No slogan is more conducive to an outbreak of pimples on the cheeks of the establishment than the phrase “America First,” and if it contained no other merit or meaning, that alone might constitute sufficient reason to emblazon it on your bumper stickers. Yet, in the last decade of the 20th century, as One Worlders, New Worlders, and Pax Americanos proudly plot how the United States and its distinctive peoples and culture shall evaporate, “America First” is more than an irritant. It is the central concept of a new nationalism that prescribes not only a new foreign policy that reflects the interests of the United States but also a vision and an understanding of what America is and what it should be.

For most of the 50 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor, the idea of defining and pursuing an American interest apart from the common interests of U.S. allies in the Cold War was not practicable. Facing a common threat to their interests and existence in the form of Soviet communism, the United States and its partners in Western Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East had every reason to subordinate their particular and immediate national interests to the paramount goal of resisting the threat. Granted the reality of the communist menace—through military conquest, nuclear extortion, subversion, and the manipulation of surrogates and satellites—and granted also that a strategy of “liberation” or “rollback” would not be adopted, the general way in which the “West” (a nearly meaningless term that today includes Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea as well as other non-Western states) responded to Soviet communism through a policy of “containment” made sense.

But containment as it developed involved not only surrounding the Soviet Union with a periphery of regional security pacts but also building an embryonic world government in the form of the United Nations, the World Court, the IMF and World Bank, entire volumes of “treaty regimes” and executive agreements (some of which remain secret), and the vast labyrinth of the national security bureaucracy joined to a foreign policy establishment in universities, foundations, corporations, banks, law firms, and Congress. Long before Soviet communism began to turn belly up, this whole complex had become a self-sustaining and self-interested elite, closely linked to and part of the larger managerial class that has come to prevail in American and European governments, economies,, and cultures.

If there was some purpose to the existence and functions of this elite during the Cold War, today, with the demise of Soviet communism and the withering of its satellites, there is very little. Nevertheless, like any elite, the one that presided over the Cold War is unwilling to renounce its power and position, and for some years it has been busily inventing new rationales for itself The creation of “global democracy” and the management of the “global economy” and the “global environment” are two of the most common such formulas, though periodically the apologists for globalism also invent new “threats” of one kind or another to which we must dedicate ourselves to resisting and fighting.

Yet all of these new globalist ideologies ring hollow, and none has so far offered any compelling reasons why Americans should continue to spend their time, their money, or their lives solving the problems of other peoples, paying for their errors, or fighting their wars. Moreover, there is good reason why Americans should resist the new formulas and the agendas and interests they rationalize.

The globalist agenda includes not only continued U.S. intervention in and management of foreign events but also the diminution or abolition of the United States itself as a sovereign nation, an autonomous economy, and a distinctive culture. Hence, globalists support and promote the subordination of U.S. national interests and sovereign freedom of action to transnational organizations and their bureaucratic elites that supposedly represent a “global community” or “global economy.” They also advance the amalgamation of the nation and its people and civilization into a globally homogeneous “mankind” through toleration of massive immigration, imposition of “multiculturalism” in educational curricula, and the never-ending crusade against “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” “xenophobia,” and “chauvinism.” The victory of the globalist agenda would mean in effect the extinction of the United States and its people—not physically, but extinction as a coherent collective identity. That extinction would serve the interests of the globalist elite, for particularist national and cultural institutions restrain the transnational power of the elite and offer impediments to the full scope of its ability to manage the planet. Hence, there is a profound conflict of interest between Americans who want to retain their national identity and those elites, American or not, that seek global unification under their own dominance.

It is likely that this conflict of interest will soon emerge in the United States as the principal political and ideological division, replacing or redefining the old division between “right” and “left.” Indeed, this conflict is already apparent in the foreign policy of the Bush administration toward emergent nationalisms in Iraq, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union. The administration, planning on using existing multinational states as building blocks of the globalist New World Order, is reluctant to recognize the nationalist and ethnic separatist fragmentation of such states. If globalism is to prevail, then its architects cannot allow such centrifugal nationalisms and separatisms to flourish, though even as globalists prophesy the disappearance of nationalism, it explodes under their own noses.

