Wherever you stand on the political spectrum, there is no denying that we live in a broadly mixed-economy system, one that is extremely different from the kind of laissez-faire capitalist society we had over 100 years ago. Therefore, whenever we do espouse a broadly Wilsonian view, we should be careful that we not say that we are making the world safe for freedom.
It must be confusing for the American people to hear from presidents and members of Congress that we must protect freedom around the world when they may be struggling with economic institutions here at home that — as they see it — favor economic freedom over other democratic values, such as economic equality, economic justice and equality of opportunity.
Distorting our identity abroad distorts our domestic choices as well.
We didn’t win World War II or the Cold War with a laissez-faire capitalist economy, and we didn’t enter into World War I with one either — thanks to both Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.
Making the world safe for democracy — a mission that has many realist critics — is nonetheless a coherent approach to America’s foreign policy. Yet it should not be confused with making the world safe for freedom.
If we are not comfortable taking a strong Wilsonian stand on a particular foreign policy issue — whether it concerns Syria, Iran or North Korea — it is still important to understand what Wilsonian idealism is about and how some have manipulated it.
Members of Congress could take the lead on talking less about freedom and more about democracy.
David M. Anderson, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Advanced Governmental Studies in Washington, D.C.
An earlier version of this piece incorrectly listed the Food and Drug Act as one of the measures Wilson worked to pass.