In this article, two of the site administrators explain their current reasons for why they think Woodrow Wilson is an ISTJ. Of the three articles on Woodrow Wilson’s type provided by this site, only the present article can be taken to represent the official views and type assessments of the site.
By Ryan Smith and Eva Gregersen
As explained in the hub post on Woodrow Wilson, we as the admins of the site find ourselves engaged in informed disagreement with contributing guest writer Dylan Shapiro, who has argued at length that Wilson is an INTJ. In this post, we will present our case for Woodrow Wilson as an ISTJ. But first, some quotes:
“Wilson was a Ph.D. and the former President of Princeton University. To historians, he is one of their own; and so all his … folly is happily overlooked.” – Kelley L. Ross: The Great Republic, Woodrow Wilson
“Multitudes of his lieges regarded [Wilson] as the wisest man since Solomon, and there were plenty who suspected that he was actually divine.” – H.L. Mencken: American Mercury, October 1931
“[Wilson] was not a cold intellectual or distant messiah, two stereotypes born in Wilson’s failed struggle over the League of Nations. Nor was he even a ‘Wilsonian’ … he would hardly recognize the self-aggrandizing ideals that now bear his name.” – The New York Times: He Was No Wilsonian, December 10, 2009
As these quotes show, Wilson is surrounded by a tradition of scholarship that tends to imbue him with every conceivable virtue. Conversely, a subset of scholars has taken stock of this trend and has started to produce their own instances of counter-history, which predictably construe Wilson as nothing less than the Antichrist himself. To steer clear of both these pitfalls, we shall therefore go for a “nuts and bolts”-style presentation where we seek to remain as close to Wilson’s own words as possible and attempt to keep our generalizations and references to what historians think to a minimum.
Since this piece was written as a counter-piece to Shapiro’s case for Wilson as an INTJ, we thought it would be fitting to let Shapiro suggest the text for us to use as the basis of our argument. In Shapiro’s view, Wilson’s essay, On the Writing of History, represents a particular strong example of Wilson’s alleged Ni dominance. Hence this article will concern itself with what we might learn of Wilson’s type on the basis of that essay.
Background of ‘On the Writing of History’
On the Writing of History first appeared in 1895, when Wilson was about 40 years old. In this essay, Wilson examines the perennial dispute over whether history should be a science or an art and concludes that there need not be a conflict between the two. If one interprets and analyzes the facts, rather than blindly passing them on to the reader, then substance and style can happily coexist.
Following the overall course of the argument, Wilson opposes the ‘new’ way of writing history, where the historian tries to be objective and eschew all art and style:
“The old chroniclers, whom we relish, were not dispassionate. … But our modern chroniclers are. … They are, above all things else, knowing, thoroughly informed, subtly sophisticated. They would not for the world contribute any spice of their own to the narrative; and they are much too watchful, circumspect, and dutiful in their care to keep their method pure and untouched by any thought of theirs to let us catch so much as a glimpse of the chronicler underneath the chronicle. Their purpose is to give simply the facts, eschewing art, and substituting a sort of monumental index and table of the world’s events.” – Wilson: On the Writing on History
In other words, Wilson criticizes the new ‘mechanical’ historians who aspire to be scientific. In Wilson’s view, in order to write good history it is not enough to merely present the naked facts of past events to the reader. The writing of history as a “monumental index and table of the world’s events” is not the kind of history that Wilson advocates. In fact, he opposes it.
Now, if we adopt a Myers-Briggsian approach to Jungian typology, it would seem that Wilson is revealing an Intuitive mindset here: As that thinking goes, the people who want the facts, with accuracy and “just as they are,” are S types, while the people who think behind the facts, or want “something more,” are N types.
However, there are several problems with this approach: First, in terms of the textbook definitions of the functions, it might be argued that Wilson is first and foremost opposing, not Si or Se, but Te-style history in this quote. Second, as we all know, Jungian functions (unlike the “four dimension”-approach of the MBTI instrument) pertain to how information is organized and structured in the psyche. It is a theory about psychic processes, not psychic conclusions – an S type could arrive at an “N-style” conclusion and vice versa. Third, since typology is a psychological discipline, we cannot expect people to express the workings of the functions directly. Rather, we have to develop a phenomenological representation of what the other person’s cognition is like.
