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Woodrow Wilson: ‘Men are as clay in the hands of a consummate leader.’

Added: Monday, October 12th 2009 at 6:18pm by Leatherneck
Related Tags: politician



Dan Sherrier

Friday, I posted quotes from the first sitting U.S. President to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Theodore Roosevelt. Now here’s the second, Woodrow Wilson.

If you liked Teddy, you’ll love Woody!

Never trust a man with a monocle.

Wilson holds the distinction of being the first professor to become president. As such, he wrote much about his political philosophy before entering politics. It’s not fun reading by any means, but it shows a different version of Wilson than the whitewashed figure we’re taught in school.

He wrote a paper called “Leaders of Men” in 1889. In it, he wrote, “The competent leader of men cares little for the interior niceties of other people’s characters: he cares much everything for the external uses to which they may be put. His will seeks the lines of least resistance; but the whole question with him is a question as to the application of force. There are men to be moved: how shall he move them? He supplies the power; others supply only the materials upon which that power operates. The power will fail if it be misapplied; it will be misapplied if it be not suitable both in its character and in its method to the nature of the materials upon which it is spent; but that nature is, after all, only its means. It is the power which dictates, dominates; the materials yield. Men are as clay in the hands of the consummate leader.”

Picture him saying that last sentence while wearing his monocle…and then laughing maniacally.

More from that same paper: “Men are not led by being told what they don’t know. Persuasion is a force, but not information; and persuasion is accomplished by creeping into the confidence of those you would lead. Their confidence is gained by qualities which they can recognize, by arguments which they can assimilate: by the things which find easy entrance into their minds and are easily transmitted to the palms of their hands or the ends of their walking-sticks in the shape of applause.”

My translation: This is how you manipulate the common folk!

This lovely quote is attributed to Wilson: “No doubt, a lot of nonsense has been talked about the inalienable rights of the individual, and a great deal that was mere vague sentiment and pleasing speculation has been put forward as fundamental principle.”

Doesn’t sound too fond of an individual’s inalienable rights, does he? But does mere “clay” deserve such rights?

That quote I found in Jonah Goldberg’s book, Liberal Fascism. Certainly, reasonable people can disagree with Goldberg’s historical interpretations, and I’ve seen several reviews that do just that. But I haven’t come across anyone disputing the facts he presents. His chapter on Wilson alone is worth picking up the book.

But I’m not relying on Goldberg alone here. Here’s a 1912 campaign speech Wilson delivered in Scranton, Penn.

Wilson said, “Of course this was intended to be a government of free citizens and of equal opportunity, but how are we going to make it such? That is the question. Because I realize that while we are followers of Jefferson, there is one principle of Jefferson’s which no longer can obtain in the practical politics of America. You know that it was Jefferson who said that the best government is that which does as little governing as possible, which exercises its power as little as possible. And that was said in a day when the opportunities of America were so obvious to every man, when every individual was so free to use his powers without let or hindrance, that all that was necessary was that the government should withhold its hand and see to it that every man got an opportunity to act as he would. But that time is passed. America is not now and cannot in the future be a place for unrestricted individual enterprise. It is true that we have come upon an age of great cooperativeindustry. It is true that we must act absolutely upon that principle.”

Or you can translate that into, Just say “no” to limited government!

Wilson was the first president since Lincoln to make use of the draft. Goldberg quotes his defense of the policy: “It is in no sense a conscription of the unwilling; it is, rather, selection from a nation which has volunteered in mass.”

So…no individuals making individual choices about their service. Just a big collective mass. A mass to be manipulated through the use of propaganda.

For some strange reason, I still have my U.S. History Advanced Placement exam study guide from high school–an over 600-page book that concisely breezes through the past few hundred years.

The World War I chapter includes this information: “The U.S. government used techniques of both patriotic persuasion and legal intimidation to ensure public support for the war effort. Progressive journalist George Creel took charge of a propaganda agency called the Committee on Public Information, which enlisted the voluntary services of artists, writers, vaudeville performers, and movie stars to depict the heroism of the ‘boys’ (U.S. soldiers) and the villainy of the Kaiser. The vast amount of war propaganda under Creel’s direction consisted of films, posters, pamphlets, and volunteer speakers–all urging Americans to watch out for German spies and to ‘do your bit’ for the war. …

“The Espionage Act [of 1917] provided for imprisonment of up to 20 years for persons who either tried to incite rebellion in the armed forces or obstruct the operation of the draft. The Sedition Act went much further by prohibiting anyone from making ‘disloyal’ or ‘abusive’ remarks about the U.S. government. About 2,000 people were prosecuted under these laws, half of whom were convicted and jailed.”

In another book, “American Speeches: Political Oratory from Abraham Lincoln to Bill Clinton,” there’s a speech by Sen. Robert M. La Follete Sr. of Wisconsin, entitled “Free Speech in Wartime 1917,” delivered to the Senate Oct. 6 of that year.

