. The purpose is to illustrate something of the disposition involved, rather than a detailed evaluation of specific policy proposals.

Nationalism According to Sam Francis

To illustrate the new nationalism we can turn to the prolific and prescient Sam Francis. In America Asleep, he explains his objections to international trends. “Globalism,” he writes, “projects a cosmopolitan or universalist ethic that rejects or demotes the concrete and historic institutions, norms, and identities by which human beings discipline themselves, while supporting an abstract and universal norm of ‘humanism’ under which the universal attributes of human nature take precedence over the norms of nationality and traditional culture (as well as those of specific religious profession, region, class, sexuality, ethnicity, and other sources of particularistic norms).” The actual history of globalism has been one of “masking national and imperial aggression and extinguishing nationality by forcible assimilation into an imperial system.”4 And, unsurprisingly, that still describes our present foreign policy, or, as the current jargon goes, it is America seeking world hegemony.

But despite any universal attributes, there is no such thing as a “global community” or a “global economy” “for the simple reason that human beings do not live in the abstract and universalist world these phrases imply but in and by the particular and concrete institutions, identities, norms, and associations around them.” Mr. Francis then makes a stronger statement quoting James Burnham who writes that with all the billions of people living on the earth, ‘“there is no Humanity: that is to say, actual human beings, though they may share a metaphysical and theological identity, do not in point of fact have common psychological, social and historical traits that link them into an operative social grouping that we may name ‘Humanity.’…Since there is at present time no Humanity or Mankind (socially and historically speaking), there cannot be a World Government…there cannot be a significant World Law or One-Law-for-All-Men….’”5

It sounds as though he would at least agree with the spirit of William Blake’s view.

In a later paper, Francis describes the “conventional American right,” to include mainstream conservatives, paleoconservatives, and libertarians. He further describes Americans as “an affluent proletariat economically dependent on the federal government through labor codes, housing loans, educational programs, defense contracts, and health and unemployment benefits. All variations of conservative doctrine rejected these as illegitimate extensions of the state….” Yet it is precisely this extension that Francis points out makes up the new Middle American Proletariat (MAP) who rely on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, civil rights, voting rights, welfare and most of the rest of the expansive federal programs. The political left, however, alienates the MAP with its anti-national and countercultural programs. The MAP is then left in a chronic dilemma. As a result neither the Republican nor the Democratic party can win the permanent allegiance of the MAP who would just as soon support the political left for “at least the left can be expected not to gut the entitlement programs with which Middle American economic interests are linked.”6 This was true until Patrick Buchanan threw his hat into the presidential ring. Francis points out that it was not a matter of Mr. Buchanan winning an election so much as it was of giving voice to the concerns of the MAP. This was followed by the Tea Party movement and then most recently by the rise of Donald Trump and his Make America Great Again movement.

The reason for this mixture of conservative cultural and liberal economic elements, and the consequent political loss for the old time conservative right, was the corresponding, preceding loss of its social base. “Old Right conservatism,” Francis explains, “defended a limited, decentralized, and largely neutral national government and the ethic of small-town, small-business, Anglo-Saxon Protestantism.” It mostly appealed to “businessmen of the haute bourgeoisie and their localized, middle-class adherents…”7 Their loss meant the old right’s position could never command a political majority. With the arrival of Mr. Buchanan, however, “conservatives” did not find another right-wing protester, but someone who actually favored these new social forces and gave them a vigorous new mode of national political expression with his program of America First. But while Francis’ argument explains much of what has recently transpired in the politics of the new right, it is not without some points of concern.

Nationalism and Pat Buchanan

The substance of the current America First belief includes a number of by now familiar commitments: a pro-life plank, upholding 1st and 2nd amendment rights, rejecting government overreach in the areas of public health (such as the various mask and vaccine mandates) as well as supporting parental rights against the highly publicized local school board tyrannies. Also included are limitations on immigration, and a “tough” approach toward China and Russia, and a patriotic, pro-American trade policy. And in Texas, a state GOP proposal for a referendum about secession is included. The new trade policy requires protective measures for industry of a Hamiltonian quality. Though Sam Francis denies that Mr. Buchanan is a Hamiltonian, Mr. Buchanan himself praises Hamilton highly, describing him as the “architect of the nation,” giving us protectionism as a system made in America and as someone who helped make a more perfect union. He and Washington were America’s first great economic nationalists.8 “A tariff is a tax,” writes Mr. Buchanan, “but its purpose is not just to raise revenue but to make a nation economically independent…What patriot would consign the economic independence of his country to the ‘invisible hand’ of Adam Smith in a system crafted by intellectuals whose allegiance is to an ideology, not a people?” In fact, he claims, “Tariffs were the taxes that made America great.” His policy is, in short, one involving elements of a new mercantilism.9

But Mr. Buchanan’s “enlightened nationalism” is “not a nationalism that wishes to denigrate or dominate others. It is a passionate attachment to one’s own country: its history, heroes, literature, traditions, culture, language, and faith. It is the spirit that enables a people to endure…” It is, in fact, a form of romantic nationalism that celebrates a nation’s distinctives. But with so many factors pulling the nation apart, “Americans constantly need to nurture the bonds of union.” And quoting none other than Ludwig von Mises, he cites commerce as one such fundamental bond.10

Consistent with the spirit of romantic nationalism is the view that international trade can be seen as a sports game and nations as the playing teams. Mr. Buchanan writes in that vein when he says: “‘All we want is a ‘level playing field’, runs the cliché. But down deep, is that really all we want? On NFL Sundays, Americans want not just a level playing field; they want to win, they want Joe Montana or Phil Simms to keep an eye out for that rookie defensive back whose ankle is not 100 percent, so his zone can be flooded, and he can be made a fool of. That is the American way in war, the American way in sports. Why not the American way in trade?”11

Again, in the Great Betrayal, trade is seen as a zero-sum game, all the more dangerous because of industrial espionage. He identifies the same phrase about a level playing field as naïve and wrong-headed because such an expression focuses on fairness instead of outcome. The game is too serious and the stakes are too high for anything less than a “must-win” attitude. The quarterback must still be taken out. Furthermore, sounding like Sam Francis, he insists there is no such thing as a “family of nations” or an “international community.” Increased market share of one (international corporation) means a diminished share for the other. “Victory for one can mean death of the other.”12 “Politics… is a zero-sum game. For every winner there is a loser.”13 And since politics trumps economics, that makes economics a zero-sum game. Hostility and domination are, in fact, essential to this spirit of nationalism, for corporations as well as for nations.

Further Elaboration and Evaluation

While both Sam Francis and Patrick Buchanan have analyzed America’s ills and recommended appropriate changes, some problems with their thinking remain. The present America First policies include elements which are inconsistent with what used to be the conservative social base, the loss of which they both bemoan. They correctly identify both economic and social values as well as the illegitimate extensions of the state. But economic dependency and proletarianization of the American people have been among the left’s great successes which they do not adequately address. Perhaps most importantly, their basic framework, especially Mr. Buchanan’s, is flawed.

Mr. Buchanan’s quarterback hero is himself flawed for we already find in Alexander Hamilton an odd mixture of elements. He seems to have lacked those qualities that constitute Buchanan’s famous “conservatism of the heart”; and he was not an example of Francis’ original social base. “[H]e had none of those local attachments of ancestry and nativity,” writes Russell Kirk, “that caused leaders like Josiah Quincy and John Randolph to love their state with a passion beside which nationalism was a feeble infatuation.”14 At the same time, on a positive note, as he advocated his own early version of American nationalism, Hamilton still held to the law of nations, especially regarding private property rights and payment of debts, perhaps to the chagrin of other nationalists.15 But his desire to rely on American resources as much as possible included employing women and children in factories; and it is difficult to see how the social base would be benefited from such a policy. Richard Hofstadter put the point his way: “Men like Hamilton could argue that manufactures ought to be promoted because they would enable the nation to use the labor of women and children, ‘many of them at a tender age,’ but Jefferson was outraged at such a view of humanity. Hamilton schemed to get the children into factories; Jefferson planned school systems.”16 Mr. Buchanan may differ here from Hamilton desiring, as he does, a sufficiently high wage for a man to earn a living that allows him to provide for his wife and children. Or, as he puts it, we want a situation where “a man can raise a family again on the sweat of his own labor.”17 Here, Mr. Buchanan evinces a patriotism of the hearth. Hamilton had little or none. One may see that lapse of local attachment in his personal life, for “he devoted himself fanatically to public life, almost totally neglecting his family and private economy. He was perpetually in debt, and despite his wife’s large inheritance he died bankrupt.”18 “Had America left fallow what Hamilton took in hand,” writes Russell Kirk, “ her industrial growth would have been slower, but no less sure; and the consequences might have been perceptibly less roughhewn.”19

Problems of Accommodationism

The dismissal of the liberal/conservative, or left/right distinction, implicit in Francis’ view, certainly marks an honest assessment of changes in political beliefs. But it also signals a measure of complacency with the abandonment of those values, and perhaps of some traditional norms and values not explicitly mentioned. Such accommodation presents additional difficulties.