For the most part, the United States has not yet witnessed any such explosion, but sooner or later, as the globalist elites seek to drag the country into conflicts and global commitments, preside over the economic pastoralization of the United States, manage the delegitimization of our own culture and the dispossession of our people, and disregard or diminish our national interests and national sovereignty, a nationalist reaction is almost inevitable and will probably assume populist form when it arrives. The sooner it comes, the better, and if it is to be successful—not merely a militant nostalgia or a hormonal reflex—it will have to define its goals and agendas and the premises on which they are based.

In foreign policy, the idea of putting America first involves a radical dismantling of the Cold War state. It means abrogating most of the mutual defense treaties of the 1950’s, withdrawing most of the troops and military bases from Europe and Asia, and terminating almost all foreign aid. It also means that much or most of the national security and foreign policy bureaucracy—in the Pentagon, the State Department, the intelligence community, the U.S. Information Agency, the Agency for International Development, the Peace Corps, etc.—should be abolished or radically reduced in size and functions. Most of these agencies were established for explicitly Cold War purposes, and their continued existence at this point in their present form not only is useless and expensive but also provides a powerful pressure group for continuing globalist adventure and entanglement.

In addition, several conceptual and legal changes are desirable for institutionalizing an America First foreign policy that adequately protects national security and interests in the world but at the same time does not propel us into global management.

(1) Office-holders and candidates for office should be expected to commit themselves to the principle of the national sovereignty and independence of the United States, not only as a legal abstraction but also as a practical guideline for the conduct of foreign and military policy and the approval of treaty commitments. No treaty should be concluded or ratified that compromises or dilutes national sovereignty or requires changes in U.S. law and policy contrary to the Constitution. The Bricker Amendment of the 1950’s, which sought to perpetuate these principles in the Constitution itself, should be revived and adopted.

(2) There must be a geopolitical definition of a secure area or perimeter beyond the borders of the United States into which foreign powers would not be allowed to intrude militarily. Pat Buchanan has suggested confining this area to Central America, the Caribbean, and the northern littoral of South America. Not to quibble, but I would expand it to literally hemispheric dimensions, extending from the North Pole to the South and from the Greenwich Meridian to the International Date Line (or geopolitically convenient approximations of these artificial boundaries). Whatever happens within the hemisphere would be deemed relevant to our national security and interests; most of what happens outside it would not be relevant.

(3) The United States should maintain an adequate standing military force to (a) protect its territory and citizens within the hemispheric perimeter and (b) mount rapid and effective punitive and rescue missions outside the perimeter against aggressive powers as needed. The Strategic Defense Initiative should be implemented, and a standing army and navy should be recruited through universal military training for all able male citizens. The mission of this force should be to fight—not to gain an education, learn a trade, see the world, prove that women are the equals of men, or provide a laboratory for social experiments. Personally, I believe the right to vote should be contingent upon fulfilling the military obligations of the citizen, and this is consistent with the classical republican ideal of a citizens’ militia. Foreign aggressors should know that in order to invade the United States, they will have to cut their way through the streets.

(4) There must be a clear recognition of congressional supremacy in foreign affairs, as opposed to the effective executive supremacy that post-Wilsonian liberals and post-Reaganite conservatives have championed. Foreign policy is not different from any other public policy, and there is no reason for the President (i.e., the executive branch bureaucracy) to exercise dictatorial power over it. While the President is the Commander in Chief, negotiates treaties, receives and appoints ambassadors, and is the main consumer of intelligence, every long-term or far-reaching foreign or military commitment must have the support of the people and the explicit approval of the Congress.

(5) No U.S. troops should be committed to combat in the absence of congressional approval and unless military victory is the publicly stated goal. To fight to “contain” an enemy or to fight without using all available resources to assure victory is not acceptable.

