The Idealist

From The Wall Street Journal:

If isolationist slogans such as “America First” drive you to despair, “The Idealist” might be the book for you. Imagine a time when a failed presidential candidate became a hero to millions for promoting internationalism. And not internationalism of the muscular Cold War variety but a dovish “interdependence.”

It happened in 1942. Wendell Willkie, the Republican nominee in 1940, had been thumped at the polls by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Two years later, with World War II raging, Willkie set off on a 31,000-mile goodwill trip to the Middle East, Africa, the Soviet Union and Asia.

Traveling on his own dime, as FDR’s “private citizen number one,” Willkie met heads of state, the leaders of colonial populations, Joseph Stalin, Chiang Kai-shek and, in exile in Beirut, a prickly Charles de Gaulle. From Baghdad to Chongqing, the hail-fellow-well-met Hoosier was greeted by thunderous crowds. Dispatched by FDR to give “pep talks” to American allies—and coax neutrals into the Allied camp—Willkie ended up delivering a very different message.

The war was being waged not only to defeat the fascist powers, he said, but to abolish colonialism. America should stop ignoring “the peoples of the East.” The Iraq Times saluted him as the “ideal democrat.” American correspondents ate it up—not just his message of “one world” but his informal strolls through old Baghdad, his tête-à-tête with Marshal Stalin, his decision to escort a young and eager shah of Iran on his first airplane ride.

After 49 days, he returned home to a Willkie boom. Letters and speaking invitations poured in. His book about his travels—“One World” was the inevitable title—sold 1.6 million copies. A presidential rematch seemed preordained.

In “The Idealist,” Samuel Zipp, a cultural and intellectual historian at Brown University, has captured Willkie’s “brief, blazing moment,” a little-remembered interlude when America was at war but already worrying about the postwar order. Younger readers, dismayed by today’s various nationalisms, may be comforted to learn that isolationist and internationalist impulses—like so much else—are cyclical phenomena. And Mr. Zipp stresses that internationalists come in two stripes—assertive nationalists (think Teddy Roosevelt) and global idealists.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)