“Accommodationism” is a weakness inherent in the conservative position which always prefers to work within existing institutions. It is aided by the “I-don’t-see-how-we-can-get-back-to-that” belief. But when a major social deformation is institutionalized, conserving it is wrong. Of course, a temporary accommodation may be justified due to circumstances, lack of resources, or desire to produce peace, without violating norms, and is honourable. Compromising interests may be respectable, but not fundamental values, and not if it is due to want of moral strength. Yet all too often what starts out as temporary ends up being permanent. Conservatives need a clearer image of the good society and what to work for, and the spine to stick to it and a little historical reminder that so many of the social diseases of today which are taken for granted were once thought to be so outrageous as to be unthinkable. One thinks of women in the military, and sexual perversion as examples of compromise and accommodation. These views were once thought of as liberal heresies, but they eventually became either conservative orthodoxies, or at least quietly tolerated. Even abortion became acceptable for some. Will the future include the promotion and celebration of medical gender mutilation (MGM), and other elements of what is currently called the extreme left? Mr. Buchanan says very similar things about the Republican party and government expansion. “Republicans,” he writes, “have been the party that resisted the expansion of government over our lifetimes, and its role has often been to conduct an orderly retreat to a new defense perimeter after the most recent defeat.”20

Two examples illustrate the retreat and accommodation. First is perhaps the somewhat excessive celebration of the recent election of Glenn Youngkin to the governorship of Virginia. Granted his election, based as it was on the rightful affirmation of parental rights in the education of their children, was a significant victory. But the context, meaning the overall political complexion of the state of Virginia, is hardly conducive to a robust conservative victory. Virginia’s parents come from various backgrounds and, though united on this issue, have many other issues which divide them. That the governor clearly understood this is seen in his inauguration prayer for unity among people of all faiths, though how that can be achieved is not clear. One source of disunity is the issue of Confederate monuments. Whether from personal inclination or from an appreciation of voter sentiment, he has no plans to replace them, though he claims the state’s history should not be destroyed. And again, while not supporting same-sex “marriage” personally, he will follow the law in Virginia.21 In the past, before the retreat to the new defense perimeter, such accommodations would have earned the governor the title of “liberal.” Still, despite understanding his overall limits to power and that perhaps there is some basis for accommodation, a more sober appraisal of his victory is justified. In fact, sobriety compels one to admit such questions are so divisive and fundamental they are beyond political discourse, and accommodation may be simply betrayal.

A second example is education broadly understood to include the discipline children receive in the home. The problem is the whole disposition toward the child which undermines the development of good character by accommodating certain modern notions of child rearing. As one writer complains: “American education seems to suffer from the fact that it is thoroughly permeated with some notions of the various psychoanalytical schools and their pedagogical modifications. To let the child freely develop, to see his always as the right side, to minimize or even discard the notions of right and wrong, to understand and to forgive, and not to blame and to punish, – all this may be as pernicious as it seems rosy. The child thus brought up…may become a self-centered man, free from notions of right and wrong, free from moral distinctions. Perhaps some will be spared neurotic complexes, but many will develop psychopathic characteristics by not taking into consideration the moral aspects of behaviour…They may be spared the hardships of decisions…but human relations will be the victim of such lack of capacity to arrive at moral decisions (and most real decisions are moral).”22 Such is the accurate description of child rearing today, except that it, too, was written in 1958. We have committed ourselves to controlling behavior by changing the surroundings, rather than by inculcating self-discipline and inner command. It is not usually the outside world that is at fault but the wrong orientation of the child’s will that is at stake. It is not surprising after all this time to find we have been reaping the consequences of such a school of thought. But the complete conservative has always known that lack of moral discipline leads to social decay and finally tyranny. Without independent men and women of sound moral character, a vacuum is formed which is filled by expansive government control, propaganda, and ideology. But many Republicans and “conservatives” continue to accommodate these educational aberrations.

Faith, Tradition, and Nationalism

Mr. Buchanan points out that Americans do not have much faith in their government and perhaps eventually they will lose faith in the democratic system itself. “Clearly,” Mr. Buchanan writes, “among the reasons for our present division and national malaise is that we have lost the great animating cause earlier generations had: the Cold War.” And there has been no substitute found for this once great cause, neither the “New World Order” of George H. W. Bush nor Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s “rules-based-order.” And parallel to this Americans also seem to be losing the faith of their fathers. Is there a causal connection? Implicitly, Mr. Buchanan answers yes. He quotes Harry Truman’s words: “‘If we don’t have the proper fundamental moral background, we will finally wind up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except the State.’”23 That foundation lies in the teachings from Exodus to St. Matthew, teachings which formed the basis for the Bill of Rights. But the faith which animated our determination to oppose totalitarianism in other countries like the Soviet Union apparently weakened with the end of the Cold War and has since been assaulted by many cultural changes resulting, not merely in a further loss of faith, but in a divided country. And of course, Mr. Truman’s statement has come true: increasingly, it is the state that has the rights, not the people.

But there may be something more. It may be that the over-identification of the Christian faith with the government of the United States and the impetus this gave to wage the Cold War, left people not only without direction after the demise of the Soviet Union, but without enthusiasm for the “fundamental moral background” of that faith (along with other social trends at the time). Such a cause worked as a political/moral narcotic, along with the social corruptions in play, so that people became incapable of living more peacefully and simply without the thrill of the great national cause, reminiscent of what Jacob Burckhardt famously called the “cult of the colossal” and the “cult of political unity and national expansion.” And in times of nationalistic fervor, the cross takes back seat to the flag. Neither ethnic nor civil nationalism, or any other expressions of “group egotism,” substitute for careful thinking or fidelity to Christian values. And even as the Cold War was going on, something else was being lost: “As for the culture wars, traditionalism has been in retreat since the 1950s,” says Mr. Buchanan. He concludes pessimistically, “Biden appears to be a failing president who believes in the inevitable victory of the ideology toward which he himself has been moving over his half-century career since arriving in Washington as a 30-year-old centrist Democrat. Unfortunately, he may not be wrong.”24

Instead, there seems to be little room for the actual conservative belief of the purpose of government which is to maintain the relations already established in traditional society. Russell Kirk summarizes an early nineteenth century view of conservative principles of government and explains that their “aim is to conserve freedom and order and the quiet old ways men love.”25 Beyond that there is no great “cause,” and addiction to such causes tends to crowd out the sense of original purpose. And with a return to the basic purpose, there must also be a return to Francis’ conservative social base. Something more than a mere civil or ethno-centric association is needed: a deliberate inclusion of those metaphysical and theological features Mr. Burnham rejects, though one which still nurtures national distinctives. Of course, this eludes a purely political solution, but correct public policy is necessary.

Populism alone is unreliable for this purpose because it is unstable. As Sam Francis points out, people may vote one way one election year, and then vote the opposite way in the next one. It’s populism’s eclectic and impulsive character, absorbing elements of the ideological left, which makes it so unstable, reflecting the weakening of faith which further reinforces that instability. For if the social base for the old right collapsed, how can the “Middle American Proletariat” still maintain its social, cultural, and national identities and loyalties which are needed to support Mr. Buchanan’s conservatism of the heart, or Mr. Trump’s America First? Indeed, the fact that they are now proletarians explains a lot, for it was in the process of that proletarianization that Francis’ social values were lost. The new social base, then, contains a mixture of conservative and liberal elements with predictable, chronic dilemmas.26

Mr. Buchanan himself is not sure of this populism because he does not expect a republican triumph. He says that the “Democratic mega-states in presidential elections – California, New York, Illinois – seem solidly blue while Republican mega-states like Texas and Florida seem less solidly red.” He notes that historically it was the Democratic party that “led the fight for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, civil rights, voting rights, welfare and most of the rest of a federal monolith that now consumes perhaps a fourth of our GDP.”27 This is just what Sam Francis said, and consists of the same programs Middle American Proletarians vote for.

This leads us to the real need, intertwined with the restoration of the social base, of de-proletarianizing Americans. The locus of economic independence is not to be found at the national level, but rather at the household level. And the process of liberating Americans from their proletarian status, restoring widespread ownership of productive property, including homeownership, will in turn help to re-establish the conservative social base, the “haute bourgeoisie” description of Mr. Francis given above. This is what is essential to economic independence.28 And with that economic independence comes the restoration of liberty. Without independence, there is no liberty, as decades of growing dependency on the Federal government has shown.

To be emphatic, the proletarian status, which is connected to the loss of the social base, is the problem that needs to be fix, not the condition that needs to be accommodated. Substituting a national enthusiasm does not fix the problem, nor does increasing workers’ wages while leaving them in that state of dependency. The process of proletarianization stems from the very mis-guided industrialization Hamilton advocated but whose consequences would have repelled him.

Nor would he have been happy about the insecurity which comes from economic dependency and which contributes to Americans’ neurasthenia, hyperthymia, and mass psychosis: the effect on the very people who form the populist movement, but who willingly carry water for the government and its cadre of enforcement agents from private companies to state officials. How else could the Middle American Proletariat succumb to the “idiotariats” of public health and their fear-mongering pandemic policies and propaganda? It is true that the process of deproletarianization and returning to a traditional society and the original purpose of government has some flexibility. In thinking about this, though, it’s important to distinguish historical form from principle. It is the latter which must be maintained while the former can have variations within limits. If that social base truly incorporates conservative values such as sexual normality, traditional culture, and an appropriate nationalism, is this not a basis to formulate a strategy to harmonize, rather than entertain, any remaining economic and cultural inconsistencies? Perhaps Hungary’s Viktor Orban gives an encouraging example that the ravages of secularism and bad government are not all irreversible.

Trade, Protectionism, and American History

Since Mr. Buchanan and others appeal to history for their case, a few brief comments along that line are needed. Any appeal to the American tradition must take the American habit of economic independence into account, which is nothing less than a concern for the proper distribution of economic power beginning with the household and the local community, a preference for the local over the global and originally even over the national. The mercantilism of colonial America has to be understood in this light. As Forrest MacDonald writes in his classic study of the economic foundation of the Constitution:

“Americans were accustomed to fairly extensive governmental interference in their economic lives, but only on the part of local governments. It was not governmental power as such that Americans feared, but the centralization of power, especially in a government far removed from local supervision and control. A division of power along both horizontal and vertical lines – a federal system with the principle of the separation of powers incorporated into each level of government – was broadly and deeply rooted in the complex of political, economic, and social traditions in Anglo-Saxon America…It was not the sum total of governmental power being exercised that varied with these changes in organization [from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution], but the distribution of power, the equilibrium of the federal system.

“Hence, while the general mold of opinion on matters of political economy was a mercantilistic one, it did not in America imply nationalistic mercantilism, but a group of local mercantilisms. The mold varied as to details in the several states, sometimes subtly, sometimes glaringly. Each state required and had in operation a system of its own to meet its own economic needs” (emphasis added).29

At the time in colonial America there were three different types of manufacturing. First, there were the service industries (blacksmiths, printers, coopers, carpenters) which served other lines of economic endeavor, some closely aligned with the interests of farmers. A second type of manufacturing was in finished goods which, for one reason or another, could not be easily produced in and transported from Britain. And the third type of manufacturing was the one of Hamiltonian interest. It was capitalistic and corporate, and as MacDonald writes, it was the “opposite of the second type,” because, “[f]or the traditional proprietor-manager-worker who hired only a small number of workers it substituted absentee ownership and large numbers of employees – the factory system.”30 This is the new type of manufacturing that sought to break into the line of British production but needed the promotion and protection of a strong central government, the very kind of situation that raised questions of the distribution of power, and with it, issues of independence and liberty.

Some Southerners, especially those growing staples, feared northern commercial interests would obtain legislation that discriminated against foreign shipping, once the Constitution was ratified. “At least one of the reasons the southern states had joined the movement for independence was their desire to escape the monopolistic control of British and Scotch merchants that prevailed under the Crown, and many planters were reluctant to subject themselves to the possibility of a similar monopoly by Yankee shippers.”31 Their protection against economic exploitation lay in competition in the shipping industry. But with ratification, Hamiltonian manufacturing was indeed given protection.

It is not that the agrarian South was necessarily against manufacturing of the third kind. A contemporary of Hamilton, John Taylor of Virginia, was a staunch critic of Hamilton’s project for manufactures. But he believed “a flourishing agriculture will beget and enrich manufactures.”32 Damaging the former would hurt the latter. And that is the point for the agrarian view, namely, that the origin of manufacturing lies in the success of agriculture, but must remain the servant not the master, always keeping things in proportion to one another, to genuine human need and so recognizing limits. And the further irritating point was the interpretation that the new Constitution was justified in granting special favors to manufactures but not to agriculture. This was not merely personally galling but damnable heresy for a true republican because such a device rendered “governments too strong for nations.” It is a device given “to support a government against a nation.” And the same charge was made then as now that not supporting the “manufacturing mania” was evidence of avarice and lacked patriotism. But for Taylor this was a mere pretended zeal for national honour whose real motive was advancing the pecuniary interest of a few capitalists. These enthusiasts conspired to have a protecting duty system which only outwardly resembled patriotism and honesty.33 (It is not hard to connect the idea of policies that make “governments too strong for nations” and even “support a government against a nation,” with today’s situation, although for reasons in addition to trade policy.)

Still, the amount of America’s first tariff was a relatively modest 5% ad valorem on most goods (Tariff Act of 1789). The Tariff Act of 1816 imposed a 25% rate on cotton and woolen goods and 30% on iron products. These were substantially less than the Tariff of Abominations which reached an average value of 62% on 92% of US imports, or the Morrill Tariff and war tariffs (1861-1864) which eventually reached 47% (1864). By contrast the Trump tariff on certain Chinese goods reaches only 25% although Mr. Buchanan himself argued for only a modest 15% revenue tariff. “The Tariff Act of 1816,” says Mr. Buchanan, “was America’s first purely protectionist tariff.” Such a view is consistent with Professor Hofstadter’s claim that protectionism did not begin with Hamilton and the Federalists, but with the Republicans. For Mr. Buchanan the protective tariff is indeed the very essence of Republican economic nationalism. In fact, he celebrates the period of 1861 to 1913 as America’s great protectionist era.34

However, in citing Adam Smith as though he were a mercantilist, Mr. Buchanan misuses the great Scotsman. When Smith writes that every individual employs his capital as near his home as possible in support of domestic industry, it comes with a proviso that he can get the same or nearly the same ordinary profits from such an investment. Adam Smith was not truly in favor of tariffs except as exceptions, usually temporary or conditional. Even his retaliatory tariff was qualified: it was to be allowed only if it was considered likely the other party would repeal its tariff. This was to be determined, as he said, by “the skill of that insidious and crafty animal, vulgarly called a statesman or politician, whose councils are directed by the momentary fluctuations of affairs.” (Legislators, on the other hand, ought to be governed by general principles.) When no such hope is evident, the continuation of the tariff would be a “real tax upon the whole country.”35 In other words, what Smith would permit in a qualified way and what he would prefer are different from protectionists. The retaliatory tariffs were marginal to his thinking, not central. He was temperate in this regard, not doctrinaire. Introducing a new tariff was a form of economic disorder as was its imprudent removal. While he was not strictly laissez-faire in trade, he was liberal, allowing for the realism necessary for dealing with international political issues. In fact, it is this very concept of “liberal” trade which offers a third alternative to the stark choice Mr. Buchanan offers, either laissez-faire or protectionist nationalism. The dispositions of the two are quite different.

But in another non-mercantilist/non-protectionist manner, Smith can be seen indirectly supportive of Mr. Buchanan’s concern to re-shore manufacturing to improve workers’ wages. Smith points out that when manufacturers use cheap foreign linen yarn, they are indirectly using cheap foreign labor in an effort to keep down the wages of English workers and to increase the profits of that industry. And that industry, he further points out, which benefits the rich and the powerful, “is principally encouraged by our mercantile system.” He concludes, “That which is carried on for the benefit of the poor and the indigent, is too often, either neglected, or oppressed.” Smith’s concern, though, is not a matter of economic nationalism, but of economic justice. More explicitly, offshoring machinery (or more broadly today, technology) would be inconsistent with Smith’s emphasis on increasing a society’s worker productivity and thereby fostering further economic growth.36

Whatever other difficulties there are about this history, it is certainly not an endorsement of mercantilistic protectionism on the national level.37 And insofar as the goal is the re-industrialization of America, the label “protectionism” is inappropriate. Establishing, or restoring, the manufacturing industries basic to a modern economy is not protectionist in any ordinary sense of the word; it is, rather, something prior to protection. Nor is it necessary to set this goal in a Hamiltonian framework, and the method for doing so need not be by tariffs. The goal should not be national autarky, but the vitality of a humane economy – which requires a good measure of cooperation with other nations.

