|Telling someone why they’re wrong
and must obey his whims.
Really good review of a biography of Wilson in the CRB. Emphases Œc. Vol.’s.
Woodrow Wilson was ahead of his time. Son of a Southern theologian and preacher, he was 13 when he saw Robert E. Lee parade through the streets of Augusta, Georgia, in 1870, but he stayed ice-cold to the Southern cause. “Because I love the South,” he declaimed at Virginia Law School in 1879, “I rejoice in the failure of the Confederacy.” He spoke already like a politician, though he would reach his fifties before he got to be one. Wilson’s contemporaries in America (William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt) and Europe (H.H. Asquith, Lloyd George, Kaiser Wilhelm) thought in 19th-century terms. Wilson had more in common with the system-upending radicals of the following generation, such as Lenin and Mussolini—or, better still, the Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, because Wilson was subtle. Where many 20th-century revolutionaries took the bourgeois order for an obstacle to their aims, Wilson saw in it possibilities for power that were hidden in plain sight.
The question about Wilson that preoccupied Americans in his lifetime—whether his program was compatible with America’s Constitution, and its civilization more generally—has, for better or worse, been settled. Voters and judges have hurried the Constitution along the path Wilson laid out for it, swapping liberties for efficiencies and congressional powers for executive ones. If today we have a “progressive” or a “living” constitution, Wilson can claim to be its father. His record—consumer regulation, women’s suffrage, the Federal Reserve, the income tax, World War I, and even his failed design for a League of Nations—set the mold in which the institutions of modern government were cast. Back then, his governing philosophy (“Sometimes people call me an idealist…well, that is the way I know I am an American”) sounded sanctimonious and naïve—an affront to the American character. Today it is the American character. That adds urgency to a central question that faces, or should face, all Wilson biographers: whether the most sweeping re-founder of America was ever quite in his right mind.
Don’t ask impertinent questions like that jackass Adept Lu.