For example, in Shapiro’s piece, analyzing Wilson’s own words, Shapiro writes: “Wilson does not speak of the subjective distortion that psychologically implies Ni,” as if we should expect to find Ni types speaking directly of the mechanics of Ni in this manner. However, this is exactly what we should not expect: Oftentimes, people do not know that their cognition is partial to their function biases, and they usually do not know when they are being subjective unless they have studied Jungian typology. In fact, one of the paradoxes of Introverted Intuition is that while in objective terms, their synthesis is a subjective distortion of events along visionary lines, INJs often do not know that they are being subjective at all. On the contrary, INJs will oftentimes think that they have seen the essence or essential truth of a thing, when in practice they are conceiving very one-sidedly in favor of a subjective, visionary synthesis (Psychological Types §662).
Just like we cannot expect INJs to profess that the right way to go about perception is to craft a subjective distortion along visionary lines, we also cannot expect ISJs to say that they “merely want the facts.” Of course, it may happen that an ISJ says that he or she simply wants “the facts and nothing but the facts,” but strictly speaking, this tells us little about their type. And at any rate, what ISTJs tend to say the most in our experience is not that they simply want the facts, but rather that they want a proper and careful estimation of the facts – for every fact to be “fully and fairly sifted” as the Duke of Wellington said. And that, as we shall see, is incidentally just what Wilson wants as well.
Wilson’s Reasons for Refusing “Facts Only” History
As we have just seen, Wilson refuses the ‘facts only’ approach to history, where the historian seeks to mute all subjectivity in favor of a “monumental index and table of the world’s events.” Something more artful, more “imaginative” is needed, in Wilson’s view. Now, if Wilson had simply appealed to imagination as a self-evident good, this might have constituted some second-order evidence in favor of Intuition. But Wilson does not simply reject the “facts only” approach to history out of bounds. On the contrary, he is very careful to explain where the license to deviate from the facts may come from:
“The trouble is, after all, that men do not invariably find the truth to their taste, and will often deny it when they hear it; and the historian has to do much more than keep his own eyes clear; he has also to catch and hold the eye of his reader. … How shall he take the palate of his reader at unawares, and get the unpalatable facts down his throat along with the palatable? … It is evident that the thing cannot be done by the ‘dispassionate annalist.’” – Wilson: On the Writing on History
In other words, Wilson’s reasoning is not such that he simply “appeals to fantasy” (and that we as typologists might take this as some meager indication of N over S). Rather, Wilson’s rationale is that though it might be preferable to tell the facts without all the artful weaving of style and narrative, men would refuse to be made any wiser by it. They want art, not industry. The public at large would remain unmoved by the scholar’s more factual approach. The implication is therefore that this approach would actually be preferable – that one actually should tell “simply the facts” – if it were not for the “mass of men” who are unmoved by such a rigid approach.
Certainly, Wilson’s reluctance to merely engage in a licentious handling of the facts as a matter of course, and his insistence on furnishing excuses for doing so at length, are not the habitual modus operandi of the Ni type. In Shapiro’s piece, he proposes to explain this anomaly by reference to the Compulsive personality style. For our part, we agree that Wilson had Compulsive traits, but as we write on the main page, some Compulsive elements seem to occur as a natural adaptation in many ISTJs. Hence, unless we encounter strong and direct indications of Ni that trump those of Si, there is no need to look closer at Wilson’s Compulsion. So let us look closer at Wilson’s alleged Ni.