La Follete said, “But, sir, it is not alone members of Congress that the war party in this country has sought to intimidate. The mandate seems to have gone forth to the sovereign people of this country that they must be silent while those things are being done by their government which most vitally concern their well-being, their happiness, and their lives. Today and for weeks past honest and law-abiding citizens of this country are being terrorized and outraged in their rights by those sworn to uphold the laws and protect the rights of the people. I have in my possession numerous affidavits establishing the fact that people are being unlawfully arrested, thrown into jail, held incommunicado for days, only to be eventually discharged without having been taken into court, because they have committed no crime. Private residences are being invaded, loyal citizens of undoubted integrity and probity arrested, cross-examined, and the most sacred constitutional rights guaranteed to everyAmerican citizen are being violated.

“It appears to be the purpose of those conducting this campaign to throw the country into a state of terror, to coerce public opinion, to stifle criticism, and suppress of the great issues involved in this war.”

So dissent was not tolerated during the Wilson administration, apparently. People were actually thrown into jail for their opinions, according to both La Follete and my old AP study guide. Please note: This has not happened during the Iraq War, and while the Department of Homeland Security’s “right-wing extremist” report may have been a cheap intimidation tactic and just plain wrong, it lacked the teeth of the Sedition Act.

Also of interest here is that La Follete’s 1917 speech talks about people “being unlawfully arrested,” but the Sedition Act wasn’t passed until 1918.

The same book that contains La Follete’s speech also prints Wilson’s 1919 League of Nations speech to the Senate.

Wilson said, “We entered the war as the disinterested champions of right and we interested ourselves in the terms of the peace in no other capacity.”

I thought the rationale for the U.S. getting involved in the first World War was because unarmed U.S. merchant ships were attacked by the Germans?

My AP study guide says, “In trying to steer a neutral course, however, Wilson soon found that it was difficult–if not impossible–to protect U.S. trading rights and maintain a policy that favored neither the Allied Powers … nor the Central Powers.” The U.S. had close economic links with the Allied Powers, the book says.

Nevertheless, Wilson told the Senate in 1919, “It was universally recognized that America had entered the war to promote no private or peculiar interest of her own but only as the champion of rights which she was glad to share with free men and lovers of justice everywhere.”

…Okay. Is this what Wilson considered “creeping into the confidence of those you would lead”?

Wilson had delusions of utopian grandeur: “And it [The League of Nations] had validated itself in the thought of every member of the Conference as something much bigger, much greater every way, than a mere instrument for carrying out the provisions of a particular treaty. It was universally recognized that all the peoples of the world demand of the Conference that it should create such a continuing concert of free nations as would make wars of aggression impossible. …

“The united power of free nations must put a stop to aggression, and the world must be given peace. If there was not the will or the intelligence to accomplish that now, there must be another and a final war and the world must be swept clean of every power that could renew the terror. The League of Nations was not merely an instrument to adjust and remedy old wrongs under a new treaty of peace; it was the only hope for mankind.”

Only hope for mankind, he said. Only.

“Again and again had the demon of war been cast out of the house of the peoples and the house swept clean by a treaty of peace; only to prepare a time when he would enter in again with spirits worse than himself. The house must now be given a tenant who could hold it against all such. Convenient, indeed indispensable, as statesmen found the newly planned League of Nations to be for the execution of present plans of peace and reparation, they saw it as the main object of peace, as the only thing that could complete it or make it worth while. They saw it as the hope of the world, and that hope they did not dare to disappoint. Shall we or any other free people hesitate to accept this great duty? Dare we reject it and break the heart of the world?”

I repeat: “Hope of the world.” “Dare we … break the heart of the world?”

Though America never joined it, the League of Nations did form. And World War II happened anyway.

So much for “the only hope for mankind.”

He won his Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Treaty of Versailles (in which the League of Nations was created.) So the Nobel was awarded for an effort that did not bring about a long-lasting peace.

Is that all the Nobel is? An award for effort? For fantasies of world peace? Or is that only part of it?

How do Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Barack Obama win this award, but Ronald Reagan–who was instrumental in bringing about a peaceful resolution to the Cold War, thereby averting nuclear war and saving countless lives–did not win a Nobel Peace Prize?

I know you don’t need me to spell out the differences between Reagan and the three Nobel winners.

That concludes our two-part historical lesson. Your regularly scheduled commentary on current events will resume shortly.

User Comments

Praise Ellah whom the Jews worship, Allaha whom the Christians worship (the Prophet Jesus Christ spoke Aramaic) and Allah whom the Muslims worship -- God -- for this information remains critical to understanding American politics. Actual quotes from a figure of controversy always clears things wonderfully. God bless you.

It looks like Obama has tried to take a page out of Wilson's book by silencing criticism of his administration by Foxnews. It didn't work. It probably has increased fox ratings.

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