Why Wilson Matters – The Origin Of American Liberal Internationalism and It’s Crisis Today
By Tony Smith
Princeton University Press – £27.95
If evidence is needed of Wilson’s ability to act decisively on matters of world affairs upon becoming president, and this with respect to his understanding of the virtues of democratic government, his policy toward Mexico should lay any doubts to rest. This observation is especially true of the ”nonrecognition doctrine”that Wilson issued only weeks after assuming the presidency in 1913. Here Wilson acted quickly and decisively, in terms of a policy that had little precedent in America (or indeed European) policy, for it was based on the presumption that Washington would do as best it could to encourage the Mexican Revolution in the direction of stable constitutional democracy.
(‘Democracy Promotion Through Progressive Imperialism’)
Hmm, ”in the direction of stable constitutional democracy.”
Fast forward a hundred years and we find ourselves on the precipice of the world (seemingly) falling apart. While the UK embraces a return to the dark ages, President Trump’s America is antagonising nigh everyone and everything there is to antagonise – including climate change.
Why Wilson Matters focuses on American principles and American policies – where there supposedly could could be ‘no other’ – where, like Wilson himself, it highlights the principles and the policies of forward looking men and women everywhere. Along with every modern nation and every enlightened community.
Key here, is the word ‘enlightened,’ which, for all of Trump’s highfalutin with Putin, would suggest he’s about as enlightened as a piece of discarded bark.
In other words, he absolutely ain’t; although he’d be mighty wise to take note of some of what’s written amid these 289 pages (excluding, Preface, Acknowledgements, Notes and Index). Naturally he won’t, because the likes of the current president would no doubt equate Wilson’s ”principles of mankind […] must prevail” with that of his own twisted, conceited principles: primarily that of his own business empire.
Indeed, the only thing that must prevail in today’s White House, is the colossal continuation of dishonesty.
Much of the above stems from the very same chapter as the opening quote, where, addressing the Senate, Woodrow Wilson called for a worldwide movement toward ”government by the consent of the governed;” further insisting ”I hope and I believe that I am in effect speaking for liberals and friends of humanity in every nation and of every program of liberty.”
As such, Why Wilson Matters renews hope that the United States might again become effectively liberal by returning to the sense of realism that Wilson espoused; one where the promotion of democracy around the world is balanced by the understanding that such efforts are not likely to come quickly and without costs.
Tony Smith – who is the Cornelia M. Jackson Professor of Political Science at Tufts University, and whose books include America’s Mission: The United States and the Worldwide Struggle for Democracy and The Crisis of American Foreign Policy: Wilsonianism in the Twenty-First Century – has herein written a most in-depth analysis of Wilsonian pragmatism.
Broken into two distinct sections (The Essential Wilson: Wilson’s Wilsoniasm and Wilsonianism After Wilson), the book’s crystal clear and well considered (political) prognosis sheds new light on an era we might not know too much about, but an era nevertheless, we’d all be wise to take heed of.