In aesthetics, the doctrine that a work of art can be appreciated independently of its cultural background, the circumstances of its production, the artist’s intentions, and so on (also see: contextualism).

In politics, the doctrine that a nation’s (or some particular nation’s) interests are best served by minimizing its interference in affairs outside its own borders, or outside some specified sphere of interest.


Isolationism has been defined as:

A policy or doctrine of trying to isolate one’s country from the affairs of other nations by declining to enter into alliances, foreign economic commitments, international agreements, and generally attempting to make one’s economy entirely self-reliant; seeking to devote the entire efforts of one’s country to its own advancement, both diplomatically and economically, while remaining in a state of peace by avoiding foreign entanglements and responsibilities.[2]

Isolationism by country



Before 1999, Bhutan had banned television and the Internet in order to preserve its culture, environment, identity etc.[3] Eventually, Jigme Singye Wangchuck lifted the ban on television and the Internet. His son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, was elected as Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan, which helped forge the Bhutanese democracy. Bhutan has subsequently undergone a transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy multi-party democracy. The development of Bhutanese democracy has been marked by the active encouragement and participation of reigning Bhutanese monarchs since the 1950s, beginning with legal reforms such as the abolition of slavery, and culminating in the enactment of Bhutan’s Constitution [4]


After Zheng He’s voyages in the 15th century, the foreign policy of the Ming dynasty in China became increasingly isolationist. The Hongwu Emperor was not the first to propose the policy to ban all maritime shipping in 1390.[5] The Qing dynasty that came after the Ming dynasty often continued the Ming dynasty’s isolationist policies. Wokou, which literally translates to “Japanese pirates” or “dwarf pirates”, were pirates who raided the coastlines of China, Japan, and Korea, and were one of the key primary concerns, although the maritime ban was not without some control.

Since the division of the territory following the Chinese Civil War in 1949, China is divided into two regimes with the People’s Republic of China solidified control on mainland China while the existing Republic of China was confined to the island of Taiwan as both governments lay claim to each other’s sovereignty. While the PRC is recognized by the United Nations, European Union, and the majority of the world’s states, the ROC remains diplomatically isolated although 15 states recognize it as “China” with some countries maintain unofficial diplomatic relations through trade offices.[6][7]


From 1641 to 1853, the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan enforced a policy which it called kaikin. The policy prohibited foreign contact with most outside countries. The commonly held idea that Japan was entirely closed, however, is misleading. In fact, Japan maintained limited-scale trade and diplomatic relations with China, Korea and Ryukyu Islands, as well as the Dutch Republic as the only Western trading partner of Japan for much of the period.[8][9]

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, castle towns, increasing commodification of agriculture and domestic trade,[10] wage labor, increasing literacy and concomitant print culture,[11] laying the groundwork for modernization even as the shogunate itself grew weak.[12]


Following the division of the peninsula after independence from Japan in 1945–48, Kim il-Sung inaugurated an isolationist great regime in the North, which has been continued by his son and grandson to the present day.


Francia had a particular dislike of foreigners and any who came to Paraguay during his rule (which would have been very difficult) were not allowed to leave for the rest of their lives. An independent character, he hated European influences and the Catholic Church, turning church courtyards into artillery parks and confession boxes into border sentry posts, in an attempt to keep foreigners at bay.Just after independence was achieved, Paraguay was governed from 1814 by the dictator José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, who closed the country’s borders and prohibited trade or any relation with the outside world until his death in 1840. The Spanish settlers who had arrived just before independence had to intermarry with either the old colonists or with the native Guarani, in order to create a single Paraguayan people.

United States

While some scholars, such as Robert J. Art, believe that the United States has an isolationist history, other scholars dispute this by describing the United States as following a strategy of unilateralism or non-interventionism instead.[13][14] Robert Art makes his argument in A Grand Strategy for America (2003).[13] Books that have made the argument that the United States followed unilaterism instead of isolationism include Walter A. McDougall’s Promised Land, Crusader State (1997), John Lewis Gaddis’s Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (2004), and Bradley F. Podliska’s Acting Alone (2010).[15] Both sides claim policy prescriptions from George Washington’s Farewell Address as evidence for their argument.[13][14] Bear F. Braumoeller argues that even the best case for isolationism, the United States in the interwar period, has been widely misunderstood and that Americans proved willing to fight as soon as they believed a genuine threat existed.[16]

Events during and after the Revolution related to the treaty of alliance with France, as well as difficulties arising over the neutrality policy pursued during the French revolutionary wars and the Napoleonic wars, encouraged another perspective. A desire for separateness and unilateral freedom of action merged with national pride and a sense of continental safety to foster the policy of isolation. Although the United States maintained diplomatic relations and economic contacts abroad, it sought to restrict these as narrowly as possible in order to retain its independence. The Department of State continually rejected proposals for joint cooperation, a policy made explicit in the Monroe Doctrine’s emphasis on unilateral action. Not until 1863 did an American delegate attend an international conference.[17]


Isolationism has criticized for the lack of aiding nations with major troubles. One notable example is that of American isolationism, which Benjamin Schwartz described as a “tragedy” inspired by Puritanism

4 thoughts on “Isolationism

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