Therefore, to say in effect, as mentioned above, that there is no universal law, only particular laws of particular nations, no humanity, only peculiar, much narrower, smaller groups such as family, church, and nation, goes too far. Defense of the particular does not require denial of the universal. Beneath national differences lies a commonality that allows for interaction and interdependency, as seen, for example, in the basic structure of human language which allows for translation, and in terms of the economic interaction, as seen in man’s natural tendency to truck, barter and exchange, as Adam Smith said, which allows for international trade.

Finally, and often contrary both to Mr. Buchanan and Francis, there is the retention of globalist views among the Middle American Proletariat. Globalist elements include: though rejecting forever wars, the adulation of the troops, always hating Russia/China, continued legal immigration, which is all right so long as the immigrants accept the abstractions which pass for being conservative: “all men are created equal,” etc., holding that America is the “exceptional nation” setting the example of liberty and democracy for all other nations to follow, and supporting America’s Middle East foreign policy which is directed by the Israeli government, putting America last in this regard. All of which is to say we end up with a right-wing, instead of a left-wing, inclination towards globalism. And to be conservative, after all, is not necessarily to be right-wing.

For all these reasons, Sam Francis was more right than he knew to advise Mr. Buchanan to stop using the word “conservative.”

A Limited Nationalism and Trade

Dropping the word “conservative” comes in part from Sam Francis’ reliance, as mentioned above, on James Burnham’s dismissal of the theological and the metaphysical, as if these had no operational bearing on human conduct. But these things do matter. For just as the created material world is riddled with evidence of design, so also is man’s moral nature. As philosopher Stanley Jaki points out, not only was it the Creator’s sovereign choice to create the world, but it is “a world of which man is an equally contingent constituent.”38 “Contingent” means creation was not done under compulsion but freely. And man, made in His image and likeness, is also capable of free moral choice. It is this character which “made way for the scientific investigation of nature and for participation in history, since the contingency of creation gave a new importance to the human endeavor.”39 Participation in history includes the outworking of the features that are common to man, not only in his individual economic relations, but in those between nations as well. In fact, the combination of contingency (sovereign free choice) with consistency (rational, lawful, orderly) is the distinctive contribution of Christian faith and philosophy.

This double quality in the origin of man and nations is important in trade issues, also.40 It is reflected in German economist Wilhelm Roepke’s appeal in dealing with post World War II problems. He explains it is “after this war [WWII] and for the first time for innumerable ages truly gigantic problems will have to be faced and solved by humanity as a whole…” (emphasis added). Ethnology, anthropology and philology agree, he writes, on the “monophyletic” origin of man (i.e., a single common parentage, or, as the Apostle Paul said, from one blood God made all nations of mankind (Acts 17:26).) But, like the Tower of Babel, continues Roepke, after centuries of wandering and dispersion, mankind seems to have returned to the starting point. We are all inhabitants of a now familiar world with no new continents to discover. Despite his common parentage on the one hand and national distinctions on the other, man is now crowded together again with all the frictions, differences and attendant confusions that entails. “The individual nations have become like cantons that will have to decide how to adjust themselves to this development.”41 The need for international order and moral choice are inescapable. His appeal to “humanity as a whole” clearly adumbrates a cooperation transcending some measure of national sovereignty.

Belief in such cooperation, however, and mutual duties among nations, is not new in Christian political thought. In the sixteenth century, Jean Bodin, for example, published his great work Six Books of the Commonwealth. The family, he said, was not only the true source and origin of the commonwealth, but was also its principal constituent, so that the “well-ordered family is a true image of the commonwealth, and domestic comparable with sovereign authority.” And that sovereign is himself subject to the restraints inherent in “the laws of God and of nature, and even to certain human laws common to all nations…” (emphasis added).

And in the nineteenth century an arch nationalist like Joseph Mazzini could still echo the spirit of this understanding in his call for a national Italian state as the means of benefiting humanity. In his Duties of Country he writes: “Your first Duties—first, at least, in importance—are, as I have told you, to Humanity. You are men before you are citizens or fathers.” As individuals we are too weak, lacking the necessary means, to fulfill these duties. “But God gave you this means when he gave you a Country, when…he divided Humanity into distinct groups upon the face of our globe, and thus planted the seeds of nations.” National distinctions, in fact, are understood through and by an understanding of our common human nature, because all share the same origin. A nation’s distinctives and the values common to humanity can work together in this view.

But this is not always true. In the example of Glenn Youngkin, mentioned above, the affirmation of parental rights in the education of their children is a universal value (in its substance, not its political form); there is nothing distinctively American in it. It is the Tower of Babel reappearing in one country where only the barest minimum can be agreed upon, like people of different backgrounds agreeing to cooperate long enough to get out of a stuck elevator. And the distinctively American value, the preservation of Confederate monuments, is precisely what is not affirmed. The proper exercise of sovereignty would be most fitting here. The inversion is striking: the limitation of sovereignty within a country which should be a limit only between countries.

Barring such inversions, that there is a basic harmony possible between the national and the international is consistent with Edmund Burke’s sense of natural law. Arguing that Burke stood squarely in the tradition of Suarez and Grotius (law of nation advocates), Peter Stanlis writes: “The law of nations was for Burke the first qualification of the Natural Law, in the process of applying its eternal and universal moral imperatives to the concrete, practical political affairs of men and nations….With all their differences, men in any given nation had their citizenship in common, and all were bound in their civil capacity to obey the moral law, so that as citizens (not men in the abstract), they could best live according to the spirit of Natural Law indirectly, by acknowledging the intermediary de jure sovereignty of their own civil state, and each state in turn, in its intercourse with other states, was obliged to subordinate its self-interest to the superior reason in the moral law”42 (emphasis added). Subordinating the national self-interest to the principles of moral law certainly puts a limit on national sovereignty. And finally, Stanlis adds that, “From the harmony of Natural and constitutional [national] law Burke derived his principle that ‘the love of the whole is not extinguished by… subordinate partiality.’ The proper order of progression in arriving at the love of all mankind was also indirect, from love of kin to love of kind…”43 It is not a matter in the Christian view, then, of pitting love of country against love of mankind. The two go together.

“Intermediary” sovereignty is the key thought here. It links the citizen of the nation to other states; it requires at points the “subordination” of national self-interest to the moral law as expressed in the law of nations which transcends national differences. Also important is the view that love of country does not mean there can be no love of the whole, i.e. mankind. So, much is Burke’s de jure view.

National sovereignty is also limited de facto. Interrelations of nations produce interdependencies and these involve a proportioning, and hence a limiting, of individual national sovereignty in the same way that rights of individuals are limited or conditioned not merely formally (rights with correlative duties), but also by informal habits, customs, and conditions among neighbors. For nations it is a matter of their actual economic, political, and military circumstances. They can exercise their sovereignty only within these practical restrictions. Like liberty, we can expect sovereignty to be real, but not absolute.44

And international trade is no different. Interventions in trade, though sometimes necessary for reasons of defense or for a better future economic outcome, are to be seen as exceptions which do not define the norm of the political neutralization of economic resources. A sense of prudence and goodwill should surround these exceptions. Again, it is much like private property rights in home ownership in which peace with your neighbor means resolving issues in ways other than formal adherence to property rights involving surveyors, lawyers, and courts. These are always available, but hopefully not often needed. Neighborliness is the better initial choice. This is more in keeping with Burke’s “spirit of the law,” as well as with his sense of prudence. On the other hand, Mr. Burnham’s isolation of practical national policy from the theological and the metaphysical is one of those abstractions which Edmund Burke hated. It comes too close to a Machiavellian separation of political force from ethics for a conservative to be comfortable with.45

In fact, political nationalism is only one kind of nationalism. In the early nineteenth century, for example, there was a scholarly and cosmopolitan attitude, an “intellectual nationalism” which “was essentially non-political.” As Leonard Krieger elaborates: “In all parts of Germany the pride in German academic research, philosophy, arts, and letters which had been growing since the seventeenth century assumed first the defense of the national contributions to western culture in these fields against the French version of cosmopolitanism…” They maintained “a blend of national and universal cultural values…These qualities were common to that complex of classical idealism and romanticism which made up the dominant intellectual tendency of the age.” German idealism itself was a blend of classical idealism and romantic idealism.46 Likewise, Shakespeare’s works can influence French and German thought without those peoples feeling they have lost or undermined their national identities. The same can be said for other cultural distinctives.

