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Gerard Alexander and Darryl Hart. Nathanael Cheng | Courtesy

 

“When did the United States become respon­sible for the world, or when did it become a super­power?” asked Darryl Hart, pro­fessor of history. The crowded lecture hall was quiet in response.

About 50 Hillsdale College stu­dents gathered in the basement of Lane Hall on Nov. 9 to hear Hart and Pro­fessor Gerard Alexander debate the purpose of American inter­ven­tionism in foreign affairs, hosted by the Hillsdale chapter of the Alexander Hamilton Society.

The resulting dis­cussion, however, was less of a debate and more of a con­ver­sation.

A pro­fessor of pol­itics at the Uni­versity of Vir­ginia, Alexander admitted there was def­i­nitely less dis­agreement between the two debaters than expected.

“I was fully pre­pared partway through tonight’s pro­ceeding to scream at Pro­fessor Hart, ‘What is wrong with you?’” he said, laughing. “Instead, as some­times happens, I think there’s going to be quite a bit of common ground.”

Hart opened the debate with a propo­sition about Canadian foreign policy.

“The reason for com­paring the United States to Canada is that we could have turned out like Canada, if we hadn’t sought inde­pen­dence,” Hart said. “When Canada breaks with its original allies, the reason is usually a dis­agreement about strategy, not goals.”

Hart added that Amer­icans should learn from Canada’s attitude of not feeling respon­sible for the world, before quoting George Washington’s Farewell Address.

“[Washington’s] vision for American foreign policy is much more like what Canada has turned out to be,” Hart said. “And so, by proposing Canada as an alter­native to our current involve­ments overseas, we could actually go back to the founding.”

Alexander joked that the debate topic was no longer inter­ven­tionism.

“I’m obvi­ously here to take up the anti-Canadian position,” Alexander said. “I say that jok­ingly, but not really. We can’t be Canada, and we wouldn’t want to if we could.”

Alexander also explained why he thinks the United States should not be like Canada in its foreign policy.

“A lot of people who advocate for a dimin­ished U.S. foreign mil­itary and political presence or inter­vention around the world often assume that free trade and more peaceful forms of inter­course with other coun­tries could be achieved sep­a­rately from the kind of global role that America has played, in political and mil­itary terms. I think that’s probably not true,” Alexander said. “There need to be agenda setters.”

Despite dis­agree­ments on the level of inter­vention America should employ in foreign affairs, both pro­fessors agreed the issue has no easy, straight­forward solution.

“I think the Founders were worried about that kind of bigness in American gov­ernment and what that might do to our insti­tu­tions,” Hart said. “Is anyone up to the task of over­seeing American foreign policy the way it has become?”

Pres­ident of the Alexander Hamilton Society Hillsdale chapter junior Pearce Pomerleau said he was pleased with the outcome of the event.

“That was the sort of broad dis­cussion that we were looking for,” Pomerleau said. “There are so many specifics that you can delve into with a topic like this, but we really wanted to get into the broad strokes, the more ide­al­istic aspect of this, and debate the bones of the issue, as it were.”

Alexander empha­sized to The Col­legian that one of his biggest con­cerns on college cam­puses is the growing intol­erance for dis­senting opinions.

“Airing dis­agree­ments seems to me among the most important things that can happen on any college campus,” he said. “If stu­dents aren’t on campus to do that, I’m really not sure what they’re here to do. If you can walk away doing that, you’re going to con­tinue to learn for the rest of your life.”