A Good Question


Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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12 Responses

  1. Avatar gregiank says:

    “The Right” hates Wilson because he has been officially cataloged as a lefty, therefore everything he was and did was evil. Was that really so hard to figure. My guess is historians give him a pass on his nasty views on race and gender because those views were somewhere between commonplace and almost universal at the time. If you judge him by that then you have to hate almost everybody in history.Report

    • @gregiank, I can understand giving him a pass on race if there was a lot of unequivocal good that the man did or if he didn’t act on his abhorrent views on race in a meaningful way . The trouble is that perhaps his best moment (at least from the perspective of most with either a liberal or libertarian point of view) was his unsuccessful attempt to coax the Allies into providing less devastating terms at Versailles. In other words, his best moment was a moment where he failed miserably to prevent the laying of groundwork for WWII.

      Meanwhile, on the issue of race, he was not only guilty of abhorrent views, he was also guilty of actively making things worse at a time when things had been getting at least marginally better on the federal level and at a time when there was a meaningful constituency that was vocally opposed to done so. (This book seems to have the details: on that: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Jim-Crow-and-the-Wilson-Administration/Nicholas-Patler/e/9780870818646).

      Add to that the myriad other things Balko details: opposition to women’s suffrage at the most critical moment for the women’s suffrage movement, his role in pushing the US towards entry into the single most pointless war in history, the fact that he signed the Espionage and Sedition Acts and used the war as justification for any number of interventions in the private sector, had a complete and outspoken disregard for the concept of separation of powers, etc., etc.

      So what does that leave him with in terms of a positive legacy? Justice Brandeis?Report

      • Avatar gregiank says:

        @Mark Thompson, Yes he failed to prevent the French from laying the groundwork for WW2. Which of course nobody understood at the time. I see Wilson in the grand tradition of the founders. He had some terrible views, mostly on Christian domination of the US, race and gender, and did some bad things , the laws you note,but had some forward thinking views, mostly on international relations. He was not the kind of mix we see today but was much more common a long time ago.

        The beckoid view that all professors types are hard core lefties is more then a bit silly. up until the 60’s it took privilege for most to go to college and certainly to become a professor. He was portrayed well for a long time because many professors likely shared his views and class. For the record i don’t think he has all that positive a legacy.Report

        • @gregiank, Even granting for the sake of argument that he had forward thinking views on international relations, I don’t see how simply having (largely unimplemented) forward-thinking views justifies being rated amongst the “great Presidents,” particularly when set against entirely abhorrent, backward-thinking views that he actually did implement.

          As for Beck’s views on professors, you’ll get no argument from me there. I just really want to understand why those professors seem so willing to use “expansion of the Executive” as their primary metric for measuring a President’s “greatness.”Report

        • Avatar Simon K says:

          @gregiank, Wasn’t his main contribution to the actual Versailles treaty the idea of self-determination? Although I was taught at school that this was the most awesome concept ever invented in international relations, in retrospect it doesn’t seem so brilliant – it just reinforced the idea of arbitrarily matching languages with patches of dirt that had such poor consequences for the rest of the 20th century. Had Austria been allowed to keep its Empire, and continued on the trajectory of devolving power to the regions that it was on before the war, I can imagine the Balkans might be a better place today. Come to think of it its not surprising that someone who held racist views in domestic policy would have endorsed a pseudo-racial scheme for dividing up continents.

          That said, I think it was very well understood by the French that the consequences of reparations, which Wilson opposed ineffectively, would be to bankrupt Germany. They just considered that to be a plus ..Report

          • Avatar Katherine says:

            Austria-Hungary more or less broke up without help from Wilson, I think, and didn’t have the power to regain their empire.

            Wilson, Lloyd George and Clemenceau do bear most of the responsibility for the current messed-up state of the Middle East, though.Report

            • Avatar lukas says:

              @Katherine, it is debatable whether Austria-Hungary could have been kept together, but Wilson (under the influence of Masaryk) certainly was determined to tear it apart. When Austria-Hungary tried to sue for a peace based on Wilson’s 14 points in October of 1918, that offer was flatly rejected.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      @gregiank, the first half attacks “the right” for attacking Wilson merely because he was designated a lefty and the second half points out that, sure, maybe he does deserve attacking but he’s not unique in deserving such?Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        @Jaybird, huh. I don’t see many people defending Wilson except for having generally good ideas about democracy and self-determination of peoples as far as that went. Trying to discuss history solely in modern political terms usually goes no where. Modern labels don’t translate all that well to one hundred years ago and are more about cherry picking items to go on rambling screeds about ( see beck). Wilson should be understood, and criticized, for who he was and what he did, not as a set of convenient bullet points to make current arguments sounds intellectual.Report

  2. Avatar Katherine says:

    His championing of the League of Nations is a major plus point in my eyes, given that it provided the foundation for the later creation of the UN – but many conservatives aren’t fond of the UN so I can see how they wouldn’t appreciate that. I think another thing that contributes is the belief that if his 14 Points had been implemented, WWII would have been averted. And some people may see him as anticolonial due to his support for the mandate system as opposed to colonies, but in reality the mandate system was more or less just colonialism with a nicer name.

    Oh, and there’s the fact that if the US didn’t join WWII the Entente might have lost. I can’t predict the cumulative effects of that on history, other than Germany becoming far more powerful due to gobbling up large chunks of Russia in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. It’s a toss-up as to whether victory would have brought enough prestige to the German military to maintain the conservative political system, or whether they would have had to compromise with the Social Democrats due to public discontent over the war’s length and cost.

    On the other hand, the Entente might have just won more narrowly and only had the power to negotiate a status quo ante peace, and who knows where things would have gone from there.

    Long story start, historians generally take the view that victory in war = great President (Polk gets the same treatment for having started the single most unjustified war in US history and making a major contribution to setting off the Civil War).Report

    • “Long story start, historians generally take the view that victory in war = great President…”

      I suspect this gets to the root of things. It’s perfectly understandable that winning a war is always assumed to be preferable to losing a war in the long run; it’s just a lot less understandable that being on the winning side of a war in which your country had little legitimate interest and in which neither side could lay ready claim to being the side of good and in which you drastically clamped down on civil liberties is deemed preferable to not getting involved in such a war in the first place. It just smacks of treating international politics as if it were a college football season where the comparative value of a country or a leader is judged solely based on its or his won-loss record in “games” (aka, “wars”).Report

  3. Avatar Katherine says:

    One more thing: I expect many of the historians who write on Wilson are more interested in foreign than domestic policy. His 14 Points are much better known and much more frequently mentioned in history books than his support for segregation or his violations of civil liberties – and I didn’t even know he opposed women’s suffrage, given that it did pass during his presidency.Report