Monday, August 15, 2011

Tracing isolationism

There are derogatory terms flung around that have been part of the popular lexicon for as long as I can remember, but whose etymology is something I, at best, only make lazy assumptions about. One of those that has experienced a bit of a resurgence with the NATO bombing campaign in Libya is "isolationism". While the term could conceivably be as old as our republic, the US was pretty isolationist up through World War I. We were too busy making the Louisiana Purchase, taking Florida, bringing Texas aboard, taking the Southwest and the Northwest, and buying a firesale Alaska from Russia to, uh, pay attention to anything going on outside of our original 13 colonies.

So I turned to Google's handy Ngram viewer, which shows the incidence of selected words or phrases in published books over time, to trace the history of the term:


It looks like Pat Buchanan's unnecessary war spread the unnecessary phrase that, while having likely forever retreated from its WWII high, is still thrown around almost as loosely and carelessly as its other -ism cousins.


4 comments:

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...

But there is a very clear and steady decline in usage of the term, AE.

I wonder if any synonyms for isolationism have appeared in the post-WWII lexicon?

Jokah Macpherson said...

I think its usage is declining more due to near-universal accptance in the west of "globalism", which is not an exact opposite, but is less stigmatized than "interventionism".

Anonymous said...

I wonder if any synonyms for isolationism have appeared in the post-WWII lexicon?

"Anti-semitism" seems to mean much the same thing as "isolationism" in practice, if not in theory.

Audacious Epigone said...

"Globalism" might not quite be an antonym as Jokah says, but it's close, and it's usage has steadily risen for the last 50 years (although it is still not as common as "isolationism" is).

Anon,

When the nation(s) at hand is Islamic--and seems to be almost all the time--that's the case, because of course not intervening with at least economic punitions and probably military force puts Israel at risk, always!