Was Woodrow Wilson A Naive Idealist?

Wilson had a clear and definite vision for the US’s future role in world affairs, as evidenced by his fourteen points speech, his overwillingness to c

The Case that the witch-hunt was a woman-hunt is a strong one (Larner) discuss?

The witch-hunts across Europe saw the mass slaughter of nine million women who were thought to be witches. These women were killed over a period of three hundred years, with the most concentrated killings in places such as Germany, Spain and Italy.[1] The story of witchcraft is primarily the story of women and this has caused much fascination and a certain elusiveness when approaching the subject.[2] The organised persecution of the witches began officially on December 9th 1484 when Pope Innocent VIII asked Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger to define witchcraft, isolate the modus operandi of the witches and to standardise the trial procedures and sentencing.[3] It was as a result that Kramer and Sprenger produced a text called “Malleus Maleficarum” which would become a hugely influential text in the events of witch persecution and in these gender-specific views of witchcraft. Due to the gender-specificity that surrounds the subject of witchcraft we are confronted with ideas about women, fears about women and the place of women in society during these times. Scholars such as Carol Kerslen, Lyndal Roper and Christina Larner gradually moved gender, and to some extent sexuality, to the centre of the analysis of witchcraft, which influenced interests in artists such as Baldung, for whom gender and sexuality were critical themes.[4]Many feminists jump to conclusions of gender-specific genocide due to what they believe was a woman-hating crime. However, it is important also to focus on the socio-economic context in which these trials took place in order to make a fair judgement on the gender-specificity that is so often associated with witchcraft.

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The Malleus Maleficarum is often the focus of many studies into witchcraft due to its important influence during the period. This demonological treatise was written by Kramer and Sprenger, it is often used as evidence by radical feminists of the misogyny among elites, who are seen as the driving force behind the top-down persecutions of witches.[5] The title of the work itself is female-specific, with the term maleficarum translating as women evil-doers. This feminine possessive in the Latin title shows it’s focus on the female gender, if the book were to have focused on both males and females then ‘maleficarum’ would have been replaced by ‘maleficorum’.[6] Throughout the text it is women who are specifically referred to, in the book men are most often described as accomplices rather than witches themselves. When asked why there is more harmful magic found in the female sex than in the male sex Kramer answered “because of the fleshly lust, which in [women] is never satisfied.”[7] It is clear that there was a gender-bias or a gender-specificity around the notions of witchcraft, and this dominated its surrounding ideology and the main literature upon the subject. The Malleus Maleficarum was of great influence during the period, it was high Catholic theology and working catholic jurisprudence.[8] The work had been issued for creation by the Pope himself and so held great importance. In the dark ages few people could read and books were hard to come by, the printing press has only been developed 34 years previously in 1850 Germany. This meant that literacy rates and the availability of prints for those in the lower sectors of society were not still readily available or improved at this point. However, the Malleus was printed in numerous editions and had been read by almost every judge in Europe, it appeared that the Malleus Maleficarum had more currency then the bible.[9]

What made this piece of literature regarding the definitions of witchcraft so influential is the power and authority it held due to its lawful reinforcement. Anyone who challenged the Malleus Maleficarum, anyone who refuted its authority or questioned its credibility on any level was guilty of heresy, a capital crime.[10] The Malleus Maleficarum was probably the most influential piece written on witchcraft, it was the most widely spread, the most lawfully and religiously backed, but it was also extremely gender-specific towards women.

This literary work helped to instil a stereotype of the witch, the stereotype being woman. The definition of woman, in common with the pornographic definition, is her carnality; the essence of her character, in common with the fairy-tale definition, is her malice and avarice.[11]In fact the stereotype of a witch in Christian Europe has always been that of a woman. For example, in twelfth-century Russia the authorities in one district became so anxious about the prevalence of witchcraft that they began to round up the entire female population.[12] Ideas of female evil-doers as suggested in the title of the Malleus Maleficarum stemmed back to the religious creation of the world. A women was believed to be more carnal than a man, this carnality originated from eve’s very own creation, she was formed from a bent rib, and also caused the fall of Eden.[13] As a result, women have suffered, forever being painted with the same religious brush of being a source of evil and carnality. A witch was seen as an independent adult women who does not conform to the male idea of proper female behaviour.[14] However, it was not just female sexuality that made them evil, but also female knowledge, many feminists claim that anything that made a women something other than helpless was perceived as threatening and labelled evil.[15]

