Democracy and Imperialism

Irving Babbitt and Warlike Democracies
William S. Smith


After costly U.S. engagement in two wars in the Middle East, foreign policy debates are dominated by questions about the appropriateness of American military interventions. A central issue is whether an interventionist foreign policy is compatible with the American constitutional tradition.

The book examines Irving Babbitt’s (1865–1933) unique contribution to understanding the quality of foreign policy leadership in a democracy. Babbitt explored how a democratic nation’s foreign policy is a product of the moral and cultural tendencies of the nation’s leaders and that the substitution of expansive, sentimental Romanticism for the religious and ethical traditions of the West would lead to imperialism.

The United States has been moving away from the restraining order of sound constitutionalism to impose its will on other nations, which will inevitably cause the United States to clash with the “civilizational” regions that have emerged in recent decades. Democracy and Imperialism brings the question of soul types to issues of foreign policy leadership and discusses the qualities in leaders that are necessary for sound foreign policy.


“The author does a masterful job of laying out Babbitt’s views on the sources of imperialism in mistaken notions of human character and, especially, failures of personal and national self-control. The result is a substantial contribution to political theory properly understood, to our understanding of an important but too-little-known political philosopher, and most interestingly to the developing field of International Relations theory.”
—Bruce Frohnen, Ohio Northern University

“This book is timely in light of recent political developments that question the once unassailable normative status of liberal democracy. Babbitt develops a theory of the moral-cultural dangers associated with the democratic spirit. As an expert on Babbitt’s thinking and one who is versed in contemporary IR theory, Dr. Smith is well-positioned to serve this need.”
—Ryan R. Holston, Virginia Military Institute

William S. Smith is Research Fellow and Managing Director of the Center for the Study of Statesmanship at the Catholic University of America.

Product Details

  • 224 pages.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2019
  • Forthcoming
  • 978-0-472-12593-7

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  • $70.00 U.S.



  • War and peace; Iraq; Ethics and foreign policy; Democracies and war; Afghanistan; Restraint and foreign policy; Imperialism; Endless War; Napoleon; Constitutionalism; George W. Bush; Jacobins; Irving Babbitt; American Foreign Policy; Moral realism; Rousseau; Militarism; Clash of civilizations; French Revolution; Leadership; Causalities; Samuel Huntington; Romanticism; Morality and foreign policy; Henry Kissinger; Humanitarianism; Unjust wars; Francis Fukuyama; Humanism; Washington Farewell Address