The lowdown on the miscreant who got us into this mess: Woodrow Wilson

The constitution in Wilson’s reading had become a relic of a bygone era. He proposed to jettison this putatively archaic document in favor of a government less burdened by checks and balances. His first major publication in political theory, an 1879 essay titled “Cabinet Government in the United States,” preferred what he called the British Cabinet system to America’s separation of powers. What he advocated, of course, had nothing to do with the actual British Constitution, in which the monarchy restricts the capacity of a passing parliamentary majority to undertake drastic and permanent change. Wilson had proposed a sort of quasi-parliamentary dictatorship, with no appeal to natural or unchanging rights. Later he revised his views, resting his hopes on a strong executive Leader to direct the government and people into the future. Unfortunately, O’Toole barely mentions Wilson’s copious writing about political theory. Instead she writes that cabinet government appealed to him because he loved debating and oratory. In place of substance, the reader has a surfeit of personal detail about a rather vain, priggish, self-absorbed man whose favorite diversion was playing solitaire.

The same utilitarian criteria that Wilson applied to the Constitution guided his judgment about capitalism and socialism. He abandoned the personal God of his clerical antecedents in favor of the Social Gospel, to which he was introduced at Princeton by Richard T. Ely, a close friend and ally of movement founder Walter Rauschenbusch. As economists Clifford Thies and Gary Pecquet have observed, “Wilson believed that the difference between socialism and democracy was a matter of means rather than ends.”

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