How Wilson May Sound Like an INJ
As we recall, Shapiro recommended On the Writing on History on the grounds that it was supposedly a strong demonstration of Wilson’s predilection for Ni. And certainly, Wilson does make some rather Ni-sounding statements therein:
“… the facts do not of themselves constitute the truth. The truth is abstract not concrete. It is the just idea, the right revelation of what things mean. It is evoked only by such arrangements and orderings of fact as suggest meanings … and the best arrangement is always that which displays, not the facts themselves, but the subtle and else invisible forces that lurk in the events and in the minds of men.” – Wilson: On the Writing on History
However, we should also remember that we cannot simply take utterances such as “the truth is abstract not concrete” or the assertion that meanings reside “beyond facts” as indicative of specific functions. As mentioned, we have to develop a representation of what the other person’s cognition is like. When Wilson talks about “meanings beyond facts,” we must make sure that we are reading him on his own terms, and not on the basis of the connotations that these words usually have within the system of Jungian typology. Let us therefore look at what we might expect to happen in the mind of an INTJ:
“[The Ni-T type] simply touches upon a thing and off he goes. He does not dwell upon the subject, though in the long run one can say that he really does dwell upon it by amplification … he just catches such an intuition on the wing and leaves it, going round and round amplifying, so that in the end we get a complete picture, but by intuitive means, not by logical means.” – Jung: Seminar on Zarathustra (1934-39) vol. II p. 1083
The Ni type’s train of thought operates by unconscious amplification and association, not by systematic elucidation (as with the T type) or by elaborating on the meanings found in singular objects and instances (as with the S type). The factor of amplification by association is much more forceful in Ni types, whereas Si types prefer to stay with the one task at hand. As Jung also says, “the Sensation type remains with things” (Tavistock Lecture I §33). This “thing” may be big or small, abstract or concrete, long- or short-term, present- or future-oriented, but the common denominator is that the psyche of the Si type stays in harness throughout the task set before it, whereas the Ni type leaps between objects and tasks by way of association and amplification of the individual objects to fit an overall process of association, rather than staying with the individual object in itself.
The Si type may also operate by amplification, but it is usually by way of the concentration and patient focus on the amplification of one object that the Si type reveals himself. So let us see how these schemata fit Wilson.
On the face of it, Wilson may resemble an Ni type in the sense that he seeks to uncover “the meanings behind the facts” and that his preferred mode of doing so is to dwell upon his subject matter by way of amplification. But Wilson certainly does not resemble an Ni type in the meanings that his amplifications uncover:
“How are you to enable men to know the truth with regard to a period of revolution? Will you give them simply a calm statement of recorded events, simply a quiet, unaccentuated narrative of what actually happened, written in a monotone, and verified by quotations from authentic documents of the time? You may save yourself the trouble. As well make a pencil sketch in outline of a raging conflagration; write upon one portion of it ‘flame,’ upon another ‘smoke’; here ‘town hall,’ where the fire started, and there ‘spot where fireman was killed.’ It is a chart, not a picture. Even if you made a veritable picture of it, you could give only part of the truth so long as you confined yourself to black and white. Where would be all the wild and terrible colors of the scene: the red and tawny flame; the masses of smoke, carrying the dull glare of the fire to the very skies, like a great signal banner thrown to the winds; the hot and frightened faces of the crowd; the crimsoned gables down the street, with the faint light of a lamp here and there gleaming white from some hastily opened casement? Without the colors your picture is not true. No inventory of items will ever represent the truth: the fuller and more minute you make your inventory, the more will the truth be obscured. The little details will take up as much space in the statement as the great totals into which they are summed up; and the proportions being false, the whole is false.” – Wilson: On the Writing on History
Wilson presents us with a style of amplification which would suggest an S or N function rather than a T or F function. However, Wilson’s intellect has no trouble remaining in harness. Like Freud, who wrote an entire essay on the meaning of Michelangelo’s Moses, studying only the statue itself, in this essay Wilson amplifies the one task that he has set before himself: To explain why the “facts only” approach to history will not suffice.
As we mentioned earlier, it is important to understand Wilson on his own terms and not on the basis of the typical meanings of the words he uses, as they are used within the system of Jungian typology. So while the term “meanings beyond facts” may loosely be taken to suggest N over S in itself, the types of meanings that Wilson alludes to when he talks about “meanings beyond facts” are not the same “meanings” or “facts” as these words are usually understood in many versions of Jungian typology. When Wilson talks about doing justice to the “meanings beyond facts,” he quite evidently means that the “facts only” approach to history will fail to do justice to the sense impressions involved. This is exactly what we should expect to find in the Si type, for whom it is the inner sensations caused by sense impressions that are the predominant factor in cognitive orientation.
Wilson’s Connotations of ‘Meanings’ and ‘Facts’
Again, while the words used by Wilson are the same as the words that might be found in various MBTI training materials, each party understands something different by “meanings” and “facts” than does the other. The words are the same, but the connotations that Wilson and Myers-Briggs understand by them are not.
