(This is the most succinct and devastating critique of Woodrow Wilson's world view that I've run into. If someone has a comparably concise positive view, I'd be happy to present it as a response. I made this offer once before in our newsletter, the St. Mihiel Trip-Wire, and didn't get any takers. The editor does not necessarily endorse the views expressed in these "Recommended" articles but does believe that they are thought-provoking and worthy of our readers' attention.)
|President Wilson and His Peace Commissioners, Paris 1919|
Wilsonianism views human conflict as an expungeable by-product of greed, militarism, oppression, secret diplomacy, and idolatrous worship of the balance of power. Wilson imagined a world born again as a democratic league practicing disarmament, free trade, arbitration, and collective security. Of those tenets, freedom of trade and open sea lanes remain vital interests that the U.S. Navy alone can defend. Wilson's "open covenants" did not survive the first week of his own conference, disarmament is the quickest way for the United States to lose its friends and encourage its enemies, and self-determination (as Wilson's secretary of state, Robert Lansing, predicted) is a Pandora's box that spews forth new horrors to this day. Finally, however much Wilson fudged the fact, the League of Nations implied an abridgment of the unilateralism that most Americans still cherish. Wilson's dream, as Henry Kissinger rightly notes, has even less of a chance in the era to come, since the ranks of the major powers may soon include Russia, China, India, Japan, Indonesia, Iran, and Nigeria [?], none of which has a tradition of Western jurisprudence.
In historical perspective, Wilsonianism may well come to be seen as the product of one narrow strain of turn-of-the-century, Anglo-American, Progressive, Protestant thought.
Walter A. McDougall
"Back to Bedrock: The Eight Traditions of American Statecraft,"
Foreign Affairs, Mar/Apr 1997
Professor McDougall's full article can be found here (registration required to read for free):