This “intellectual nationalism” did not interfere with European politics. One thinks of the table talk and dinners of Samuel Johnson as illustrating the older, balanced view. Johnson commented on the purpose of traveling to foreign countries: “The grand object of traveling,” he explained, “is to see the shores of the Mediterranean. On those shores were the four great Empires of the world; the Assyrian, the Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman. – All our religion, almost all our law, almost all our arts, almost all that sets us above savages, has come to us from the shores of the Mediterranean.” At yet he could also claim: “What I gained by being in France was, learning to be better satisfied with my own country.” And he could celebrate poetry for keeping national distinctions alive: “Poetry, indeed, cannot be translated; and, therefore, it is the poets that preserve languages.” This is the older cosmopolitan view: an appreciation of other countries while still preferring one’s own. Even in such an aberration as the Napoleonic era, one finds Goethe and Napoleon meeting face to face and discussing the former’s literary work, the Sorrows of Werther. Whereas today a leading orchestral conductor, Valery Gergiev of Munich, could not retain his position because he did not publicly criticize Russia’s special military operation.47 The distinctions of the older cosmopolitanism are too subtle for today’s politicians; they do not see that different “nationalisms” can limit one other.

In the early days of the republic, John Randolph, a Virginian, sounding like Edmund Burke, said he clung to the operations of prescription (i.e., rights established by custom and habit). He clung to them ‘“because in clinging to them, I cling to my country; because I love my country as I do my immediate connexions; for the love of country is nothing more than the love of every man for his wife, child, or friend.’”48 (emphasis added). This is a very different definition from a Hamiltonian one. It does not include making sure large enterprises are going smoothly, or that one section of a country must be taxed to subsidize another. It is an entirely non-political, i.e., non-nationalistic love of country. Mr. Buchanan, on the other hand, dismisses him saying: “Randolph is the beau ideal of numerous conservatives. Yet, in his rhetoric one hears echoes of environmentalism, even of the Green Parties of Europe.”49

Of course, one cannot be a patriot and a conservative if one has environmental concerns about the country’s natural patrimony. But it shouldn’t take much imagination to realize that eliminating our natural heritage is no better than off-shoring our manufacturing. Some balance will have to be achieved to “re-shore” both of them, as it were. The psychic bleeding that comes from the destruction and abuse of God’s creation is part of our civilizational problem. It has been this writer’s experience over several decades that conservatives have not by and large achieved that right balance. Some of this is understandable since, during that time, the political left has tended to armor environmental issues for the purpose of advancing radical social change. Conservatives have rightly smelled something foul. But that does not justify their retreat into becoming shills for large corporations or assume a complacency and blindness amounting to active guilt.

When matters do involve politics and international trade, and the trade-off between them, upon what basis, or within what framework, do we try to solve them? For Mr. Buchanan the solution lies in the wholesale dismissal of the principle of comparative costs. Even the principle of a market economy comes perilously to be dismissed when Mr. Buchanan favorably quotes the words of former French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur: “‘What is the market? It is the law of the jungle, the law of nature. And what is civilization? It is the struggle against nature.’”50 So, it is civilization against the market economy? Adam Smith, of course, would have been the first to reject that view, insisting as he did that markets work benevolently when they are based on prudence and justice, implying they are for civilized people, or for any people with an appropriate code of honor.

The case of comparative costs is instructive here because it is a principle which Mr. Buchanan dismisses.51 The increase in productive efficiency which comes from the division of labor and specialization which applies to nations as well individuals raises legitimate concerns, but not to the extent of abandoning that principle. It does not require blind application. Much depends on properly framing the issue. Here is one way of putting it: “The further the division of labor is pushed, the more proper it becomes to ask the question whether this price is not too high. This applies especially to the international division of labor which, for obvious reasons, is possessed of a particularly unstable and uncertain character. It is for this very reason that the ideal of obtaining provisions as cheaply as possible is, at present, frequently thrust in the background in favor of other ideals. We should beware, nonetheless, of allowing ourselves to be led astray by those who cite these ideals merely to cloak their own economic interests. To this we may add that the importation of cheap goods, though generally advantageous at present, can have a paralyzing influence on the future development of domestic production or can lead to costly dislocations to which it would be undesirable to see the domestic economy exposed.”52 The problem is not pejoratively framed as an absurd notion of economic ideologues on international trade to be rejected in favor of a hard-headed policy, flexing one’s nationalistic muscles. But rather, it is one of comparing and evaluating one ideal with another, recognizing they are not always compatible, and trade-offs become necessary for want of resources, or from the nature of things. Either way, the disposition is positive and benevolent; there remains still a measure of good will and openness to the possibility that in the future a better answer may be available. Without dismissing the principle of comparative advantage the door is opened to the reasonable concerns of Francis, Buchanan, and Trump: moderate tariffs may be (politically) acceptable to achieve the other ideals they are concerned about, i.e., not allowing future domestic production to be adversely affected by present consumption decisions. And it is open to concerns of the environment and culture as well as national security and manufacturing.

If there is any “law of the jungle,” it is one which arose with the growth of “nationalistic absolutism” following the dissolution of the social order of the Middle Ages and the rise of nation-states. And it was the work of subsequent policymakers, writes Roepke, to re-establish international order, even though it meant placing it on a secular basis instead of the moral-theological one it had previously had. The cooperative method of an international organization of states failed (Christian Wolf and the Civitas Maxima); and the world rejected the imperial approach of an empire of force (Charles V to Napoleon). This left only a third way, however imperfect, on which to base international economic order, which is the law of nations. While it is often understood that the Pax Britannica replaced the Pax Romana of antiquity and Pax Christiana of the Middle Ages, this, says Roepke further, is misleading. For while Britain did take a leading role in the nineteenth century international order, the core of that order was liberal and was shared by many other nations engaged in intensive and multilateral world trade. “No, all civilized countries participated in this as long as they looked upon tacit respect for an unwritten international order – a secularized Pax Christiana – as a matter of course. A network of long-term treaties spanned the world, based on the universally acknowledged law of nations, the adjustment of tensions between large and small countries – the often misinterpreted ‘balance of power’ – an international monetary system (the gold standard) and a high degree of consensus on the concepts of law and national legal norms. This external order was pervaded by an atmosphere of a certain loyalty and fairness in international relations which made it unchivalrous, dishonorable and inconsiderate to overstep certain limits of national egoism and disregard obligations and ‘rules of the game.’ This secularized Pax Christiana was the true basis of world trade at the destruction of which the ideological termites had worked for generations until suddenly the proud and recently refurnished edifice collapsed.”53

One point from the above deserves to be amplified. The former international order worked because of a certain disposition of mind. Rejected was the faustrecht or club-law of the robber knights and counts who wielded an absolute sovereignty in their petty domains in the late Middle Ages. Also rejected – eventually – was the harsh nationalism of the early modern period. Instead, a kind of chivalry came to be practiced which was “first and foremost a spirit” and was “the form taken by the code of self-discipline which produced Western civilization.”54

And this chivalry, understood as a code of self-discipline, was vital to the success of trade for it meant that the law of nations could be upheld despite the absence of administrative enforcement. G. Radbruch in his Einfuehrung in die Rechtswissenschaft (“Introduction to Jurisprudence”) gives us a glimpse of that pre-1914 perspective: “‘The legal nature of international law is as little impaired by the absence of legislative powers as by the absence of the powers of administering and enforcing justice, e.g., by the fact that the state whose rights have been violated can only resort to war. For often the legal maxims valid within a state are also not enforceable without this being made a reason for denying their legal character. The guarantee of regular observance which we have recognized as necessary for the concept of a valid code of laws is as much a feature of the law of nations as of that of the individual state. International public opinion, moreover, sees to it that violations of international law are much rarer than those of those of a country’s domestic laws, and further, that such a violation of international law may not openly be acknowledged as such but must be justified before international law by every conceivable sophistry.’”55 Such was the disposition and international order before the Great War.

Lest we think this pre-1914 opinion is outdated, we can turn to the recent, eloquent description of the same matter by Dr. David C. Hendrickson, professor emeritus of political science from Colorado College. He writes: “Respect for private property was an essential part of the compact that makes citizens respect their government. Ensure that our rights are respected, it was once said in unison; then we shall happily obey you. The same rule held for the law of nations, which gave protection to both private and public property, as inhering separately in individuals and nations.” He goes on to explain that expropriation of private property by nation states used to be unheard of. It was “something that just wasn’t done in the 18th and 19th centuries, even in terrible extremities. Debts were paid, even to cretins…Only by an authoritative legal process, governed by the law of nations, might someone else get their hands on your stash.”

In a further point that coincides with Roepke’s emphasis, he adds:

“In the three centuries before 1914, beginning the age in which all restraints in war, military and economic, were obliterated, such a default was seen in ‘civilized Europe’ as equivalent to the method of ‘the barbarian’…Vigorous shakings of the head in disapproval would also have come from the Princes of Africa, the Sultan of the Turks, the Kings of Persia and China, the Great Mogul of India, the Grand Duke of Moscovy, the Emperor of Ethiopia (Prester John), the rulers of Japan and Morocco, and the Khanate of Crimea.

