I’ve been curious for some time about paleocons’ rejection of American exceptionalism. I originally raised this question as a comment on another thread, but never received a response, so I thought I’d try it here.
My question is simply this--how can the refusal to believe that America is exceptional be squared with support for an anti-interventionist foreign policy? I understand that anti-interventionism has a long history in the United States, but it has generally gone hand in hand with the argument that the nation can avoid foreign entanglements specifically because it was exceptional. There was a strong strain of this thinking in Jefferson--that America was an "empire for liberty" that, thanks to its very nature, was able to rise above the power politics of the old world. Hence his admonition that America avoid "entangling alliances." Generations of anti-interventionists since then, from William E. Borah to Pat Buchanan, have echoed this theme.
Of course, not everyone believed this, even during Jefferson’s day. Alexander Hamilton--as well as George Washington--believed that the United States had to play by the time-honored rules of international politics. This is why Washington in his Farewell Address rejects "permanent alliances" (after all, these were inconsistent with a strategy of realpolitik) but at no point denies the need for foreign involvement in general. Similar attitudes could be found in men such as Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge, who were great admirers of Hamilton. For them it was because the United States was not exceptional that it needed to form alliances with foreign powers.
It seems to me that today’s paleocons want things both ways. They claim to be Hamiltonian realists, scoffing at American exceptionalism, while at the same time endorsing Jefferson’s policy conclusions. Is that a fair estimate? If so, how does one resolve this tension?