The Wilsonian Moment: Self Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism

The Wilsonian Moment: Self Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism

Among those nations now paying close attention to Wilson's words and actions were the budding nationalist leaders of four disparate non-Western societies--Egypt, India, China, and Korea.

That spring, Wilson's words would help ignite political upheavals in all four of these countries.This book is the first to place the 1919 Revolution in Egypt, the Rowlatt Satyagraha in India, the May Fourth movement in China, and the March First uprising in Korea in the context of a broader "Wilsonian moment" that challenged the existing international order.

The rapid disintegration of the Wilsonian promise left a legacy of disillusionment and facilitated the spread of revisionist ideologies and movements in these societies; future leaders of Third World liberation movements--Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, and Jawaharlal Nehru, among others--were profoundly shaped by their experiences at the time.The importance of the Paris Peace Conference and Wilson's influence on international affairs far from the battlefields of Europe cannot be underestimated.

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When Wilson endorsed the principle of national self-determination and a rules-based international order at the end of WWI, he ignited the hopes of hundreds of millions of people in Africa and Asia who were then struggling to free themselves from the yoke of Western imperialism. Although Wilson endorsed the aspirations of these hopeful liberal nationalists almost by mistake, intending his words to mainly apply to the smaller nations of Europe, he ended up launching a vision of world order that could viably compete for the support of Asians and Africans against the siren song of Communist internationalism. Even during his own time Wilson balked at fulfilling the hopes of the Egyptians and Chinese who saw in his famous 14 Points a vision of their own freedom and emancipation from imperialism. Thwarted in the path of liberal reform that they chose (directly inspired by Wilsons own words and principles) these national movements ended up becoming more radical over time. Had Wilson seized the moment and acted differently, we may well be living in a much different world today, without the Chinese Communist Party, North Korea, Egyptian Arab Nationalism or Islamism and with a still-united and pluralistic India.

This 'Global' history of Wilson's Fourteen Points, and the expectations of self-determination that it aroused, and disappointed, in the Colonial World (specifically, Egypt, India, China and Korea) is an interesting and insightful read. In making the case that there was indeed such a moment, the book somewhat ignores the endogenous reasons, so often privileged in national histories, how such transformations came about.

Manela (sounds like manila) looks at Egypt, China, Korea, and India, all going through simultaneous nationalist uprisings against British and Japanese imperial shenanigans.

While various colonial nationalists interpreted (or chose to interpret) President Wilson's call to self-determination as a call for instant national autonomy, this was not Wilson's intent. Wilson felt, and certainly the Allied colonial powers of France and England agreed, that the time for full self-determination was not yet. Part II focuses on how the hopes of the various colonial nationalists were lifted by Wilson's rhetoric of self-determination. The final part of the book focuses on the tragic disappointment of the various colonial nationalists as they came to the realization that President Wilson was not the man they hoped he was. Each chapter is basically each of the four countries chosen by Manela effusively praising Wilson's advocacy for self-determination. Another shortcoming of the book is Manela's failure to deliver on his thesis about how the Wilsonian moment created a trans-national dialogue between the various colonial subject-states.

Focusing on Egypt, India, China, and Korea, it delves into how nationalist/anti-colonial movements in each country initially adapted Wilson's rhetoric of self-determination and vision of a democratic international order as momentum for independence in each area grew. Unfortunately, the failure of Wilson himself to advocate for self-determination and equality beyond Europe would lead to severe disappointment for these and other anti-colonial movements, many of which would turn to Marxist-Lenninism after the failure of Wilsonian liberal democracy. While the beginning and end do a good job of putting the information presented in the book in a transnational context, the chapters about each individual country make them seem more like national movements (with the exception of the Korean chapter mentioning Chinese support in passing).

That being said, I think Manela's work is a good start.

  • English

  • History

  • Rating: 3.78
  • Pages: 331
  • Publish Date: July 1st 2007 by Oxford University Press, USA
  • Isbn10: 0195176154
  • Isbn13: 9780195176155