As I’ve blogged before I have mixed feelings about President Woodrow Wilson. Similar to how I feel about President Richard Nixon and President Ronald Reagan, President Lyndon Johnson as well.
One one side you have this brilliant foreign policy leader and President who literally is the father of the liberal internationalist doctrine. That was the American foreign policy with each President making their own amendments to that doctrine especially President George W. Bush who was a Neoconservative, that was about defending liberal democracy at home and abroad. Working with our allies to defend, protect, and promote liberal democracy and prosperity around the world. Work with friendly developing countries to promote and defend democracy and prosperity in those countries through foreign aide. President Wilson’s liberal internationalist doctrine, was the foreign policy doctrine of the Democratic Party all the way though President Barack Obama’s presidency.
And then on the economic front you have a pretty Progressive President in Woodrow Wilson. He expanded the regulatory state that was created by President Theodore Roosevelt with the creation of the Federal Reserve and creation of the national progressive income tax. He supported tariffs on foreign goods. He supported workers rights and even organized labor. He was in favor of creating public Unemployment Insurance that President Teddy Roosevelt first proposed as President, but like President Roosevelt President Wilson failed to get Unemployment Insurance through Congress.
But then you had this other side of Woodrow Wilson who along with being the father of America’s liberal internationalist foreign policy doctrine, President Wilson was also one of the father’s of Jim Crow laws and segregation among the races both in the public and private sectors. President Wilson had given life to the Southern Dixiecrat segregationist Neo-Confederate Governor’s in the South who didn’t see African-Americans has American citizens and perhaps even as human beings. And wanted them segregated from European-Americans through force. Who were in bed politically with the Ku Klux Klan and wouldn’t prosecute from for their terrorism against African and Jewish-Americans, As well as other racial and ethnic minorities in America.
You get Jim Crow and the segregationist policies out of the Woodrow Wilson Presidency and had he been successful in getting the League of Nations passed in Congress through the Senate and we’re talking about one of our greatest American president’s instead of being in the 20s of wherever he’s ranked but certainly in the middle of the pack. But you can’t get Jim Crow out of the Wilson Presidency, just like you can’t get Watergate out of the Richard Nixon Presidency. Because of the lasting horrible legacy of Jim Crow that went all the way through the 1960s in America. That alone could make a good argument for President Wilson not being a mediocre President, but one of our worst ever.
As I argued before President Woodrow Wilson wanted to create a world, or at least an America and Europe, that was safe for democracy. Where countries wouldn’t go to war with each other because times were good. Countries were at peace, free trading with each other, living in prosperity and freedom. I also argued that President Wilson was about 30 years ahead of his time on this front. Because what we got post-World War II with the United Nations, NATO, and in the 1950s with the European Union, was exactly that.
Free, democratic, wealthy nations, tend not attack other free democratic wealthy nations. Because those countries aren’t run by dictators who are simply looking to consolidate and expand their own power both inside of their country, but outside of their country. Because those countries tend to believe in at least some form of democracy. Whether it’s liberal democracy which is what America has. Or social democracy which is common in Europe. And democrats whether they’re on the Center-Left or Center-Right, tend to believe in these values along with checks and balances and respecting one’s borders and territory. Dictators obviously look at things differently and are interested in power. Staying in power but also expanding their own base of power. Whether they’re on the Far-Left or Far-Right politically.
So in this sense at least Woodrow Wilson was a visionary in the same class as a Richard Nixon or George H.W. Bush when it came to foreign policy. Men who not only understood how today’s world worked and operated, but saw decades into the future for how the world could look into the future. Where countries would no longer be fighting each other. Especially developed free countries and that instead they would work together to not only project their won freedom and economies, but work to promoted democracy, freedom, and prosperity around the world. When it comes to vision President Woodrow Wilson doesn’t get enough credit for the visionary that he was as a foreign policy leader.
1917 is huge year in both American history as well as European history, as well as Russian history. The Bolshevik Communists take over Russia and rename the country the Soviet Union of Russia and become a gigantic Marxist/Communist state the largest country in the world at least as far as land with all of these people now being forced to live under Marxist/Communist statism. Think about North Korea today, but add a couple hundred-million more people to Russia living under this Marxist/Communist system. While President Woodrow Wilson in America attempting to create a new internationalist world order that would be there to protect, defend, and promote liberal democracy over authoritarianism including and even especially communism.
