Who Can We Shoot?

Who better to kick off a discussion of American populism than Henry James? In The Portrait of a Lady Sockless Hank had Henrietta Stackpole define a "cosmopolite": "That means he's a little of everything and not much of any. I must say I think patriotism is like charity—it begins at home." Likewise, a healthy populism must be grounded in a love of the particular, or else it is just a grab bag of (mostly valid) resentments.

James understood the consequence of the Spanish-American War to be "remote colonies run by bosses"; expansion diluted true patriotism and would "demoralize us." His diagnosis is still sound, though the American people are now cast in the role of the Filipinos. The alliances and friendships concreting as the American Empire staggers through caducity and hastens, one hopes, to a long-overdue demise are every bit as refreshingly meet as those spawned in the depths of Manila Bay: a backwoods hippie wearing a "Buchanan '96" button is descended from the sturdily Republican poet-editor Thomas Bailey Aldrich, who announced in 1899 that he would not "vote for McKinley again. I would sooner vote for Bryan. To be ruined financially is not so bad as to be ruined morally."

The dire predictions of the anti-imperialists came to pass: gentlemen such as James and Aldrich were no match for Teddy Roosevelt. A century later Newt Gingrich, TR's biggest...

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