Isolationism is a foreign policy which combines a non-interventionist military policy and a political policy of economic nationalism (protectionism). In other words, it asserts both of the following:

#Non-interventionism – Political rulers should avoid entangling alliances with other nations and avoid all wars not related to direct territorial self-defense.
#Protectionism – There should be legal barriers to control trade and cultural exchange with people in other states.

Isolationism is not to be confused with the non-interventionist philosophy and foreign policy of the libertarian world view, which espouses unrestricted free trade and freedom of travel for individuals to all countries. This "libertarian isolationist" view is best defined as a policy of nonparticipation in foreign political relations, but free trade and affability to all people.


"Isolationism" has always been a debated political topic. Whether or not a country should be or should not be isolationist affects both living standards and the ability of political rulers to benefit favored firms and industries.

All the First World countries (the UK, United States, etc.) trade in a world economy, and are experiencing an expansion of the division of labor, generally raising living standards. However, some characterize this as "a wage race to the bottom" in the manufacturing industries that should be curtailed by protectionism. Some argue that isolating a country from a global division of labor--i.e. employing protectionist trading policies--could be potentially helpful. The consensus amongst most economists is that such a policy is detrimental, and point to the mercantilism of the pre-industrial era as the classic example. Others argue that as the world's biggest consumer, with its own natural resources, the U.S. can wisely dictate what conditions can apply to goods and services imported for U.S. consumption, misunderstanding the nature of prices and their emergent, non-centrally planned, nature. Countries and regions generally enjoy a comparative advantage over others in some area. Free trade between countries allows each country to do what it does best, and benefit from the products and services that others do best. But "best" too often means monetary, excluding human and ecological costs, due to firms externalizing costs as a result of inadequately defined property rights. Protectionism allegedly interferes in the market process, making people poorer than they would be otherwise.

Isolationism by country


After the Zheng He voyages in the 15th century, the foreign policy of the Ming Dynasty in China became increasingly isolationist. Hongwu Emperor was the first to propose the policy to ban all maritime shipping in 1371. [Vo Glahn, Richard. [1996] (1996). Fountain of Fortune: money and monetary policy in China, 1000-1700. University of California Press. ISBN 0520204085] The Qing Dynasty that came after the Ming often continued the latter dynasty's isolationist policies. Wokou or Japanese pirates are one of the key primary concerns. Though the maritime ban is not without some controversy.


"Irish neutrality" has been a policy of the Irish Free State and its successor the Republic of Ireland since independence from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1922. This policy led to Ireland's neutral stance during World War II.

Economically, the Navigation Acts restricted and taxed Irish trade, to the detriment of her economy, which was also affected badly by the Corn Laws. These were introduced to protect Britain against reliance on cheap imports of grain, and to safeguard the income and power of hereditary landowners rather than business interests. The Corn Laws were campaigned against by those who favoured a return to a more free trade practice. In the late 1840's, when British shipping had achieved a world monopoly, those protectionist acts and laws were repealed.


From 1641 to 1853, the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan enforced a policy which it called "sakoku". The policy prohibited foreign contact with most outside countries. However, the commonly held idea that Japan was entirely closed is misleading and stems from a Eurocentric worldview. In fact, Japan maintained trade and diplomatic relations with China, Korea, and the Ryukyus, and trade only with the Netherlands. [Ronald P. Toby, "State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan: Asia in the Development of the Tokugawa Bakufu", Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, (1984) 1991.]

During this time, the culture of Japan developed with limited influence from the outside world and had one of the longest stretches of peace in history. During this period, Japan developed thriving cities and castle towns and increasing commodification of agriculture and domestic trade, [Thomas C. Smith, "The Agrarian Origins of Modern Japan", Stanford Studies in the Civilizations of Eastern Asia, Stanford, Calif., 1959,: Stanford University Press.] wage labor, increasing literacy and concomitant print culture, [Mary Elizabeth Berry, "Japan in Print: Information and Nation in the Early Modern Period", Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.] laying the groundwork for modernization, even as the shogunate itself grew weak. [Albert Craig, "Chōshū in the Meiji Restoration", Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961; Marius B. Jansen, "Sakamoto Ryōma and the Meiji Restoration", Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1961.]

New Zealand

Under the Muldoon government a high level of protectionism was in place. This was markedly reduced under the fourth Labour government when it came into power in 1984. Today New Zealand boasts one of the most free markets in the world, and has little government intervention.


Just after independence was achieved, the country was governed since 1814 by the dictator Dr. Francia, who closed the borders of the country and prohibited trade or any relation with the exterior until his death in 1840.

See also

*Monroe Doctrine
*United States non-interventionism

Works cited


* [ Barry, Tom. “A Global Affairs Commentary: The Terms of Power” ("Foreign Policy in Focus", November 6, 2002)]
*Berry, Mary Elizabeth. 2006. "Japan in Print: Information and Nation in the Early Modern Period". Berkeley University of California Press* [ Cole, Wayne S. "Charles A. Lindbergh and the Battle against American Intervention in World War II" (1974)]
* [ Cole, Wayne S. "America First: The Battle against Intervention, 1940-41" (1953)]
*Craig, Albert. 1961. "Chōshū in the Meiji Restoration". Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
*Jansen, Marius B. 1961. "Sakamoto Ryōma and the Meiji Restoration". Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
* [ Kennedy, Thomas C. "Charles A. Beard and American Foreign Policy" (1975)]
*Smith, Thomas C. 1959. "The Agrarian Origins of Modern Japan". Stanford Studies in the Civilizations of Eastern Asia. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.
*Toby, Ronald P. (1984) 1991. "State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan: Asia in the Development of the Tokugawa Bakufu". Stanford ed. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.
* [ White House, The. "The National Security Strategy of The United States." (September 2002)]

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