Skip to main content

Without Heirs? Assessing the Decline of Establishment Internationalism in U.S. Foreign Policy

  • Joshua W. Busby (a1) and Jonathan Monten (a2)

Is establishment internationalism in decline? Conventional wisdom is becoming that structural shifts in the international environment along with generational, demographic, and cultural changes within the United States are inexorably leading to the decline of the broad, post-war internationalist consensus that dominated American foreign policy after 1945. Despite the frequent assertion that this change has taken place, very few studies have analyzed the extent to which establishment internationalism is in fact in decline. To answer this question, we first track trends in congressional foreign policy votes from the American Conservative Union (1970–2004) and Americans for Democratic Action (1948–2004). Our second set of indicators tracks the state of birth, educational profile, and formative international experience of a cross section of the U.S. foreign policy elite. Our third and fourth sets of indicators track elite attitudes as represented by presidential State of the Union addresses and major party platforms. We find support for increasing partisan polarization in Congress on foreign policy as well as increasing regional concentration of the parties. However, there is only mixed evidence to suggest that internationalism has experienced a secular decline overall. Support for international engagement and multilateral institutions remain important parts of elite foreign policy rhetoric. Moreover, we find that social backgrounds of U.S. foreign policy elites—save for military service—have not substantially changed from the height of the internationalist era.