“Weighing in to similar effect in the 19th century would have been the British Parliament, the American Congress, the German Diet, and the French Chamber of Deputies. To the proposition that great financial contracts could be broken at will, they would say, why, sir, such an arrogation betrays ‘a wilderness of powers, of which fancy, in her happiest mood, is unable to perceive the far distant and shadowy boundary. Armed with such a power, you may achieve more conquests over sovereignties not your own, than falls to the common lot of even uncommon ambition.’” He concludes by expressing his fears that the East and West will be divided by a “rabid neomercantilism, wealth-destroying but inexorable.”56

David Stockman, former President Reagan’s budget director and two-term congressman from Michigan, likewise writes that “the economic blessings of global commerce and finance are a delicate thing that cannot be intruded upon and disrupted with impunity. To the contrary, global commerce consists of an intricate tissue of contracts, confidences and expectations that needs [to] be shielded from arbitrary state interventions at all hazards.” He adds that “a world economy which fragments into multiple currency and protectionist trading blocs will be inherently less efficient and prosperous than one based on wide-open, unimpeded private commerce.”57 And the prerequisite for that private commerce to be successful is the right disposition, the older chivalry.

All of this is to say Mr. Buchanan’s battle, and his heirs in the MAGA movement, to put America first involves more than re-shoring of our manufacturing base from Asian countries. It also requires retaining the law of nations, itself a great contribution of the West, and a fuller appreciation of our Western identity. In this context, it is a bitter irony to note that Russia’s president, Mr. Putin, seems to be more Western in the best sense than the West. He has scrupulously honored his international economic contracts and continues to want good relations with the rest of the world. One economist goes so far as to call him a nineteenth century liberal.58 Russia Today summarizes Putin’s main points in his first major speech since starting the special military operation in Ukraine: “Russia will ‘never follow the path of self-isolation and autarky,’ but will expand interactions with anyone who wishes to trade, Putin said, adding there are ‘many such countries.’ Moscow will also support private enterprise, build and repair its transportation infrastructure, seek to reduce social inequality, and ensure its key technologies are not dependent on foreign imports.” Also, Mr. Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping recently issued a joint statement amounting to a “de facto declaration” that neither of them would support Biden’s self-serving “rules based international order” but instead would follow a “law based international order” drawing on the UN Charter for its authority.59 Apparently, they see no difficulty in their rising nationalism and a commitment to law based rules for international order.

When it comes to international law and trade, it is important to distinguish false, positivistic interpretations of international law, according to the dictates of matters by an imperial will, from the traditional view. That distinction is vital to re-establish an order based on multilateral trade. “True multilateralism does not only consist in the adjustment of trade taking place actually between three or more countries (actual multilateralism). There must also exist a guarantee that any bilateral relation can at any time be changed into a multilateral one and vice versa, and that complete freedom obtains regarding the choice of the import and export country according to the change in prices (virtual multilateralism). While actual multilateralism will never amount to more than a fraction of the total world trade, virtual multilateralism must, so to speak, be one hundred per cent., if a permanently effective price arbitrage, a real interdependence of economic relations and genuine economic integration are aimed at.”60 Multilateralism not only balances the current interdependencies among nations regarding trade but also balances present with future claims of membership in the club of civilized nations by keeping open options that are dependent upon a disposition of goodwill and the sagacity of leaders.

We can only wonder then when Mr. Buchanan dismissively characterizes, as mentioned above, Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” as “a system crafted by intellectuals whose allegiance is to an ideology, not a people.” He forgets that John M. Keynes, whom he calls the great apostate for his rejection of free trade and embracing of protectionism, was one of the most secular intellectuals of all time.61 But more importantly, it is difficult to see how an America First nationalism is any less a thing “crafted by intellectuals” or any less an allegiance “to an ideology.” From the foregoing it should be manifest that true patriotism springs from the heart, from concrete ways of life, from local habits, and does not require bands, flags and the whipping up of enthusiasm, especially not of a militaristic nature. Unlike nationalism, it is a quiet thing that sees a harmony between kith, kin and kind and honors its obligations at all levels. Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Francis are confused here. They need to reach back to conceptual and historical beginnings to untangle some features of the basic concept of international law. Those beginnings are hardly crafted by intellectuals, Grotius and Pufendorf notwithstanding. Democracy and liberalism, understood in their highest and best sense, arise from something older and more vital. “They owe their origin not to the rationalist sophistries of philosophers and lawyers, but to peasants and commoners who fought for liberty since the early Middle Ages, resisting…the deadly encroachments of feudalism and absolutism and building up their state from base to top on a cooperative basis.”62 The market, too, grew out of the this same soil and from people’s natural tendency to trade.

In fact, it is the infatuation with the “Unconditional and the Absolute” which is the corruptive influence here. The same rationalism which absolutizes the market without understanding its moral and sociological prerequisites is paralleled in the case of an abstract nationalism and absolute sovereignty. Limits and conditions are missing in both cases. One can appreciate the “values of nationhood” without denying the need for an international order. “But once the rationalist has decided to appropriate the nationality principle,” says Roepke, “he will not rest until he has succeeded in flogging it to death, after he has thoroughly discredited it by misuse.”63

But excessive nationalism is not the only form of corruption of Western values. That also occurs whenever Eastern philosophy is imported into or encroaches on the West, and in this case, blurring the distinction between economics and politics and leading to a centralization of power. Roepke is quite pointed when he writes: “If one has observed the growing influence of all those intellectual opiates with which the Orient, Russia and Asia have repeatedly seduced Europe and upset its intellectual balance, from Plato to Dostoyevsky and to Buddhism, one cannot deny that an ‘easternization’ of Europe and a displacement of mediterranean and the Graeco-Latin heritage which are the essence of what we call ‘Western,’ took place during the nineteenth century. There can be no doubt that unlimited despotism, Caesaro-Papism and collectivism are also part of these Asiatic imports.”64 Similarly, historian Harry Elmer Barnes describes America’s rise to empire after WWII as “Byzantine”: “The enormous increase of statism, military state capitalism, inflation, debt, and the like, has been inseparably connected with the Orwellian pattern of basing economic ‘prosperity’ and political tenure upon cold and phony war, gigantic armament industry, and a vast ‘giveaway’ program. The lessons of history drawn from the experience of the Byzantine Empire indicate that any neo-Byzantinism would be equally fraught with danger to economic liberty.”65 A broad-based protectionism can also be a step in the direction of that centralization giving the economy a character not consistent with the highest and best in Western thought and practice.

Education for Sagacity

However, coming as close as practicable to the political neutralization of the economy, requires special skills. The balance between national interests and international order can only be achieved, in the absence of a one-world government, by statesmen educated in the best of the liberal tradition. That tradition equips them in Burke’s words with the “‘progressive sagacity that keeps company with times and occasions, and decides upon things in their existing position…It is very hard to anticipate the occasion, and to live by a rule more general.’” Such “sagacity” is more than mere prudence because it is itself idiosyncratic in practice and therefore all the harder to teach. It demands “penetrating insight” or “deep perception.” But even prudence, understood more broadly, is “the spirit of God’s moral law fulfilling itself throughout history.” 66 This, in turn, is reflected in the natural law and the law of nations.

But the sagacious statesman also understands that an exceptional case does not necessarily violate his commitment to a principle. In the present circumstance, it means the need to re-shore manufacturing by some policy intervention does not constitute an abandonment of a Smithian view of international trade in favor of a Hamiltonian one. It does not alter the overall complexion and tone of trade. Or, as Edmund Burke argued, a special case does not make a general rule, and an irregularity does not constitute a total deviation.67 Retaining that framework and that disposition is vital.

And a prerequisite to that liberal and humane tradition in education is the family training, mentioned above, at the youngest levels into the moral significance of things. It is the Burkean “spirit of practical morality” which needs to be inculcated not only for the sake of the child but also for the nation. Aristotle (Politics, 1310a (15)) remarks: “The best laws, though sanctioned by every citizen of the state, will be of no avail unless the young are trained by habit and education in the spirit of the constitution…For there may be a want of self-discipline in states as well as in individuals. Now, to have been educated in the spirit of the constitution is not to perform the actions in which oligarchs and democrats delight, but those by which the existence of an oligarchy or of a democracy is made possible.” The self-discipline of the individual effects the existence and quality of a civilized nation.

