McCarthy, the Wilsonite

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Ralph Raico’s ironically titled Great Wars & Great Leaders compares Woodrow Wilson to Joseph McCarthy — unfavorably:

We have all been made very familiar with the episode known as “McCarthyism,” which, however, affected relatively few persons, many of whom were, in fact, Stalinists. Still, this alleged time of terror is endlessly rehashed in schools and media. In contrast, few even among educated Americans have ever heard of the shredding of civil liberties under Wilson’s regime, which was far more intense and affected tens of thousands.

When swine flu was recently in the news, I decided to read about the 1918 flu, and I was amazed by just how fascist the country seemed at the time. Here’s Raico’s take on the war-time regime:

Wilson sounded the keynote for the ruthless suppression of anyone who interfered with his war effort: “Woe be to the man or group of men that seeks to stand in our way in this day of high resolution.” His Attorney General Thomas W. Gregory seconded the President, stating, of opponents of the war: “May God have mercy on them, for they need expect none from an outraged people and an avenging government.”

The Espionage Act of 1917, amended the next year by the addition of the Sedition Act, went far beyond punishing spies. Its real target was opinion. It was deployed particularly against socialists and critics of conscription. People were jailed for questioning the constitutionality of the draft and arrested for criticizing the Red Cross. A woman was prosecuted and convicted for telling a women’s group that “the government is for the profiteers.” A movie producer was sentenced to three years in prison for a film, The Spirit of ’76, which was deemed anti-British. Eugene V. Debs, who had polled 900,000 votes in 1912 as presidential candidate of the Socialist Party, was sentenced to ten years in prison for criticizing the war at a rally of his party.


  1. The World War I featured the last gasp of traditional American mob repression that formed the primary pillar of American social control from colonial times up to the 1920s. As Mencius Moldbug has commented, that social phenomenon was one of the few manifestations of something resembling the ideal of American democracy. It’s decline led inexorably to the inefficiency of modern American social control since top down control from the State is far less efficient than emergent mob control on the local level.

  2. Isegoria says:

    In reading about the 1918 flu, one thing that stood out was the paramilitary nature of the Red Cross. Men were expected to volunteer for the Army, where they’d serve as soldiers, and women were expected to volunteer for the Red Cross, where they’d serve as nurses.

    The nationalism of the era is downright shocking to a modern American, especially given how peripheral a war in Europe could have — or should have — been to the Americans an ocean away from the trenches. As I recall, Philadelphia city officials refused to call off an enormous bond rally parade, despite warnings that the flu epidemic had just reached the city, and they didn’t have the resources to treat a surge in patients. It didn’t end well.

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