Perhaps a strong case for witch-hunting being parallel to women-hunting, is the idea that women were labelled witches, and could not prove themselves innocent by any means. This meant that women were doomed to persecution because of their gender and its gender-specific associated stereotypes. Women finds herself entirely defined by her sexuality. It was believed that sexuality makes women evil, therefore virginity/chastity is glorified in women as it is the opposite of sexuality.[16] However, it is ironic that while all witchcraft comes from carnal lust – which is in women insatiable – this carnal lust, this desire for sex, is what populates the world. If all women are evil-doers, if Eve is the basis for all women stereotypes then why is it that women are the exclusive holders of bearing life? Other indicators that are described in the Malleus Maleficarum also guide us to the interpretation that women were inevitably doomed to persecution. A women’s virtue is seen to be silence, and yet in a witchcraft trial, if the women remains silence she is condemned for withholding her confession, yet it she confesses then she is condemning herself.[17] There is a similar paradox in the women’s ability to bear pain, if she breaks down through pain of torture and confesses she is condemned, however if she remains strong and recovers she is condemn also. Still further, if a women weeps under torture it is interpreted as a sign of her sins and so condemns her, yet if her eyes do not weep she is condemned for witchcraft.[18] This suggests that once put to trial for partaking in witchcraft the women is entirely at the mercy of the educated men who judge, torture and condemn her, almost without escape.

Feminists take this inescapability as evidence of patriarchy exerting its control over women in order to curb the perceived threat to men’s dominance that is caused through women’s allegedly rapacious sexuality.[19] It is believed that as soon as a women transitions from ‘virgin’ to ‘sexual’, there is a potential for power over a man[20], and so she becomes a symbol of demonology, of relations with the devil. Radical feminists also suggest that society believed that all women threaten male hegemony with their exclusive power to give life; and so social order depends on women conforming to male ideals of female behaviour.[21] Threats to social order, threats of women’s sexuality are usually blamed for the persecutions of women during the witch-hunts in Europe. Most of the ideas put forward as to why women posed a threat to man, and why the witch-hunts could be seen as gender-specific are put forward by feminists. First wave feminists ( such as the American Suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage) asserted that nine million people were executed as witches, with old women, wise women and the priestesses of anti-Christian cults being particular targets.[22] However, second wave feminists further in their ideas of the witch-hunts, painting them as a ‘gendercide’, a female targeted death hunt. They believed that witch-hunting was an egregious example, not just of patriarchal oppression, but also of genocide and it was in fact the deliberate killing of women.[23] This deliberate killing of women is made acceptable and almost encouraged by the Malleus Maleficarum due to its emphasis on the female gender and their witchcraft qualities. However, it is important to understand that women were not just persecuted, they also acted as the accusers. Women often accused other women of witchcraft and were often the ‘chief witnesses in the courts’.[24] This suggests that while witch-hunts were related to the female gender, they were not gender-exclusive. Women could accuse other women, and men could be persecuted. Yet, feminists disregard this evidence that goes against that misogyny of witch-hunting. Instead they believe that this line of reasoning is based on a failure to recognise that a patriarchal structure divides women, and that their livelihood is dependent on the goodwill of men.[25] Therefore, women would accuse other women, not to satisfy themselves, but to protect the livelihood of conformist women against non-conformist women, they would also do so under the pressures of their husbands and fathers.

This huge split in the ideology of witch-hunting and its gender relations is caused by the lack of concrete evidence to support either side. Facts and figures from the period, from all over Europe, are at best good estimates of the real numbers of those persecuted. Figures range from thousands to millions when talking about the amount that died from persecutions, and the gender ratios are no more accurate. However, in spite of this, the evidence provided is used in the debate of gender-specificity surrounding the witch-hunts and therefore must be looked at and discussed.