Post-World War II is the start of the Cold War between America and Russia. With Western Europe being on America’s side and the eastern non-democratic countries like China allying with Russia to promote communism in the world. But 1917 and post-World War I starting in 1918 is where you see this competition start. With America and Britain being on the side of liberal democracy or at least democracy in some from. Britain being more of a social democracy than liberal democracy. But both countries believing in at least some levels of personal autonomy and property rights, along with private enterprise. With Russia and their Slavic allies in Europe, prompting this communist form of statism with no personal autonomy or property rights.
President Wilson was a foreign policy liberal internationalist idealist. He wanted World War I to be the war that ended all wars and create a world that was safe for democracy. Safe for private enterprise and free trade. Where people would have personal autonomy and be able to self-govern themselves. He was an idealist especially in a country like America at the time that was very isolationist and not a fan of America’s involvement in World War I.
Woodrow Wilson like with President Richard Nixon, who was twenty years ahead of his time when it came to seeing that the Cold War was destined to end and where America would work with Russia and China, instead of being enemies with them, President Wilson was about thirty years ahead of him time in seeing that there would be an international community with America being one of it’s major players to defend, protect, and promote liberal democracy and private enterprise in the world. Which is what we got with the United Nations in the mid-1940s and the European Union in the 1950s. In this sense at least President Wilson was a brilliant man.
President Woodrow Wilson, was an idealist at least in one sense. He saw a post-World War I Europe that would be liberal democratic, with free private economies, that would never want to go to war with each other, because they would never have to. The boundaries of each country would be clear and recognized and the economies would all be private and successful. And these countries would then serve as great ally to America and never need to go to war with America either. And both sides would be great trade partners as well. With expansive free trade and low tariffs.
The League of Nations like the United Nations in the 1940s and 1950s post-World War II, was seen as an organization of allies that would protect and defend democracy and freedom around the world. The 19 teens and 1920s, was pre-Cold War. Where liberal democracies like America and in Europe, were in competition with communist and authoritarian countries like Russia, the Communist Republic of Germany ( which was East Germany ) and Eastern European Slavic countries like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia. Had the League of Nations been successful, maybe we don’t get World War II. Not saying that the Nazi Party wouldn’t come to power in Germany in the 1930s and that America and Europe, wouldn’t have gone to war with Nazi Germany in the 1940s. But there would have been this League of Nations there and Europe would have been stronger and as a result Adolph Hitler’s power and destruction outside of Germany would have been limited.
President Wilson’s idealist vision for America and Europe, was to have liberal democratic countries that would have no need to go to war with each other. Because they would always have peace and prosperity. Be reliable trading partners with each other and America and defend liberal democratic values. And not feel the need to invade each other because they respected each others land an autonomy.
I believe one of the reasons why Nazi Germany was able to come to power and create so much destruction for German Jews but other Jews in Europe like in Poland and France, was because there wasn’t this international organization there to keep the peace and promote democracy and national autonomy. America and Europe, didn’t go to war with Nazi Germany until after a lot of damage and murders and been committed because there wasn’t this international organization to prevent something like a Nazi Germany from coming to power.
As Keith Hughes says in this video the League of Nations was the key point ( no pun intended ) in President Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points. And even though the U.S. Senate didn’t ratify the League of Nations treaty Europe and other countries did. And the LN managed to stay in business for a while and was the forerunner to what became the United Nations post-World War II.
The 14 Points was about ending World War I but also about how America and Europe and how the countries in Europe would relate to each other after World War I. Including Germany which lost World War I going away. And the 14 Points was about not just winning the peace post-World War I and doing by the stabilizing the economies in Europe so countries would flourish and not feel the need to go to war to improve their economies, but to settle issues about land and who can use what waters and when.
As I’ve written before Woodrow Wilson was not just a liberal internationalist when it came to foreign policy, but he is also at the very least one of the father’s of liberal internationalism. And believed that liberal democracy had to be defended and promoted in order to keep authoritarians from coming into power especially by force, but also through democratic means as we saw with Adolph Hitler in Germany. And that unlike Neoconservatives and neoconservatism, Wilsonian liberal internationalists, believe that America should work with their allies in order to promote and defend liberal democracy. Mostly through diplomatic means but if necessary through military means as we saw during World War II. Neoconservatives tend to be more military first and tend to be more unilateral than Liberals when it comes to foreign policy.