(6) Lobbying on behalf of a foreign government or country should be made a federal crime. Foreign governments maintain their own diplomats here to represent their interests, and they don’t need Americans to do it for them. Currently, under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Americans who represent foreign governments must register with the Justice Department. The registration provision should be repealed, and Americans who prefer the interests of a foreign state to those of their own can either go to the foreign state or go to an American jail.

(7) Perhaps most centrally, the quality of the American population, its education, its economy and technology, and its social disciplines are all, in one sense, “assets” by which the national well-being and security of the country may be measured. They are therefore proper objects of public concern, and while that does not mean that the federal government should manage the population, the economy, education, or social institutions, it does mean that the concept of “America First” implies a nationalist ethic that transcends the preferences and interests of the individual or the interest group and may often require government action. But the ethic of America First would be a thin one if it were something that only politicians and administrators should respect. It ought to inform the total cultural life of the nation and be the foundation of our social and cultural identity no less than of our politics and national policies.

Thus, America First trade and immigration policies should recognize that we, as Americans, owe duties to ourselves and our compatriots before we owe anything to other peoples, and restrictions on immigration, free trade, and technology transfer should be debated and framed in terms of our national identity and interests, and not in terms of natural or human rights or the interests of a fictitious “global community.” Immigration from countries and cultures that are incompatible with and indigestible to the Euro-American cultural core of the United States should be generally prohibited, current border controls should be rigorously enforced, illegal aliens already here should be rounded up and deported, and employers who hire them should be prosecuted and punished. As for immigrants from less backward countries, we should balance consideration of whatever gains they might bring to our economy with at least equal consideration of their long-term impact on our cultural identity (including our economic and scientific culture). Similar considerations should apply to trade policy; the basic test of free trade or specific restrictions on it should be their consequences for the American national interest, and not whether they promote global economic integration, help less advanced economies, or facilitate individual economic aspirations.

One of the flaws of some of the isolationist and neo-nationalist ideas that have been advanced in the last couple of years is that they recognize no defining principle of American nationality other than the pragmatic and circumstantial ones of economic prosperity and military security. Hence, they are usually unable to define any national interest beyond these goals, and this kind of pragmatic nationalism is unlikely to excite or provide a bond for Americans outside elites professionally interested in economic and military issues. In failing to move beyond pragmatic nationalism, contemporary nationalists neglect the concrete and historical cultural identity of the American nation, express a narrowly defined “national interest” that recognizes only the least common denominator of the national identity, and thereby reflect a similar failing that appeared in the nationalism of Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton, as his biographer John C. Miller noted, “associated the national government with no great moral issue capable of capturing the popular imagination; he seemed to stand only for ‘the natural right of the great fishes to eat up the little ones whenever they can catch them.'” Post-Hamiltonian American nationalism offered no public myth of the nation, and the ultimate price of its failure to do so was the collapse (and subsequent redefinition) of the nation in the Civil War. Only when Lincoln invested American nationality with a quasi-religious mythology was nationalism politically and popularly successful.

But Lincoln’s nationalist myth, drawn from a universalist natural rights egalitarianism, justified national unity only as an instrument-of “equality of opportunity” and the acquisitive individualism that follows from it. Lincoln’s nationalism soon degenerated into the wolfish egotism of the Gilded Age and the naked imperialism of McKinley and Roosevelt, and ultimately its universalist, egalitarian, and individualist premises contradicted and helped undermine the particularity that a successful nationalism must assert and the subordination of individual ambition that nationalism demands.

If a new nationalism is to flourish and endure, it must do more than offer a merely narrow, pragmatic, and largely economic definition of the national identity and the national interest. It will have to look to the historic norms of the American people and their culture to discover and articulate what America is and what it should be, and it will have to recognize that the American cultural identity involves a good bit more than merely economic growth and individual gratification. If it fails to do so, then the new nationalism will soon become simply one more code word for the special interests of particular factions and sections, and America will be no more secure, no more prosperous, and no more first than it is today in the custody of its self-serving and self-appointed globalist masters.