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Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism (American Intellectual Culture) Paperback – January 17, 2005

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Editorial Reviews


The 'Era of Big Government'―and the idea that the national government ought to be adequate to any task the people ask of it―did not creep up on America unaware. It was a deliberate project, grounded in a critique of the original Constitution, bolstered by a new political science, and guided by a thorough-going confidence in historical progress. With clarity, conviction, and plenty of evidence, R. J. Pestritto shows that, from his early days as a political scientist through his election to the presidency, Woodrow Wilson was consistently a central figure in the development of Progressivism and so of the Liberalism that dominated twentieth-century American public policy and political life. Though Wilson was no philosopher-king, Pestritto explains that our doctor-of-philosophy-president changed how we think about democracy and about America, in ways that ought to be reappraised but have yet to be undone. (James R. Stoner, Jr., Louisiana State University)

Ronald Pestritto’s book is the deepest and most comprehensive treatment to date of Woodrow Wilson’s political thought. Pestritto has produced a masterful study of the origins of Wilson’s theoretical views, and he has carefully shown the connections between those views and Wilson’s positions on major constitutional and institutional questions. All interested in American political thought will appreciate this important work. (James Ceaser, University of Virginia)

In his brilliant new book, Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism, Ronald Pestritto painstakingly documents Wilson's debt to Hegel. (Paul Mirengoff and Scott Johnson The Daily Standard)

Pestritto offers an interesting read, with Wilson as a parallel to contemporary end of history commentary. Recommended. (CHOICE)

In a work that cuts against much of the existing scholarship on Wilson, Pestritto shows that Wilson held coherent and consistent political principles throughout his life, and that these principles put Wilson at the heart of the Progressive movement. Pestritto's case relies on an impressive and meticulous study of Wilson's own words―speeches and writings taken from every stage of Wilson's life―which makes this book all the more persuasive. (John Marini, University of Nevada, Reno)

Ronald J. Pestrito’s book is an in-depth, methodical analysis of Wilson’s political philosophy. This dense, but relatively short 7 chapter volume is opened by placing Wilson in context with historical thinking and the founding of America. In the introduction, Pestrito lays out the foundation for the book. He contrasts the fundamental difference between Wilson’s political philosophy and that of the Founders. This difference stems from the framers’ core belief in inalienable, trans-historical truth and Wilson’s belief in historicism and the adapted tenets of German philosophers, notably Hegel. (What Would the Founders Think?)

About the Author

Ronald J. Pestritto is Charles and Lucia Shipley Chair in the American Constitution at Hillsdale College and a research fellow at the Claremont Institute.

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Product Details

  • Series: American Intellectual Culture
  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (January 17, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0742515176
  • ISBN-13: 978-0742515178
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #394,008 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

157 of 164 people found the following review helpful By Robert Stevens on June 1, 2009
Format: Paperback
While also reading one of the commonly acknowledged biographies of Wilson, I came across this book. The biography presents Wilson's social life in great and tedious detail, but says very very little about who he was and why he did what he did. Pestrito's book correct this defect. Wilson believed in the supremacy of The State above the individual. He was educated by Historicists who did not believed the Theory of Natural Rights as embodied in the Declaration and the Constitution. They latched on to Darwinism and corrupted it into a vision of perfection of mankind through perfection of the State. This book makes clear the roots of the philosophy but tells the story in clear and readily understandable terms. It is a page turner, not a sleep inducer. I would heartily recommend it for those interested in the intellectual history of the modern era.
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199 of 213 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Nolan on March 17, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a well-documented and eye-opening examination of a forgotten (suppressed?) period in presidential politics and American history.

Scholarly, but not pedantic, it peels the onion-layers off of Wilson's political ideology, exposes its Hegelian historicist roots, and cogently supports Jonah Goldberg's claim that "it has happened here." Fascism, that is.

Moreover, by demonstrating that Wilson's thorough-going racism, disdain for the constitution and the principles it was based on, were firmly anchored in (Hegelian) progressivism, it makes one wonder why anyone would willingly claim the title of "progressive" today.

Have a pen handy for underlining passages, find a comfortable chair, and enjoy the ride!
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203 of 218 people found the following review helpful By M. Parks on June 16, 2007
Format: Paperback
This only being the third book I've read on Woodrow Wilson's political thought, I was struck by its argument--Wilson subverted the ideas of the Founders by his progressivism and his progressive thought is consistent throughout his writings (cf. Thorsen). Arguing that Wilson significantly diverged from the political thought of the Founders, Pestritto is critical of Wilson and brings to bear upon his argument insightful context that had a substantial influence upon Wilson's intellect. Pestritto is convincing throughout and each of his chapters are clearly organized so that the reader easily follows. One thing I had a hard time buying was the weight he gave Hegel in Wilson's thought. Nevertheless, the book is deeply read in the primary literature and is conversant with the secondary. I found it helpful in writing a paper and looking for how to approach Wilson's writings, in terms of specific pieces and interpretation, and where to look for other sources.
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86 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Alexander R. Hicks on October 12, 2009
Format: Paperback
The title of the book tells all: Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism. Dr Pestritto does not say that `Liberalism is a good thing'. Nor does he say that it is a bad thing. He merely states that it is, and shows how it came to be in these States, largely due to the efforts of one Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Ph. D. (Johns Hopkins). It is not Dr P's desire or intent to pass judgment on Dr W's cogitations or the value of them; all he does is track their evolution, and convolutions, and how they grew and bore something akin to fruit. Whatever your political preferences, and mine will become increasingly obvious as you read this review, you will learn from this volume how Dr Wilson's largely derivative political thought evolved, and how he influenced `progressive' politicians amongst his contemporaries, and continues so to do until this very now. It is interesting to note that as an hundred years ago, so to-day: that those who would rule us have taken to calling themselves `progressive' rather than `liberal'; as the latter has become a term of opprobrium, whilst `progress' is still thought of as a Good Thing though toward what we are progressing is left undefined. Progressives owe Dr Wilson an immense debt of gratitude, and should erect a statue in his honour. Conservatives, on the other hand - those who love the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and appreciate liberty - might do well to learn from him, however much they may yearn to see him hanged, for if one knows the plans of one's foes one is far better equipped to foil them.

Five stars are all that are allowed; I would give ten, and more if asked.

Now, I shall doubtless meander a good deal, in this review, for I am old and a fool, and rambling is one of the compensations God grants old fools.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Edward W. Goggin on September 22, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
DrEwgog (Croton NY)
At a dinner recently, after mislabeling me in a dismissive fashion, an old adversary went on to describe his own position as "progressive." His audience responded to the word as if it conjured lullabies about puppies and colored ribbons. They had absolutely no concept of what is meant by the word, no notion of how the adherents of this movement have damaged and continue to threaten the liberty most of us cherish. Ronald Pestritto`s book goes a long way in informing his readers concerning the actual nature of progressivism and how it figured prominently in Wilson`s thought, and he does this in a mature, dispassionate fashion without recourse to snide asides or petulant rants. While this book is a well-documented scholarly work, it remains eminently readable. I think you will find it well worth your time and money.
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