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Wilsonian refers to the basic idealistic principles of President Woodrow Wilson as a formula to end World War I and achieve a world without war. Specifically it means his opposition to militarism and aristocracy, and his design for a League of Nations to keep the peace by reflecting the will of the people (which he assumed was basically hostile to war). It includes the notion of national self-determination and opposition to colonial empires, a theme picked ip in Ireland, India, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, which remains influential in the 21st century. Wilsonian indicates "idealism" in foreign policy, as opposed to a "realist" foreign policy that seeks to gain specific economic or military benefits for the nation.

The most famous expression was the Fourteen Points of 1918, that expressed Wilsonian war aims, and which Wilson personally worked to achieve at the Paris Conference of 1919. He was quite successful there but refused to include Republican leaders to help broaden the base of support for Wilsonianism. As a result, Henry Cabot Lodge demanded amendments to the Treaty of Versailles that Wilson rejected; the Senate failed to pass the Treaty and the U.S. never joined the League of Nations. Americans of the 1920s and 1930s largely rejected Wilsonianism; in the 1930s isolationism came into fashion. Franklin D. Roosevelt reinvigorated Wilsonianism by designing the United Nations, this time with Republican advice. The UN Charter included a veto for the U.S. of the sort Wilson had rejected.

Wilsonianism was revived after 2001 by President George W. Bush and his neoconservative advisors, who carried out an aggressive policy to promote democracy in the Middle East, including invasions of Afghanistan (2001- ) and Iraq (2003 -).

See also


  • Ambrosius, Lloyd E. Wilsonianism: Woodrow Wilson and His Legacy in American Foreign Relations (2002) excerpt and text search
  • Bucklin, Steven J. Realism and American Foreign Policy: Wilsonians and the Kennan-Morgenthau Thesis (2000) excerpt and text search
  • Kaufman, Robert Gordon. In Defense of the Bush Doctrine (2007) excerpt and text search
  • Knock, Thomas J. To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order (1995) excerpt and text search
  • Manela, Erez. The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (2007) excerpt and text search
  • Mead, Walter Russell, and Richard C. Leone. Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World (2002) excerpt and text search
  • Ninkovich, Frank. The Wilsonian Century: U.S. Foreign Policy since 1900 (2001) excerpt and text search
  • Perlmutter, Amos. Making the World Safe for Democracy: A Century of Wilsonianism and Its Totalitarian Challengers (1997) excerpt and text search
  • Price, Matthew, C. The Wilsonian Persuasion in American Foreign Policy (2007)
  • Steigerwald, David. Wilsonian Idealism in America (1994) excerpt and text search