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) – Alan Carmack Jun 24 '16 at 23:35
  • 1
    You could certainly retreat into isolationism - it's a state of mind, a philosophical position. – stangdon Jun 25 '16 at 0:44

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.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.