Hide All
Budge Ian. 2001. Mapping Policy Preferences: Estimates for Parties, Electors, and Governments, 1945–1998. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
Chace James. 2004. 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs: The Election That Changed the Country. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Chace James, and Carr Caleb. 1988. America Invulnerable: The Quest for Absolute Security from 1812 to Star Wars. New York: Summit Books.
Cronin Patrick, and Fordham Benjamin O.. 1999. Timeless principles or today's fashion? Testing the stability of the linkage between ideology and foreign policy in the Senate. Journal of Politics 61 (4): 967–98.
Divine Robert A. 1967. Second Chance: The Triumph of Internationalism in America during World War II. New York: Atheneum.
Dueck Colin. 2006. Reluctant Crusaders: Power, Culture, and Change in American Grand Strategy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Dunn David. 2005. American isolationism revisited. Review of International Studies 31 (2): 237–61.
Edwards George. 2002. The (false) potential of the president's pulpit. The Public Perspective 13 (5): 69.
Fischer David Hackett. 1989. Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. New York: Oxford University Press.
Gaddis John Lewis. 1982. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy. New York: Oxford University Press.
Gaddis John Lewis. 2004. Surprise, Security, and the American Experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Gilbert Felix. 1961. To the Farewell Address: Ideas of Early American Foreign policy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Hacker Jacob S., and Pierson Paul. 2005. Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Holsti Ole. 1979. The three-headed eagle: The United States and system change. International Studies Quarterly 23 (3): 339–59.
Holsti Ole. 2004. Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Holsti Ole, and Rosenau James. 1980. Does where you stand depend on when you were born? The impact of generation and post-Vietnam foreign policy beliefs. Public Opinion Quarterly 44 (1): 122.
Holsti Ole, and Rosenau James N.. 1999. The political foundations of elites' domestic and foreign-policy beliefs. In The Domestic Sources of American Foreign Policy: Insights and Evidence, ed. Wittkopf E. R. and McCormick J. M.. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Hughes Thomas L. 1985–1986. The twilight of internationalism. Foreign Policy (Winter): 2548.
Huntington Samuel P. 2004. Who Are We? The Challenges to America's Identity. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Ikenberry G. John. 2001. After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Ikenberry G. John. 2003. Is American multilateralism in decline? Perspectives on Politics 1 (3): 533–50.
Ikenberry G. John. 2005. “Creating America's World: The Sources of Postwar Liberal Internationalism.” Presented at The Future of American Internationalism, Austin, Texas, October 7–8.
Isaacson Walter, and Thomas Evan. 1986. The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made: Acheson, Bohlem, Harriman, Kennan, Lovett, McCloy. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Jacobs Lawrence R., and Page Benjamin I.. 2005. Who influences U.S. foreign policy? American Political Science Review 99 (1): 117.
Kernell Samuel. 1997. Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential Leadership. Washington, DC: CQ Press.
Khong Yuen Foong. 1992. Analogies at War: Korea, Munich, Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam Decisions of 1965. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Kohut Andrew, and Stokes Bruce. 2006. America against the World: How We Are Different and Why We Are Disliked. New York: Times Books.
Kull Steven. 2004. On Many Foreign Policy Issues US Leaders and Public Agree, but Congress Votes to the Contrary. University of Maryland: Program on International and Public Attitudes (PIPA) [cited May 4, 2008]. Available from
Kupchan Charles. 2002. The End of the American Era. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Kupchan Charles. 2003. The rise of Europe, America's changing internationalism, and the end of U.S. primacy. Political Science Quarterly 118 (2): 205–31.
Kupchan Charles. 2004. “America Searches for Its Centre.” Financial Times, February 10.
Kupchan Charles, and Trubowitz Peter. 2007. Dead center: The demise of liberal internationalism in America. International Security 32 (2): 744.
Lebow Richard N. 1985. Generational Learning and Conflict Management. International Journal 40 (4): 555–85.
Leffler Melvyn P. 1992. A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Legro Jeffrey W. 2000. Whence American internationalism? International Organization 54 (2): 253–89.
Legro Jeffrey W. 2005a. Rethinking the World: Great Power Strategies and International Order. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Legro Jeffrey W. 2005b. “Making the Coalition that Made U.S. Liberal Internationalism.” Presented at The Future of American Internationalism, Austin, Texas, October 7–8.
Lieven Anatol. 2004. America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lind Michael. 1999. Civil war by other means. Foreign Affairs 78 (5): 123–42.
Lithwick Dahlia. 2007. “Justice's Holy Hires.” Washington Post, April 8.
Mann James. 2004. Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet. New York: Viking.
Mannheim Karl. 1952. Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge. London: Routledge & Paul.
McDougall Walter A. 1997. Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World since 1776. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Mead Walter Russell. 1999/2000. The Jacksonian tradition. The National Interest: 529.
Mead Walter Russell. 2001. Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Meernik James. 1993. Presidential support in Congress: Conflict and consensus on foreign and defense policy. Journal of Politics 55 (3): 569–87.
Mellow Nicole, and Trubowitz Peter. 2005. Red versus blue: American electoral geography and congressional bipartisanship, 1898–2002. Political Geography 24: 659–77.
Micklethwait John, and Wooldridge Adrian. 2004. The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America. New York: Penguin Press.
Murray Shoon Kathleen. 1996. Anchors against Change: American Opinion Leaders' Beliefs after the Cold War. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Offner Arnold. 2002. Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War, 1945–1953. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Page Benjamin I., and Bouton Marshall M.. 2006. The Foreign Policy Disconnect: What Americans Want from Our Leaders but Don't Get. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Page Benjamin I., and Kim Dukhong. 2003. “‘Go it Alone’ Won't Go with the American Public.” Presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia, PA, August 28–31.
Page Benjamin I., and Shapiro Robert Y.. 1992. The Rational Public: Fifty Years of Trends in Americans' Policy Preferences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Ragsdale Lyn. 1987. Presidential speechmaking and the public audience: Individual presidents and group attitudes. Journal of Politics 49 (3): 704–36.
Roskin Michael. 1974. From Pearl Harbor to Vietnam: Shifting generational paradigms and foreign policy. Political Science Quarterly 89: 563–88.
Ruggie John Gerard. 1996. Winning the Peace: America and World Order in the New Era. New York: Columbia University Press.
Schlesinger Arthur Meier Jr.. 1949. The Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Schuman Howard, and Reiger Cheryl. 1992. Historical analogies, generational effects and attitudes toward war. American Sociological Review 57 (3): 315–26.
Trubowitz Peter. 1998. Defining the National Interest: Conflict and Change in American Foreign Policy, American Politics and political Economy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Trubowitz Peter, and Mellow Nicole. 2005. “Going bipartisan”: Politics by other means. Political Science Quarterly 120 (3): 433–53.
Wittkopf Eugene R. 1986. On the foreign policy beliefs of the American people: A critique and some evidence. International Studies Quarterly 30 (4): 425–45.
Wittkopf Eugene R. 1990. Faces of Internationalism: Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy. Durham: Duke University Press.
Wittkopf Eugene R. 1996. What Americans really think about foreign policy. Washington Quarterly 19 (3): 91106.
Wittkopf Eugene R., and McCormick James M.. 1990. The Cold War consensus: Did it exist? Polity 22 (4): 627–53.
Woolley John, and Peters Gerhard. 2006. The American Presidency Project [online]. University of California (hosted), Gerhard Peters (database), 2006 [cited February 28 2006]. Available from
Wright Thomas. 2007. “Great Power Responses to Threat Transitions and the Legitimacy Burden: U.S.-Soviet Relations 1943–1950.” Ph.D. diss., Georgetown University.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 4
Total number of PDF views: 79 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 333 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 18th January 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.