Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wilson out of Context

This is a fun little piece. Kristie Miller and Robert H. McGinnis are reacting to this piece in an upcoming book:
George Will’s syndicated column of March 11 relies on phrases taken out of context to portray Woodrow Wilson as a rigid rationalist on the subject of love.


Will quotes Peter Beinart, from his forthcoming book, The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris. Woodrow Wilson, according to Will and Beinart, was impressed by the power of reason:
He even recommended to his wife that they draft a constitution for their marriage. Let's write down the basic rules, he suggested; 'then we can make bylaws at our leisure as they become necessary.' It was an early warning sign, a hint that perhaps the earnest young rationalizer did not understand that there were spheres where abstract principles didn't get you very far, where reason could never be king.
They argue that this was a love letter and Wilson was joking. He had just learned his fiancee, Ellen, was moving to New York from Georgia (he was in graduate school in Baltimore) and was thrilled with the prospect of her being so close. They gives us the entire context of that quote:
You assured my success last year beforehand by confessing your love for me, and now you are about to assure my success next year by proving your love for me. You are a truly delightful little person – my good genius! When you come we can plan the best way for making New York and Baltimore very close together. We’ll organize an inter-State Love League (of two members only, in order that it may be of manageable size) which will be as much better than the Art League as – as love is better than art. I’ll draw up a Constitution in true legal form, and then we can make by-laws at our leisure as they become necessary. . . . I love you and long for you more and more every day. You are my own matchless darling, and I am
Your own Woodrow


Just another reminder of how easy it is to take a piece of a quote and turn it into something else. More proof of why FULL FOOTNOTES are necessary (hint to the American Presidents' Series!).

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