Figures suggest that in areas at the centre of the witch-hunt, places such as Germany, France, Switzerland and Scotland, 80% of those persecuted were females, with figures reached an estimate of 95-100% in the areas on the periphery such as England and Russia.[26] The ratio of women to men burned is variously estimated at 20 to 1 for women and 100 to 1 for men.[27] Those men who were persecuted were often the family of convicted women witches, or were in positions of civil power with political ambitions that conflicted with those of the church or monarch.[28] In fact, witchcraft which is seen as the ultimate human evil was sex-specific in just the same proportion as sanctity which is seen as the ultimate human good was sex-specific to males during the ‘sanctity epidemic’ of the later Middle Ages.[29]

Most works conclude that witches were scapegoats for hostilities and tensions that had little to do with sex or gender.[30] Radical feminist writings have had a significant influence on the perceptions of witchcraft outside academia, its emphasis on witches being gender-specific to women had become a strong stereotype when one thinks of the witch-hunts. However, academic historians are dismissive of such interpretations, criticising radical feminists for their assumptions that witch-hunting was ‘woman-hunting’, their over reliance on the Malleus, their unwillingness to engage with manuscript records or witch trials and their ahistorical use of the terms misogyny and patriarchy which downplays the historical specificity of early modern culture and society.[31] Christina Larner herself is reluctant to suggest that witch-hunting was gender-specific because of this academic dismissiveness. Instead she concludes that the witch-hunts were ‘sex-related not sex-specific’[32] , however she strongly backs the argument that witch-hunting was still in fact women-hunting because of this relation. This leaves the distinction between sex-related and sex-specific unclear, if both inevitably lead to the assumption that the hunt was still a hunt on women. This dismissiveness between historian and feminist is causing a problem when it comes to the clarity of sex relations between women and witchcraft. The antipathy many academic historians feel towards feminism in general and radical feminism in particular can be counterproductive as it discourages them from engaging with any helpful insights feminism has to offer into the gendering of witchcraft prosecutions, particularly in relation to the analysis of patriarchy.[33] Those few historians who have seriously addressed the question of women and witchcraft only briefly discuss misogyny of the period, but focus more on the social and economic reasons for the high percentage of women that were persecuted. However, most radical feminist interpretation of witch-hunting emerged in the context of feminist’s political activism outside academia, and were thus polemically and historically inaccurate.[34]

There is a huge correlation between women and witchcraft persecutions, and this is to do with the age-old stereotypes of women evildoers that stem from eve. Women were more likely to be persecuted because they were more likely to believe to be witches, had men been acting in the same way it is very much doubtful that they would have been accused to be a witch to the same majority in comparison. Therefore the witch-hunts were women-hunts in the sense that women were targeted substantially more than men, whether they were accused other women or not, they were still the distinct majority of the witch-hunts.

[1] Andrea Dworkin, Our Blood : Prophecies and Discourses on Sexual Politics, ( New York : G.P Putnam Sons, 1967).

[2] Carol F. Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman, (New York : W. W. Norton & Company, 1987).

[3] Andrea Dworkin, Our Blood.

[4] Brian P. Levack, The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America, (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2013).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Sister Trinity, ‘Gynocide : The Holocaust of Women’http://passtheflamingsword.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/gynocide-the-holocaust-of-women/

[7] Brian P. Levack, The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft.

[8] Andrea Dworkin, Our Blood.

[9] Andrea Dworkin, Woman Hating, (New York : Penguin Group, 1974).

[10] Andrea Dworkin, Our Blood.

[11] Andrea Dworkin, Woman Hating.

[12] Darren Oldridge, The Witchcraft Reader, (London : Routledge, 2002).

[13] Andrea Dworkin, Our Blood.

[14] Darren Oldridge, The Witchcraft Reader.

[15] Sister Trinity, ‘Gynocide : The Holocaust of Women’.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Sister Prudence Allen, The concept of Woman : The early humanist reformation 1250-1500, (Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing & Co, 2002),

[18] Ibid.

[19] Brian P. Levack, The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft.

[20] Sister Trinity, ‘Gynocide : The Holocaust of Women.

[21] Darren Oldridge, The Witchcraft Reader.

[22] Brian P. Levack, The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Darren Oldridge, The Witchcraft Reader.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Darren Oldridge, The Witchcraft Reader.

[27] Andrea Dworkin, Our Blood.

[28] Andrea Dworkin, Woman Hating.

[29] Darren Oldridge, The Witchcraft Reader.

[30] Carol F. Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman.

[31] Brian P. Levack, The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft.

[32] Darren Oldridge, The Witchcraft Reader.

[33] Brian P. Levack, The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft.

