Part 4 – The Tally….

This series of articles argues that Woodrow Wilson is the transformational political figure of the Twentieth Century. Draw the arc from the world of 1917 to the world of 2017 and see there is no other visionary who did more to make democratically elected governance a global reality. “Make the world safe for Democracy” was a challenge accepted and achieved. But the hidden and sunken costs to we, the American makers, should be tallied in judging the achievement.

Democratic governance is now the default state of world affairs. So, it follows that Woodrow Wilson is the Twentieth Century Lincoln, the great emancipator (even China owes a debt of thanks, rising from poverty within Wilson’s rights framework). Wilson stretched the cultural frontier, the frontier of the mind, for the world, and here at home. The frontier follow-on presidents used to build the machinery of the American super power. Wilson’s precedence vaulted America from a power based in bottom-up, highly adaptable and evolutionary small-government Republicanism, with an army smaller than Bulgaria’s, into a top-down driven, centralized-power colossus, at war in over a hundred countries. And these articles also argue that this is why we are frozen in non-adaptivity for the first era in our history.

Wilson’s making was completed at the historical moment Man had the power to blow up the world. In the World War 1 era, the capability for industrialized war outstripped all wisdom, as evidenced by the fact that nobody even knew what the war was about, beyond that it was all-consuming. They had no idea how to make it stop, beyond succumbing to exhaustion. The European “Great Game” had finally blown up in their faces. Without Wilson, we can foresee how squabbling empires, competing to extract value from subjects at home and in their colonial possessions, overlaid with a racist worldview, oblivious of the costs to their people, armed with atomic weaponry, looks like Man’s sure suicide cocktail. After all, in our wickedness, we needed another world war, a hundred times more damaging after the first. How did we avoid a third? The escape was in embracing the love of rights, and law, which are the only known peaceful ways of conflict resolution to man; the leap of peaceful civilization coming when these same principals were applied to nations (“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” – Albert Einstein).

But the tools needed to conduct the series of struggles of civilizational survival, spanning the globe, some wise, some foolish, were turned on domestic problems that the tools lacked the adaptability to solve.

And so, those problems we warred on, where a war model cannot work, remain stubbornly resistant to any measure of success, often over the latter half of Woodrow’s Century. When your tool is a hammer all problems look like nails. War and hammer go together, hammer and education, drug addiction, or poverty alleviation, does not. The wars may become obsolete, warriors moving on to other things, but the war-making institutions never do.

A war model only works for wars. Which brings us to the politically developed world’s essential question of what a government is for: a small band can be preyed upon by a large band, so defense efficiency is gained in organizing large bands. The defense of the interests of its people is very much the proper role of the State. Eliminate war, make wars unthinkable through progress, and what is the large band for? If you are Scotland, you cannot afford navy enough to defend your North Sea oil against the Kaiser. If you are Scotland, and the Kaiser’s descendants want to trade for your oil, why pay for a Royal Navy? A military should wax and wane, according to the threat to its nation’s security, and so should the State. Scotland needs less army than Israel.

The libertarian school of thought holds that the bands now are us, fighting each other for the governments’ largesse, the State now being primarily a wealth distribution institution (poverty was being reduced faster before the state became involved). This is the modern schizophrenia of more state, but less defense. It’s a non-violent struggle, (so far) very preferable to the pre-Wilsonian true wars to be sure. But it is still a recipe for division and conflict. And so we see this unfolding now, with internal conflict not known in America since the Civil war. The logic of scale holds for the civic war: if your rival has an organized political band, to guard your interests, you need a large band of your own. And this is precisely what is culminating in the age of Trump: squabbling narrow interests out to neutralize and defeat, rather than cooperate and build.

America’s experience with our domestic wars of the last half century has been the same as our experience with foreign wars of the last half century: if the problem cannot be stated in a simple, declarative sentence, the problem is too complex for a war model. Let’s call this the “Nicholas doctrine:” “Keep North Korea out” fits, as does “destroy Nazi Germany/Imperial Japan.”

“We will make the Muslims stop hating us, as well as build up institutions they never had to begin with, build a national consciousness, while keeping them from hating their leaders because their leaders always steal from them, while keeping the natural civil war among them from breaking out, while we build an army for a nation with no national consciousness, while killing them…” unfortunately for us, but catastrophically for them, despite all our Wilsonian romance, will never fit. “Fix intertwined mental illness, illegitimacy, drug addiction and dysfunctional culture, with unprecedented jailing” also won’t do. If the problem calls for an evolution, an adaptation based on feedback loops (the feedback loop of not being able to destroy the war obstacles), it is Yang to the war Yin.

The arguments of the proper reach and power of a centralized state has been the historical philosophical drama of the American nation: Hamilton vs Jefferson, centralized power vs de-centralized power, individual rights vs states’ rights, vs Federal rights, Blue State Red State, Civil War. We libertarians point out that the Jefferson school has not won an argument of substance in this country in two centuries. Our political development has been in one direction: the inexorable, irreversible mandate of Washington. In Europe, the Super-State can also march only in one direction, cannot be fine-tuned or made to adapt, and is changeable only through its destruction. To this author’s eyes, that is a feature of the EU, not a bug.

This is fitting: stability vs adaptation is also the evolutionary drama of nature herself.

Before the math of the tally of Wilson’s legacy, spare a thought about his character: he was a true racist of the old school, codifying race segregation into the government more than anyone else (still more power consolidation, harder to evolve away from). But he would not have gained election as leader of his people had he not also been very much a man of his time. That America was racially backward then is not debatable, and tearing down his statue, or braying for renaming schools will not make this history dissolve, even if we concede that it’s a good idea. These articles consider the grand sweep of history, and makes the case that without Wilson’s making there would have been no civilization left to purge racism from.

After doing the sums, the long division and the abstract calculus, I end up with: “Thanks Woodrow, for doing more than anyone to make political Western civilization a reality (the Europeans did well with arts and whatnot). Thank you for giving Nations conflict resolution tools only individuals had before, and in so-doing, kept us from burning up the world. A+ on intentions; B on implementation; C- for the work in progress for the American taxpayer who has to pay for it all (not his fault his European students refuse to pay for any making for the rest of the world). F for professorial arrogance, a mirror of his own life, and top-down deafness to sunken costs. But it has to be said that we’ve had hundreds of elections since, and with them, chances to reclaim our sovereignty. To this author, it’s unreasonable to blame Wilson, he’s been in his grave for nigh a century, just a man, trying to make the world better in his flawed way, like all the other American fathers. Of all people, flawed leaders should be accessible and acceptable to Americans. Maybe with the immense power they now hold, we subconsciously require they become more perfect. The Soviets could teach us a thing or two about the perversions of deifying leaders.

Thanks again, Woodrow.

Eugene Darden Nicholas

About Eugene Darden Nicholas

Eugene Darden (Ed) Nicholas is from Flushing Queens, where he grew up sheltered from the hard world, learning the true things after graduating college and becoming a paramedic in Harlem. School continues to inform and entertain in all its true, Shakespearean glory. It's a lot of fun, really. In that career, dozens of people walk the earth now who would not be otherwise. (The number depends on how literally or figuratively you choose to add). He added a beloved wife to his little family, which is healthy. He is also well blessed in friends and colleagues.


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