6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
Moynihan Board Room

Why Wilson Matters: The Origin of American Liberal Internationalism and Its Crisis Today

As revealing about the American past as it is about the American present, Why Wilson Matters explains how the liberal internationalist community might regain a sense of its identity today. Doing so, Tony Smith argues, requires scrapping the notion that American power can democratize vast parts of the globe, while also opposing the Trump administration’s anti-Wilsonian policies – and finding a way back to "realistic liberalism."

Drawing on the 28th president's writings, speeches, and policy choices, Smith reveals the development of Wilson's thinking, culminating in his hopes for the League of Nations in 1919. Tracing the evolution of the liberal internationalist tradition from its origins with Wilson, through it "hegemonic" phase during the Cold War, and into an "imperialist" stage under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Smith assesses the chances for its rebirth in our current geopolitical climate.



  • Robert S. Litwak

    Senior Vice President and Director of International Security Studies


  • Tony Smith

    Public Policy Scholar
    Cornelia M. Jackson Professor of Political Science, Tufts University
  • John Milton Cooper

    Global Fellow, former public policy scholar, former Senior Scholar
    Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin