The Lowdown on the Miscreant Who Got Us into this Mess: Woodrow Wilson
Claremont Review of Books, the brainiest and best publication in the conservative world, published my review of a new biography of America's first progressive president, Woodrow Wilson. It's an honor to write for CRB, which kindly unlocked the paywall for my piece, entitled "The Great Resenter." CRB is the only political-intellectual journal that I read cover to cover. If you don't subscribe, you should.
Progressive historians present Wilson as a paper saint, but the man was a monster. He was an unreconstructed defender of slavery and a rancorous apologist for the Confederacy. His whole academic and political life was devoted to tearing up the Constitution and replacing it with a progressive dictatorship. This resentment against a Union that had crushed his native south in the Civil War drove his obsession with a world government with power to issue orders to the United States of America.
So utterly utopian was Wilson’s vision that it is unfair to characterize the internationalism of Bill Clinton or George W. Bush as “Wilsonian.” Clinton and Bush threw America’s weight around after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but they did not propose—as Wilson did—to replace America’s sovereign decision-making with a global council. Wilson’s League of Nations was closer to the conspiracy theorists’ notion of the United Nations. The commonplace belief that minor concessions on his part would have won ratification of the League of Nations treaty is untenable.
A definitive Wilson biography remains to be written. To make sense of his grand overreach in 1919, historians will need to give more attention to his rancor at the U.S. Constitution and his Southerner’s sense of aggrievement over the Civil War. His was a deep, abiding passion for the Lost Cause and a smoldering hatred for those who crushed it. Of the Confederacy, Wilson rhapsodized in his history of the United States:
...There is, in history, no devotion not religious, no constancy not meant for success, that can furnish a parallel to the devotion and constancy of the South in this extraordinary war.
That there was no “parallel to the devotion and constancy of the South” during the Civil War is quite wrong. The South lost nearly 30% of its military-age men in the war, a horrendous sacrifice that yielded a century of relative poverty, a predilection for Gothic literature, and a culture of enduring resentment. Napoleon killed as large a proportion of Frenchmen during his wars, by my calculation; so did France and Spain during the Thirty Years War. Wilson was born into the heart of the Confederacy; his father, the Reverend Joseph Wilson, hosted the breakaway convention of the Presbyterian Church of the Confederacy after the national Presbyterian body condemned slavery. The family moved to Columbia, South Carolina, “still a blackened wreck,” in O’Toole’s words, when Woodrow was 13.