Reconsidering Woodrow Wilson: Progressivism, Internationalism, War, and Peace

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Reconsidering Woodrow Wilson: Progressivism, Internationalism, War, and Peace
Edited by John Milton Cooper, Jr.
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008
376 pp. $60.00
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For almost a hundred years, Woodrow Wilson's ideas have cast a shadow over U.S. foreign policy. As Henry Kissinger has observed, it is "to the drumbeat of Wilsonian idealism that American foreign policy has marched since his watershed presidency and continues to march to this day." This volume, a collection of essays to mark Wilson's 150th birthday in 2006, provides an assessment of his legacy in progressive politics and international affairs. Cooper, a leading Wilson scholar, argues that Wilson's greatest triumphs and greatest failings came in his dealings with Congress. He was "one of the greatest legislative leaders ever to sit in the White House," overseeing the passage of historic progressive legislation but also presiding over the defeat of his beloved League of Nations. Other scholars take up Wilson's achievements in the areas of economic reform, race, and free speech, with one author noting that Wilson was indeed the architect of modern liberalism but was also deeply unenlightened in regard to race relations or social justice. In foreign affairs, Lloyd Ambrosius explores how Wilson's racism shaped his approach to international relations, arguing that his idea of democracy did not affirm racial equality. Several authors, most directly Anne-Marie Slaughter, take up the thorny question of whether Wilson was at heart a liberal interventionist laying the intellectual groundwork for future imperial adventures. Most of the authors resist this view, stressing Wilson's vision of a world community of states organized around the rule of law. Cooper tries to settle the matter, arguing that Wilson's famous utterance in his war address -- "The world must be made safe for democracy" -- was expressed in the passive voice precisely to indicate that he was not advocating that democracy should be imposed.