Earlier in this essay, we mentioned that as a matter of observation, ISTJs do not typically demand “simply the facts and nothing but the facts.” Rather, the (stereo)typical demand of the ISTJ is that the facts are fully and fairly sifted in order to produce a prudent and sensible estimation of them. Wilson says: “The fuller and more minute you make your inventory, the more will the truth be obscured.” Therefore, to avoid this predicament, a sensible estimation of facts must be undertaken, and in Wilson’s view it is this weighing of the facts that constitutes the “meaning” and “abstract vision” that lies “beyond the facts.” As Wilson says over and over again in the essay, the reader must be brought to “see history aright” – as it really were – and the historian who distorts the events according to his personal dispositions “gets himself enrolled among a very undesirable class of persons.” Indeed, as Wilson writes, the historian falls into error when history “is not told for its own sake [but is] evidence summed up in order to justify a judgment,” whereas by contrast it might be mentioned that the entire historical production of Hegel, Nietzsche, or Marx was nothing but an analysis undertaken for the sake of justifying a judgment.
But rather than asking the reader to take our words for what we have said, let us hear Wilson again:
“[Take the famous historian Thomas] Carlyle, with his … amazing flashes of insight. The whole matter of what he writes is too dramatic. Surely history was not all enacted so hotly, or with so passionate a rush of men upon the stage. Its quiet scenes must have been longer – not mere pauses and interludes while the tragic parts were being made up. There is not often ordinary sunlight upon the page. The lights burn now wan, now lurid. … We do not recognize our own world, but seem to see another such as ours might become if peopled by like uneasy Titans. Incomparable to tell of days of storm and revolution, speaking like an oracle and familiar of destiny and fate, searching the hearts of statesmen and conquerors with an easy insight in every day of action, this peasant seer cannot give us the note of piping times of peace, or catch the tone of slow industry; watches ships come and go at the docks, hears freight-vans thunder along the iron highways of the modern world, and loaded trucks lumber heavily through the crowded city streets. … There is no broad and catholic vision, no wise tolerance. … The great seeing imagination of the man lacks that pure radiance in which things are seen steadily and seen whole.” – Wilson: On the Writing on History
Here again, Wilson confirms everything that we have said of him. In his view:
- The historian must seek to render past events in as ordinary a light as possible – we should be able to recognize the ordinary world, “our world,” and not some high literary drama.
- The historian should not dramatize (i.e. amplify) events. He should not function by “amazing flashes of insight,” but adopt a more steady and even-handed approach that allows him to perceive the mundane with the same fidelity that he perceives the extraordinary.
- The historian should not speak like an “oracle of destiny and fate,” because if he does, he cannot render slow-paced things like peacetime and industry “steadily and whole.”
These are all Wilson’s own words; they are not ours, and they are not what historians and chroniclers think. Indeed, Wilson tells us directly that one of Carlyle’s flaws is that he is too imaginative. Because of Carlyle’s great imagination and his predilection for leaping ahead in his excitement, he lacks “vision” and possesses no “wise tolerance” capable of representing events as they really were. Hence to our three points above, we may add a fourth:
- When Wilson speaks of “imagination,” “broad vision,” and “abstract meanings” situated “beyond the facts,” he does not use these terms in the way we usually understand them with regard to Jungian typology. As his own words make clear, “vision,” “imagination,” and “abstract meanings“ really mean “the ability to calmly take accurate stock of events as they really happened.” Indeed, in Wilson’s view, “the writers who select an incident merely because it is striking or dramatic are shallow fellows.”
By now, the gist of our argument is in place. Readers who want additional quotes from On the Writing of History that support the same reading given here may consult the appendix given below. Or better yet, they may familiarize themselves with the essay in its entirety and get a feel for its ambience themselves.
- Wilson is the subject of an undependable historiography. It is better to rely on his own words than on what various writers think.
- Wilson may sound like an INJ because he talks about “vision,” “imagination,” and “abstract meanings” situated “beyond the facts.” But Wilson does not use these words in the manner we usually understand them: In Wilson’s view, “vision” and “imagination” is the ability to take stock of every fact “steadily and whole,” in order to render them “as they really were.”
- Both Ni and Si types may operate by amplifying the phenomena under their scrutiny. But Ni types tend to leap from thing to thing and Si types stay with one thing at a time. Wilson amplifies considerably, repeatedly, and at length, yet always stays with the task at hand.