As Western societies decline from their Christian basis, so also does their ability to achieve that balance, which is at the heart of the issue of national sovereignty and the law of nations. Will the current populist trends be like the German romantic nationalism of the past, which repudiated ius gentium and the natural law it was founded on? Not likely. Whatever the exact reconfiguration turns out to be, the nations of the world will still have to come to terms with the need for cooperation. That will work better if leaders in Christian nations remember man’s common origin and destiny as the framework within which their choices are made as part of the human endeavor in history. In this they can do no better than start again with the great patrimony of the West.

Concluding Thought

It is the perennial task of the conservative to disentangle the truth from the weeds of confusion which keep growing up around it. Samuel Francis and Patrick Buchanan have greatly contributed to the present resurgence of conservative elements rising up in America. Whatever political victories may come of their work, whether from Donald Trump, Republicans, or any other source, should certainly be celebrated. This is especially true in the current context of a resurgent ethnic and civil nationalism/populism. However, their vision is still partially flawed when it places their legitimate concerns on a wrong foundation. The quality of practical reason’s application is always contingent upon the clarity of its understanding. Putting these America First advocates in the best light, it may be argued that it is surely what they mean anyway, and all the above is flogging a dead horse. Their practice is better than their philosophy. While that may be their intentions, and we can dismiss certain statements as being perhaps deliberate exaggerations for rhetorical purposes, it still does not comport with certain other statements they have made or, perhaps, what they have omitted. Buchanan’s “conservatism of the heart” needs to have the companion of a “conservatism of the spirit.” And that spirit means the Christian conservative must not merely keep what is left of the good, but must also restore what ought to be.


1 Barnes, Harry Elmer. “The End of the Old America,” in Modern Age, Vol. 2, no. 2 (Spring 1958), p. 139.

2 Schumpeter, Joseph A. 1954. History of Economic Analysis. Oxford University Press. New York, pp. 419, 420, 421.

3 Spiegel, Henry William. 1983. The Growth of Economic Thought. Duke University Press. Durham, North Carolina, p. 36.

4 Francis, Samuel T. “American Conservatives and the Globalist Challenge,” in America Asleep: The Free Trade Syndrome and the Global Economic Challenge, John P. Cregan, ed. 1991. United States Industrial Council Educational Foundation. Washington, DC., 132-133.

5 Ibid., pp. 154-155.

6 Francis, Samuel in “From Household to Nation, the Middle American Populism of Pat Buchanan,” in Chronicles, March 1, 1996.

7 Ibid.

8 Buchanan, Patrick J. 1998. The Great Betrayal, How American Sovereignty and Social Justice Are Being Sacrificed to the Gods of the Global Economy. Little, Brown and Company. Boston, New York, Toronto, London, pp. 132, 133, 183.

9 Tariffs: The Taxes That Made America Great – Patrick J. Buchanan – Official Website.

10 Buchanan, Great Betrayal, op. cit., pp. 284, 286.

11 America Asleep, op. cit., p. x.

12 Great Betrayal, op. cit., pp. 48, 49.

13 Ibid., p. 65.

14 Kirk, Russell. 1986. The Conservative Mind, from Burke to Eliot (7th ed.). Regnery Books. Chicago, Washington, DC, p. 77.

15 Hendrickson, David C. Why this economic war on Russia breaks all rules of the game – Responsible Statecraft.

16 Hofstadter, Richard. 1948. The American Political Tradition. Vintage Books (Random House). New York, p. 43.

17 Buchanan, Great Betrayal, op. cit., p. 326. Earlier in the book (pp. 11, 112f), Mr. Buchanan argues that many women were induced to leave the home in order to supplement household income. But when this trend started in the early 1960’s, America was doing relatively well economically. A better supposition is that many women left the home because of the Marxist/feminist ideology that was on the rise, especially by the 1970’s, or, at least, that it was a significant additional factor. How that contributed to household budget problems is another dimension to explore. Buchanan does rightly point out the social costs involved. For the conservative, family structure and function are not matters of convenience to be disposed of for materialistic or ideological purposes. Except for extreme cases, they are to be preserved.

18 McDonald, Forrest. 1958. We the People, The Economic Origins of the Constitution. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago, Illinois, pp. 48-49.

19 Kirk, op. cit., p. 79. Kirk continues to explain that: “Hamilton gives small hint as to how this mercantilistic America is to be managed; he appears to have thought (since he had a thoroughgoing contempt for the people) that somehow, through political manipulation, through firm enforcement of the laws and national consolidation, the rich and well-born could keep their saddles and ride this imperialistic system like English squires.”

20 Is Biden Right? Does the Left Own the Future? – Patrick J. Buchanan – Official Website.

21 Youngkin’s inauguration prayer – Search ( Gov. Youngkin not taking stance on remaining Confederate statues, won’t restore those previously removed | WRIC ABC 8News. For a harsh view from the left see Diana Butler Bass Frets Youngkin ‘Anglican Roots’ and ‘Literalist Faith’ – Juicy Ecumenism. Regarding his ambivalent stand on same-sex “marriage” see Glenn Youngkin finally admits he opposes marriage equality although he loves “everyone” – LGBTQ Nation. Regarding Francis’ insight into the importance of preserving Confederate monuments, see The Lee Statue and the Rebellion to Come, by Gregory Hood – The Unz Review.

22 Roshwald, Mordecai, “Quo Vadis, America?” in Modern Age, Vol. 2, no. 2 (Spring 1958), p. 197. Here is an example of such modern nonsense: Why Parents Still Spank Even Though They Know They Shouldn’t | Psychology Today. Compare this to In defence of Biblical spanking | Reformed Perspective. Since the importance of the father’s role in rearing his children is well-known, especially in the matter of discipline, it should not be hard to see that inculcating the capacity for making moral decisions is inseparably related to the re-establishment of a Christian paterfamilias. That role is the strength of the family, as much as the father-headed household is the virtue of nations. The authority of male headship in the home and in society is, of course, anathema to some “conservatives” as it is to liberals generally.

23 Has America Lost Its Faith? – Patrick J. Buchanan – Official Website.

24 Is Biden Right? Does the Left Own the Future? – Patrick J. Buchanan – Official Website.

25 Kirk, op. cit., p. 173.

26 Of course, nationalistic populism can also be on the political left. For example, the Catalan movement for independence wishes to secede from Spain but merge into the European Union. Diana Riba explains: “The Catalan independence movement shares the consensus we have today in this House: peace, the struggle for European values and the fight against the far right. We work to be a full member state in an EU with a character that is federal, diverse, socially-just, green, feminist and radically democratic.” Catalan pro-independence MEPs refute “immoral” claims in bitter EU debate on Putin (

27 Is Biden Right? Does the Left Own the Future? – Patrick J. Buchanan – Official Website.

28 Roepke, Wilhelm. 1942. The Social Crisis of Our Time. Transaction Publishers. New Brunswick (U.S.A.) and London (U.K.), pp. 198-254. If the forecasts come true of severe food shortages, the sometimes belittled insistence by Roepke on the importance of households having their own gardens for food supplies will no longer seem quaint and romantic, but will instead be recognized as a realistic, life-saving, productive asset, just as it has served in the past.

29 McDonald, op. cit., pp. 410-411.

30 Ibid., pp. 374-375.

31 Ibid., p. 374.

32 Taylor, John. 1977. Arator. Liberty Classics. Indianapolis, p. 86.

33 Ibid., pp. 73, 74, 80-81.

34 Buchanan’s views and data are scattered throughout his book but some of the relevant pages are: 131, 143, 148, 169, 246, 247. The graphs on pages 246 and 247 are especially helpful. See also Hofstadter, op. cit., p. 41.

35 Smith, Adam. 1776. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Liberty

Fund Reprint 1981. Indianapolis, pp. 454, 468. Mr. Buchanan also remarks in his Great Betrayal (p. 175) that free trade belief is first cousin to Marxism because it is secular in rejection of the world we live in, “the world of empires and nation-states” which are always fighting to get positions of power relative to, that means over, other nations. This is the way of the world, writes Buchanan. “So it has been; so it shall ever be.” (p. 66) But it is Buchanan’s view that, very much as did Marx, politicizes economics. There is, however, no principle that limits his governmental interventions, other than perhaps a sense of prudence. All of which is very much contrary to Roepke, who insisted on the separation of the imperium of politics from the dominium of economics.

36 Ibid., pp. 287, 644, 687. Smith is famous for his advocacy of liberal reward to workers which is socially beneficial as it encourages industry and propagation. See p. 99.

