Casting Off the Imperial Diadem, by Daniel Larison

Americans are increasingly asking why we must go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. From Daniel Larison at

John Quincy Adams delivered his address celebrating American independence two hundred years ago this week, and in that speech he famously told his fellow Americans that their country does not go abroad “in search of monsters to destroy.” This was just one part of his paean to American independence, which was then not yet half a century old, but it is the part that is most often cited because it sets out a clear rule for how America should conduct itself in the world. It is also the part that later generations of American leaders have chosen to disregard entirely to our detriment and that of the rest of the world.

In the two centuries since Adams warned against enlisting in the causes of other nations, the U.S. has increasingly involved itself in “the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.” Because our government presumes to “lead” the world, it takes it as a given that it has the right to interfere anywhere and to intervene forcibly whenever it wishes. Today our government wears the “imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murkey radiance of dominion and power” just as Adams feared that it would if it ignored the principles he defended. The question for Americans today is whether we want to cast off that imperial diadem and reclaim some measure of self-government by ending our involvement in our many foreign wars and entanglements.

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