- To Si types, events tend to hold merit of their own accord, whereas to Ni types, events more often serve to function as the proof of an idea. Wilson tells us directly that history produced with the aim of illustrating something other than the events themselves should be rejected and discredited.
- Since the indications of Wilson professing Ni actually turn out to be indications of Si once Wilson’s proper meaning is discerned, there is no need to dwell at length on the possible ramifications of Wilson’s Compulsive traits. Like God in Laplace’s universe, “there is no need of that hypothesis.”
APPENDIX A: Further Quotes from ‘On the Writing of History’:
“[The historian] must instruct the reader as the events themselves would have instructed him had he been able to note them as they passed.”
“[The historian] must keep with the generation of which he writes, not be too quick to be wiser than they were, and look back upon them in his narrative with head over shoulder. He must write of them always in the atmosphere they themselves breathed … striving only to realize them at every turn of the story, to make their thoughts his own, and call their lives back again, rebuilding the very stage upon which they played their parts.”
“A [contemporary] plan laid like a standard and measure upon a seventeenth-century narrative will infallibly twist and make it false.”
“[The historian] must look far and wide upon every detail of time, see it first-hand, and paint as he looks … selecting from the life itself.”
“It is a picture of the past we want – its express image and feature; but we want the true picture and not simply the theatrical matter – the manner of Rembrandt rather than Rubens. All life may be pictured, but not all of life is picturesque. No great, no true historian would put false or adventitious colors into narrative, or let a glamor rest where in fact it never was.”
“It is thus, and thus only, we shall have the truth of the matter … by … first-hand vision. … Let us have done with humbug and come to plain speech.”
APPENDIX B: Further Quotes on the Disputed Historiography on Wilson:
“A more nuanced approach [than the one undertaken in John Milton Cooper Jr.’s biography on Wilson] might have let Wilson stand on his own contradictory terms.” – The New York Times: He Was No Wilsonian, December 10, 2009
“[The Wilson biographer] A. Scott Berg admires, almost reveres, Woodrow Wilson, and the result is a book that too often praises President Wilson.” – The Washington Independent Review of Books: Wilson, September 19, 2013
“Why does the right hate Wilson? [And] why do presidential historians seem to like him so much?” – Radley Balko: What’s Wrong With Woodrow Wilson?
“Wilson’s conventional reputation chiefly reflects the ‘opportunity’ … afforded to presidents who happen to preside in times of large events (especially wars), and the prevailing bias of historians who prefer presidents … who expand the size of the presidency and the scope of government.” – Steven F. Hayward: The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Presidents (Regnery Publishing 2012)
 There are reasons for doubting that Wilson actually would have preferred such a ‘mechanical,’ Te-style type of history: During his own time at Princeton University he faced a major crisis because most of his fellow scholars there engaged in exactly this type of “fact only” approach to history and it did not suit his intellectual temper. One the one hand, this falling out with his professors and fellow students because he wanted something more “imaginative,” seemingly of his own accord, might be taken as some slight evidence of Ni over Si. But on the other hand, as Wilson’s own essay makes clear, the rigorous “facts only” approach to history was the intellectual vogue in Wilson’s time and it is unlikely that his professors and fellow students, who engaged in and enjoyed this type of history, were all Si types. In other words, engaging in this type of history, or rebelling against it, need not constitute strong evidence with regards to the individual type. In such cases, we would be inclined to look for other types of evidence.
 Van der Hoop: Character and the Unconscious (Kegan Paul & Co. 1923) p. 143
 Van der Hoop: Character and the Unconscious (Kegan Paul & Co. 1923) p. 145
 Furthermore, as a piece of second-order evidence, one of the hallmarks of Ni types is that they are oblivious to many facts; partly because of their inferior Sensation and partly in order to arrive at their one-sided synthesis of things. As von Franz says of them, “they pass by an absolutely amazing number of outer facts and just do not take them in.” (Von Franz: Lectures on Jung’s Typology [Spring Publications 1971] p. 35) In the lines quoted above, Wilson’s criticism of Carlyle is exactly that he fails to take stock of the minute and the ordinary and that he rushes ahead in order to arrive at the high drama of history, as if the world were “peopled by uneasy Titans.”
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