Woodrow Wilson-The Idealist Essay, Research Paper
Wilson the Idealist
Wilson was not merely an idealist, but a crusading idealist (Link 50). His words, ideas, and actions are those of a man guided by morals, not realist views. The League of Nations, the WWI peace treaty, and his famous fourteen points were all products of his idealism. Wilson s idealistic nature is apparent through his beliefs as a Christian, his blind faith, his interest in morality, his belief that America is the world s savior, and his unrealistic expectations.
Wilson s Christianity played a major role in his decisions regarding foreign policy. Many of Wilson s critics claim he spent too much time dealing in ethereal realms instead of thinking about strategy. He was a Christian idealist. Wilson judged his actions not by strategic or methodical standards, but rather by Christian ideals (Link 50). The League of Nations was founded on the Christian belief in the inherent goodness of man. Wilson clung to his faith in mankind, believing that all men like him wanted peace and unity. He truly believed that by working together, all nations could solve their problems and form a humane global community. Wilson s undying faith kept him from foreseeing the inevitable problems with the League of Nations. As Thomas Masaryk stated, he was too filled with his plan for a League of Nations to take obstacles into account. (Schulte-Nordholt 60). Wilson believed that his devout Christian faith gave him insight into mankind, and was often criticized for acting as a kind of messiah divinely appointed to deliver Europe from the cruel tyranny of history. (Link 51). Woodrow Wilson s faith in Christianity motivated his actions and guided his speech.
Wilson s idealism shines through in another aspect of his personality his blind faith. He is often unable to see the world with all of its faults, instead choosing to look to diplomacy with rose-colored glasses. Wilson s famous peace without victory speech stirred up many reactions. This idea of a war without victors is a perfect example of his inability to comprehend mankind s vengeful nature. Upon hearing Wilson s speech, one of his critics wrote Never before has any political assembly heard so fine a sermon on what human beings might be capable of accomplishing if only they weren t so human. (Schulte-Nordholt 61). Wilson was often unable to understand opposition to his proposals. On September 8th, he spoke about the peace treaty. I can not understand the psychology of men who are resisting it. I can not understand what they are afraid of Wilson s faith in his own morality kept him from seeing the obvious faults in his peace treaty. Article 10 calls for all men to respect the rights of their neighbors, something that many men are not inherently capable of. Wilson used his personal sense of justice as the basis for how he expected the rest of the world to act. He did not take in to account the inevitable lust for power and revenge that much of Europe would feel after WWI. Wilson s faith made him blind to the faults of his foreign relations.
Wilson s obsession with morality proves his idealistic nature. Instead of putting America s economic and social interest first, he often based his decision making on his sense of morality. In Wilson s War Message of 1917, he states that instead of being concerned with the loss of property, he is instead concerned with peace and the well being of mankind. Property can be paid for; the lives of peaceful and innocent people cannot be. When Wilson defends his peace treaty and the League of Nations on September 4th 1919, he is again overcome with concern for morality. He claims Article 10 speaks the conscience of the world. In the same speech, Wilson makes a passionate assertion of his inherent right to defend mankind. One major downfall of Wilson s moral obligations was their hindrance on American neutrality. Waving free navigation was not only a breech of international law; it also challenged Wilson s fundamental principals. By protesting, Wilson reduced his chances to mediate (Schulte-Nordholt 57). Although Wilson s morality makes him an idealist, it does not make him any less respectable. His precepts and ideals will be relevant so long as democracy endures, so long as men seek after a new international community organized for peace and the advancement of mankind. (Link 55).
Wilson believed whole-heartedly in the ideal of America acting as the protector of the world. This pro-American view is a wonderful example of his idealism. Wilson believed that America s mission was not one of material power, but instead a mission of service to all of mankind. America, in Wilson s mind, is the keeper of the world. It should enforce justice and peace (Link 52). It is this thinking that leads many critics to believe that Wilson s foreign policies were doomed. His idealism made him far too concerned with peace and morality rather than expanding America s influence. Wilson was so convinced that America was chosen to mediate in world affairs, that he is often cited as taking on a religious and over-zealous tone when speaking about the mission of America (Schulte-Nordholt 56). Wilson was overwhelmed with his mission. He ignored the possible consequences of his actions and went to Paris to preach his ideals found in the peace treaty. The thought of German retaliation was distant in Wilson s mind as he concentrated on making America to savior of the world. When congress questioned the matter of voting in the League of Nations in 1919, Wilson gave a vague and nationalistic response. But there could be no advice of the council on any subject without a unanimous vote, and the unanimous vote includes our own, and if we accepted the advice we would be accepting our own advice Wilson could not see the danger in forming such permanent alliances. His idealism regarding America s so-called duty to the global community guided Wilson as he proposed his peace treaty and his plan for the League of Nations.
Woodrow Wilson was an idealist with often-unrealistic expectations. In his Fourteen Points, Wilson makes sweeping promises regarding global relations. In point II, he asks for Absolute freedom of navigation on the seas, a wonderful idea, but one that is inescapably flawed. Every major power spent millions of war ships and the proposal of putting them out of use is preposterous. Point V calls for a free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims. No country can be impartial in deciding its boundaries when every major power wants more power and influence for themselves. When defending his peace treaty in September of 1919, Wilson asks men to be better than it is possible for men to be. Wilson calls for man to never do wrong, a truly idealist plea. In the same speech, he proposes all the members of the League of Nations agree to economically and socially boycott any nation that does wrong by any other nation. While this idea may be good in theory, it is fully impractical. Most countries rely on others for trade and influence. To blindly agree to such a sweeping promise almost ensures that one country or another will suffer tremendous losses if any other country breaks a pact with the League. Most world leaders are more concerned with the safety of their nation rather than the morality of international relations. Only Wilson is able to retain his idealism with the threat of economic losses. Such promises characterize his idealistic nature.
Many Europeans view Wilson as a well-intentioned idealist. He has been called unrealistic, ignorant, and destructive (Link 50). In some sense, Wilson s influence was negative. His blind idealism while negotiating peace with Germany may well have brought on WWII, but Wilson s faith in mankind wielded many positive results as well. He set a peaceful and giving example for all future leaders. Wilson s influence remains in US foreign relations to this day. Through Wilson, America has learned that although blind faith and optimism can be dangerous, a bit of idealism when dealing with foreign relations can build morale and help Americans keep faith in their government.