37 It has been argued that it was the inability the United States to live up to its obligations as a sovereign state under the law of nations that a stronger, more centralized government needed to be formed, as under the Constitution. See Alexander Hamilton, the New Republic, and the Law of Nations – Opinio Juris. It is, of course, true that the Constitution of the United States gives a mercantilistic impression when it forbids in Article I, sec. 9 the imposition of a tax or duty on exports and yet says nothing about such a restriction on imports. Protectionists sometimes stress a Hamiltonian point of view in this regard. (See America Asleep, op. cit., p. 60.) But the Constitution (sec. 8) also refers to Congress’ obligation to punish offenses against the “Law of Nations,” precisely the kind of universality that is otherwise denigrated under romantic nationalism. The power to regulate commerce would have to be congruent with the law of nations.

38 Jaki, Stanley L. 1978. The Road of Science and the Ways to God. University of Chicago Press. Chicago, pp. 278, 320. Russell Kirk gives a readable account of Cicero’s view of natural law in which he notes Cicero’s treatment of the word “lex” or “lego” which basically means to “choose,” referring to the choice between justified and unjustified claims reflecting a “human recognition of enduring values.” See his The Roots of American Order, Pepperdine University Press, Malibu, California, 1974, p. 111.

39 Molnar, Thomas. 1987. The Pagan Temptation. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.    Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 49, 50.

40 At a Mont Pelerin conference Dr. Kirk observed: “An intense preoccupation with practical economic questions, to the exclusion of theology, morals, and the works of the higher imagination, has afflicted the liberals from the middle of the eighteenth century to the middle of the twentieth. Dr. Hayek himself suggested that he is not unaware of such shortcomings in liberalism; yet he brushed aside the question of the religious origins of our social order.” At the same conference Dr. Kirk also noted: “Professor Ludwig von Mises is the complete disciple of Jeremy Bentham, contemptuous of religious belief and social tradition, dedicated to pure efficiency – what he called himself at this meeting (though with a degree of irony), an ‘entrepreneurial Marxist.’” See Kirk’s “Cultural Debris: Two Conferences and the Future of Our Civilization,” in Modern Age, Vol. 2, no. 2 (Spring 1958), pp. 166, 167.

41 Roepke, op. cit., pp. 235-236.

42 Stanlis, Peter J. 1986. Edmund Burke and the Natural Law. Huntington House, Inc. Shreveport, Lafayette, Louisiana, pp. 87, 88. As is well known, the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) was the direct application of the ideas of Hugo Grotius and shaped the modern form of international relations.

43 Ibid., p. 100.

44 This corresponds to our heritage of constitutional liberty which is also real but limited. The distinction between real and absolute liberty was made, for example, by the great anti-protectionist, John C. Calhoun. Real liberty is rooted in the traditions and values of hearth and home and protected by the Constitution which limits national power, a limitation which he supplemented by the doctrine of interposition, the sovereignty of the states; that is to say, national policy was always contingent upon the deep-rooted moral sense of the people, taught in religion, expressed in history, and codified in law – against the tyranny of politicians. See Kirk, Conservative Mind, op. cit., 171, 175, 178.

45 Buchanan reveals a hint of this same spirit when he believes he is being realistic, factual, and a tough thinker, almost, one is inclined to say, brutal because that’s the way the world is. But as Irving Babbitt reminds us, “one cannot grant that either Machiavelli or his spiritual descendants, the Realpolitiker, are thoroughgoing realists.” (See Babbitt’s Democracy and Leadership, Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, 1952, p. 62.) They have left out the spiritual and ethical side of human nature. For more on Burnham, his Machiavellian method, and his influence on Samuel Francis, see Louis Andrews’ review of Francis’ book, “James Burnham,” (Claridge Press, London, 1999) in Talking the Wild Taboo (Right Now! 27, April – June, 2000).

46 Krieger, Leonard. 1957. The German Idea of Freedom. Beacon Press. Beacon Hill, Boston, pp. 176-177, 490.

47 See Javier C. Hernandez’s article, “Valery Gergiev, a Putin Ally, Fired as Chief Conductor,” in the New York Times, March 1, 2022.

48 Kirk, Conservative Mind, op. cit., p. 164.

49 Buchanan, Great Betrayal, op. cit., p. 147.

50 Ibid., pp. 288.

51 Ibid., pp. 184-186. Simply put, the law of comparative costs refers to the economic principle that nations should produce those articles or services for which they have the lowest costs. Nations, like individuals, specialize in what they do best, and then trade for other goods and services.

52 Roepke, Wilhelm. 1961. Economics of the Free Society. Libertarian Press., Inc. Grove City, PA, p. 180.

53 Roepke, Social Crisis, op. cit., pp. 239, 240.

54 Curtis III, George M. and James J. Thompson, Jr. (eds.). 1987. The Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver. Liberty Press. Indianapolis, p. 160.

55 Roepke, Social Crisis, op. cit., p. 253.

56 Hendrickson, op. cit.

57 Stockman, David. Washington’s Hawks Are About To Wreck Global Commerce – Original.

58 Putin’s Liberalism Means a Wider War Is In the Cards –

59 The old world is over: Key takeaways from Putin’s first major speech since Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine — RT Russia & Former Soviet Union. (See point #7.) See also The Ultimate End of NATO – Consortium News. Of course, if China’s commitment to this is merely nominal and it continues to flex its economic nationalism, we have Buchanan’s law of the jungle applied at the level of international trade. As one pundit lamented concerning Mr. Lighthizer’s tenure as President Trump’s leading trade expert, “the once-strict rules of international trade are being supplanted by a free for-all in which each country does what it wants.” See Lydia DePillis, Robert Lighthizer just blew up 60 years of trade policy. Nobody knows what happens now.

60 Roepke, Social Crisis, op. cit., p. 252.

61 Mr. Buchanan makes too much of Keynes’ switch to “economic nationalism.” His intellectual virtuosity was well-known in being able to argue both sides of an issue. So was the policy flexibility of the Fabian Society with whom he was sometimes associated, partly protectionist/partly free-trade, as circumstances and their gradualist philosophy required. On this latter point, see M. Margaret Patricia McCarran, Fabianism in the Political Life of Britain, 1919-1931 (1954), The Heritage Foundation, Inc., Chicago, pp. 196-309. Note esp. p. 292.

62 Roepke, Social Crisis, op. cit., pp. 44, 45.

63 Ibid., p. 51. It is, of course, true that nineteenth century liberals and rationalists tended to endow Smith’s “invisible hand” with a sociological autonomy it did not possess. But crafty intellectuals must be distinguished from Smith himself who insisted that the successful market economy’s prerequisites were prudence and justice. (See his Theory of Moral Sentiments.)

64 Ibid., pp. 81-82.

65 Barnes, op. cit., pp. 139-140. In a similar manner, Irving Babbitt describes the concept of “plenitudo potestas,” or unlimited sovereignty in the hands of the emperor as more properly Byzantine in character than Roman. This in turn greatly influenced the absolutists of the late medieval and early modern period, a period, of course, which encompassed the rise of nationalism and mercantilism. His point overall is that there is a dispute between understanding the law of nations as primarily a matter of reason or of will. His preference is to rely on a higher kind of will. But perhaps the better answer is the traditional Western balance between contingency (sovereign choice) and consistency (reason, order) which Stanley Jaki appeals to for natural science and Thomas Molar uses in the area of morals. (See Babbitt’s Democracy and Leadership, Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, 1952, p. 362. His Appendix B on the problems of “Absolute Sovereignty” still makes excellent reading.)

Also, missing from the above description of the intellectual opiates is the dovetailing of the West’s moral degeneracy with the East’s tendency toward the abolition of important distinctions, especially between good and evil, i.e., the rejection of moral absolutes. When this doctrine is absorbed by Westerners, it contributes to the West’s anomie. For a thorough treatment of these matters and their influence on the West, see Molnar, op. cit.

66 Stanlis, op. cit., pp. 114-115, 118. Phronesis (penetrating insight), or oidamen (deep perception, as used in John 21:24), is distinguished from the episteme of a priori geometric propositions, or of gnosis, used in the New Testament but which in English carries extra implications about spiritual knowledge. It is a largely, though not exclusively, experiential/intuitional, moral judgment which penetrates through the fog of circumstances to reveal how principles are to be applied in a given situation, combining a mix of values, interests, and resources. Operationally, it is not so much a knowing ante re as in re. A thorough knowledge of the things themselves, the circumstances, will often intimate what needs to be done to the properly educated statesman, and one having the right disposition. (This quality is akin to some well-known points raised by C.S. Lewis concerning faith. He argues that the Christian believer is moved increasingly from speculative thought to the “logic of personal relations” based on a discerning, prudent trust. See his chapter “On Obstinacy in Belief” in The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York, 1960).

67 Bredvold, Louis I. and Ralph G. Ross (eds.). 1960. The Philosophy of Edmund Burke. The University of Michigan Press. Ann Arbor, pp. 50, 192-3.

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