[34] Brian P. Levack, The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft.


ompromise (in trying to further domestic program agenda, and at the Paris conference), and in his allowing the League of Nations to die when it did not fit his original plans. Wilson’s ideas are used even to this day, where Americans, in any conflict regarding foreign policy, see themselves as the force of morality and their opponents as being evil, or corrupted. Also, Americans still believe in the need to spread the ideals of democracy around the world. The fact that Wilson has left so strong of a legacy on Americans shows that his ideals were not naïve, but instead very well thought out and comprehensive.

Pro Summary: Wilson characterized as a noble idealist whose principles have made it difficult for later presidents to develop a foreign policy based on national self-interest. (Kissinger)

Believed that America’s global influence was dependent on its selflessness

Was able to take once isolationist US into war by first asserting to the public that his administration was devoted to peace.

Affirmed that US sought no other gain than to vindicate its principles.

Based foreign policy on moralistic ideals like the spread of democracy and spread of American principles as opposed to recognizing issues with balance of power.

Had the conviction that the Anglo-Saxon race was superior and had the duty to remake world in their image

He thought peace was based on universal law and national trustworthiness instead of equilibrium and national self-assertion.

No other country has based international leadership on altruism instead of national interests.

Entrance into WWI was not based on national interests at all but rather about moral foundations and abiding by the universal law. The effect of such a moral basis leads to total victory as the only valid goal so compromise is not possible.

He didn’t understand that the war was actually based on clashing of national interests and power struggle in Europe.

Fourteen Points Speech- tried to affirm that war was being fought for moralistic ideals, as opposed to power struggle.

He immaturely supported the idea of the League of Nations

Believed in morality of the universe, and that nations of the world all interested in protecting peace

He thought the war had resulted simply out of public ignorance bt the actual causes were much more complicated.

Basic premise behind the League of nations was naive because in nearly all difficult cases nations tend to disagree about the nature of a threat or discrepancy ie. Italian aggressions and the Bosnian crisis

Inflexible in ideals

Caused by the moral foundation that he was built upon

Inflexibility evidenced by tenure at Princeton, and his many strict changes to the school

Con Summary: Wilson understood better than his nationalistic opponents the new international role that America would play in world affairs and was therefore not a naïve idealist. (Carleton)

Wilson is being judged by personality traits: double standard at work.

Wilson was said to be naïve even though he wanted to preserve a power balance by preventing Germany from being partitioned but FDR and TR supported harsh peace and forced unconditional surrender understood it.

Long term program for America today is still based on Wilsonian liberalism- advocacy of American values like collective security, self-determination, and democracy

At the Paris conference, European diplomats were impressed at Wilson’s negotiating skills: compromised too much

He repeatedly helped make compromises between liberals and conservatives in the Democratic Party and thus was able to pass the Federal Reserve Act, the Clayton Anti-Trust Law, the Federal Trade Commission, and more.

In truth, Wilson ‘compromised too much.’ Claim that he is stubborn is based entirely from fight in the Senate over ratification of the League of Nations

Claim that he killed his own brainchild, the League of Nations, is unfounded in that Wilson knew that even if he attempted to appease the southerners, Lodge would eventually put enough reservations on it so as to emasculate it.

Truly shows Wilson’s determination and consistency in wanting to create a fully functional League

Wilson had already attempted to satisfy Lodge with the inclusion of safeguards in the Leauge, but Lodge continued to use the Reservations to change the entire proposal

If Wilson had tried to go on with Lodge’s reservations, other Nations probably wouldn’t even join because of the fact that the other nations had to become signees before America even signed on, and thus they became suspicious of the agreement.

Wilson’s ideals and principles were not even naïve

Wilson’s peace without Victory speech demonstrates he had a clear understanding of the balance of power.

Able to steer US from war with Mexico, despite tensions, and used diplomatic understanding to help the Mexican revolution be successful.

He understood that the only way to prevent war in the future was through collective security- League of Nations. Comparable to today’s UN

Knew that dividing Germany would not help create a power balance.

Able to keep up with need for domestic social reform

Wilson’s invasion of Haiti in 1915 ended bloody civil war

Administration expanded American bureaucracy and was the inspiration for FDR’s New Deal.

The Treaty of Versailles was the best peace it could have been considering the circumstances and brought forth many revolutionary ideas: The mandate system helped prepare colonies for independence, preventing portioning of Germany, success in confining German responsibilities to civilian damage and Allied military pensions instead of the whole cost of the war.


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