Wednesday, February 02, 2005

# Posted 1:55 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"LIBERALISM IS THE ONLY THING THAT CAN SAVE CIVILIZATION FROM CHAOS": Those are the words of Woodrow Wilson from 1919. To modern ears, Wilson's words seem like some sort of ridiculous partisan statement. In order to understand what Wilson actually meant, you have to substitute the words "liberal democracy" for Wilson's "liberalism". And instead of "conservatives", think "realists":
Conservatives do not realize what forces are loose in the world at the present time. Liberalism is the only thing that can save civilization from chaos -- from a flood of ultra-radicalism that will swamp the world. (David Schmitz, Thank God They're On Our Side, page 13)
Wilson's words reflected his response to the Bolshevik challenge in the aftermath of the Russian revolution. But they may as well represent George Bush's response to violent Islamic fundamentalism in the aftermath of September 11th.

Wilson's critics thought he was a fool. Warren Harding argued that that Wilson had "preached the gospel of revolution in the central Empires of Europe" and that
The menace of Bolshevism...owes a very large part...to the policies and utterances of the Chief Executive of the United States. (Schmitz, 18)
Of course, history has not been kind to Woodrow Wilson. Yet instead of his passion for democracy, it was his passion for multilateralism that supposedly did him in. Although it is tempting to argue that Bush will not share Wilson's fate because the current President cares nothing for multilateralism, I think that such an inference would be false.

The League of Nations may not have fulfilled its founders' expectations, but I think it is foolish to believe that the existence of the League made the outbreak of World War II any more likely than it otherwise would have been. Naturally, there are those who would disagree, and extended arguments should be had about this subject.

Anyhow, the point I really want to make is that Wilson has somehow acquired an undeserved reputation for being an advocate of appeasement, accommodation and masochism. Somehow, we forget that Wilson dispatched American soldiers to Mexico, Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. And, of course, Wilson made the tremendously controversial decision to do battle against German imperialism rather than hope that Britain and France could win the war on their own.

Thus, when comparing Wilson to Bush, one cannot suggest that the latter has perverted the ideals of the former because of his willingess to use force. Rather, Bush has reminded us that the Wilsonian tradition represents the marriage of strength and idealism.

To an idealist such as myself, the analysis above represents something of a vindication for Bush. However, I think my analysis can also serve as the foundation for a less partisan and more broadly acceptable point:

Bush's ideas do not represent the strange marraige of Democratic naievete to Republican belligerence. Bush is not a neo-Wilsonian. He is a Wilsonian.

Whether you are for or against the President, you can sharpen your own arguments by learning more about the historical context in which his ideas were born.
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