February 06, 2017

How to Spread Our Values

American elites flatter themselves in their belief that they understand the world, with its countless geographical, cultural and political cleavages. They theorize abstractly in Washington, meet with fellow elites at conferences in country capitals, and then delude themselves into thinking that they know the mind-set and reality of distant villages and border posts. This assumption of knowledge where little exists has been a factor in our misadventures in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere.

Tufts University political scientist Tony Smith calls such hubris “neo-Wilsonianism,” which he claims does violence to President Woodrow Wilson’s original and more nuanced vision of how to spread our values. “Why Wilson Matters” is a painstaking, take-no-prisoners attack on those who believe that America’s historical experience can be duplicated everywhere. Mr. Smith argues that liberal internationalism is now in deep crisis because of its own recent bent toward militarism and not because of the vision of America’s 28th president.

Wilson, the author writes, “tried to promote a concept of world order that would take this nation permanently out of isolationism.” The U.S. would claim a leadership role “in the name of promoting democratic governments, open markets, and . . . collective security.” Wilson wanted to replace the balance of power with a “community of power.” Over time, this shift turned out to be a successful grand strategy, Mr. Smith claims, culminating in the fostering of democracy in Japan and Germany after World War II and, later, in the creation of the European Union.

Read the full article at The Wall Street Journal.