Wilson has been in the news of late, but his views on race were not his most consequential contribution to American politics. His influence on American foreign policy holds that distinction. President during World War I–and more importantly, during the period of American neutrality with which it commenced and American idealistic leadership with which it concluded–indeed, Wilson’s fingerprints can be found on most every aspect of contemporary American foreign affairs. And in many cases, the world system as well: from the United Nations to our role policing the global commons, to our sense of responsibility for international behavior far from our shores. No one left a longer lasting legacy. Scholars don’t ask if subsequent presidents are ‘Wilsonian or not.’ They ask, instead, ‘how Wilsonian’ was he?
- Wilson’s foreign policy reveals a president who ‘grows’ in office, rethinking previous assumptions, and drawing new conclusions. By the same token, he was (by his own admission) largely ignorant of foreign affairs when he entered office. How much, then, should we expect our president’s views to be fully worked out before they take office?
- Was American entry into WWI inevitable once Germany unleashed its submarines in early 1917?
- Wilson is today beloved, and reviled. What about him generated so much passion on either side?