Prudent Statecraft


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John Quincy Adams was the model president in the early republic who declared that the United States “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” But “go abroad” we did, as the republic became a world colossus. And monsters there were in the mixed casualties of American power. 200 years later comes the question: what is left to be rescued of Quincy Adams’s “austere doctrine of restraint,” as his modern biographer puts it, his benign detachment in the wider world? Adams prescribed for his young nation that “she is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all,” but “she is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” Really? In the twenty-first century, with the biggest military budget in human history, and fighting men standing guard around the planet?

Portrait of John Quincy Adams, by Nahum Bell Onthank.

Looking at John Quincy Adams’s original manuscript.

We’re back two centuries this hour to the source code of the American experiment: very particularly back to John Quincy Adams’s caution about United States’ role in a contentious world.

This is the concluding installment of In Search of Monsters, our limited-series collaboration with The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. We’ve been highlighting extra conversations lately with foreign policy thinkers on questions of statecraft—here, find a short conversation with Stephen Van Evera:

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