I have a question about the correct preposition to use with "isolationism" and "isolation". On the web, I found examples along the lines of:

  1. The country retreated into isolation.
  2. The country retreated into isolationism.

Isolation is the state of being alone. Isolationism is the idea or policy of a country not having relations with other countries.

The phrase "retreat into isolation" seems normal to me, because a country could be "in isolation", and so it could definitely "retreat into isolation." But, "retreat into isolationism" seems off to me, because a country could not be "in isolationism".

What do native speaker think? Is "retreat into isolationism" in sentence 2 wrong?

  • 1
    'Retreated into isolationism' sounds more idiomatic to me than 'retreated into isolation'. (AmE speaker) Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 23:35
  • 1
    You could certainly retreat into isolationism - it's a state of mind, a philosophical position.
    – stangdon
    Commented Jun 25, 2016 at 0:44

1 Answer 1


Both sentences are correct, but have quite different meanings.

To retreat into isolation is to seek solace from one's difficulties or problems through solitude.

For example:

We haven't seen Daniel in weeks. After his breakup with Sally he retreated into isolation.

To retreat into isolationism is something that a people or country might do, or be accused of doing, rather than enter into a conflict. It would not be a complementary thing to say. To retreat into isolationism would be the national equivalent of sticking one's fingers in one's ears and saying, "Lalalalala" in a futile attempt at ignoring something one does not wish to face.

It can also be used to describe an individual's actions. Where the first statement indicates that a person has gone somewhere to be alone, the second implies that a person is actively ignoring a problem, or avoiding a confrontation.

For example:

Rather than addressing the nightly incursions of his neighbor's dog into his yard, the man elected to retreat into isolationism and built a very large fence.

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