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COPYRIGHT NOTICE: G. John Ikenberry, Thomas J. Knock, Anne-Marie Slaughter & Tony Smith: The ... - page 14 / 25





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The Future of Liberal Internationalism


W i l s o n s p r o p o s a l s a t V e r s a i l l e s w e r e p r e m i s e d o n a b e l i e f t h a t t h world was in the midst of a major democratic revolution. The crowds who cheered him in Europe in the winter of 1918/19 seemed to be conrma- tion of this fast-developing global revolution. Russia’s revolution was ini- tially seen in this light. With the assumption that Europe and the wider world would embrace American democratic principles, Wilson could pass over otherwise thorny issues of the postwar settlement. His view that a democratic revolution was gaining strength—not an altogether silly idea when he headed for Paris in December 1918—meant that history was on his side and its forces would bring leaders to power in Europe who would buy into his new vision. Alas, in retrospect, the winter of 1918/19 was a democratic high tide rather than a gathering ood—at least as world- historical events mattered for the peace treaty and League of Nations.19 But Wilson would not be surprised that in the century to follow the forces of history would again push the world toward democracy, trade, and the rule of law.20 e

Finally, the United States was at the vanguard of this movement, and it had special responsibilities to lead, direct, and inspire the world due to its founding ideas, geopolitical position, and enlightened leadership (which meant Wilson himself). America was the great moral agent in his- tory. America was God’s chosen midwife of progressive change. Thus, Wilson was not advocating American hegemonic dominance of the global system. Indeed, he was directly rejecting traditional geopolitical domi- nance by the great powers—America and the European state—of the in- ternational system. This vision of America leading the world to a better place is captured in one of Wilson’s last speeches in support of the League of Nations, delivered in Pueblo, Colorado, on 25 September 1919. In the nal sentences of his address, Wilson said: “There is one thing that the American people always rise to and extend their hand to, and that is the truth of justice and of liberty and of peace. We have ac- cepted that truth and we are going to be led by it, and it is going to lead us, and through us the world, out into pastures of quietness and peace such as the world never dreamed of before.”

Woodrow Wilson’s vision embodied impulses toward both “liberal in- ternationalism” and “liberal imperialism” (or “liberal interventionism”), an awkward and problematic duality that persists today within the liberal

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