“For Heaven’s sake never allude to Wilson as an idealist or militaire or altruist. He is a doctrinaire which he can be so safely with his personal ambition. … He hasn’t a touch of idealism in him. … [He’s] an utterly selfish and coldblooded politician always.” – Theodore Roosevelt, quoted in Kessler: Inside the White House Pocket Books 1996
“Wilson’s profile … is notable for … a low score on Agreeableness. … He scored highest of all presidents on Simonton’s Inflexibility scale [and was] most similar to Adams. … [Wilson] was ‘recalled as a man whose inability to compromise at critical times led to devastating defeats.’” – Steven J. Rubenzer and Thomas R. Faschingbauer: Personality, Character, and Leadership in the White House Potomac Books 2004
By Dylan Shapiro, with additions by Ryan Smith
The ‘default’ type assessment of Woodrow Wilson is as an Ni type, i.e. as an INJ. He has often been portrayed as a full-blooded idealist, reluctantly compelled to commit the United States to war but at heart a pacifist and a dreamer who, according to his psychological biographers William Bullitt and Sigmund Freud, “esteemed nothing higher than human motives and opinions.” Going by such accounts, one could understandably be led to believe that Wilson was an INFJ type, but this view of Wilson is not in accordance with the historical reality.
An early influential account of Wilson as a tender-hearted idealist was offered by the Bullitt-Freud account just mentioned. But since its inception, historians and psychologists have universally derided Bullitt and Freud’s analysis of Wilson. To give but two examples, psychologist Erik Erikson called the book “disastrously bad” and historian A.J.P. Taylor called the book “a disgrace.” Indeed, more recent studies have done away with the image of Wilson as a soft-spoken idealist and revealed a power-loving, dogged visionary. As such, it is my assertion that Wilson was INTJ rather than INFJ.
Why Wilson Is Not Fe/Ti
In Jungian typology, INFJs have Fe/Ti while INTJs have Te/Fi. Fe, or Extraverted Feeling, is characterized by a cooperative and mutualistic attitude that furthers its aims in the outer world through appeals to appropriate and commonly accepted social mores. Fe’s strength is typically to be found in the realm of social interaction, deploying soothing sentiment and furthering group harmony in order to sway others to the will of the Fe type. And while it is clear that Thomas Jefferson possessed these powers in abundance, Wilson did not.
In their study to compute and compile the Big Five scores of the various U.S. presidents, the psychologists Steven Rubenzer and Thomas Faschingbauer found that while Jefferson’s score on Agreeableness was the 51st percentile, Wilson’s was the 13th. Since Fe is the Jungian function that, by nature, is the most agreeable, it is unlikely (but not impossible) that Wilson, with his very low Agreeableness score, had auxiliary Fe. Indeed, as we know from decades of Big Five research, a person with low Agreeableness is likely to be argumentative and stubborn when others disagree with his views, which is really diametrically opposed to the soothing and appropriate Fe mode of approach.
As examples of this high-Agreeableness Fe, Thomas Jefferson himself said that: “In stating rules … I must not omit the important one of never entering into argument with another. I never saw an instance of disputants convincing each other by argument.” He also said that: “Self-love … [leads] us [to violate] our moral duties to others.” Wilson, on the other hand, according to the Rubenzer and Faschingbauer study, “was not modest or cooperative” and “was emphatic in asserting his judgments.” Both of these observations are in stark contrast to Jefferson’s manner. They suggest that Wilson did not exhibit an Fe mode of expression.
INTJ and INTJ: Wilson Compared to Adams
On the other hand, if one compares Wilson to John Adams, striking similarities emerge. First, Adams’s Big Five scores look like a caricature of Wilson’s, but follow the same pattern: High Neuroticism and Conscientiousness, moderately high Openness, and low Extraversion and Agreeableness. Rubenzer and Faschingbauer’s study even groups Adams and Wilson while grouping Jefferson with other Fe types.
Aside from their very similar Big Five scores, Adams and Wilson share other similarities. Notably, both of them had extremely low scores on Interpersonal Style in the Rubenzer and Faschingbauer study, alluding again, perhaps, to the (all else being equal) lower interpersonal agreeableness of the INTJ when compared to the INFJ. Of all the U.S. presidents from Washington to Bush Jr., Wilson was deemed the lowest on the Interpersonal Style parameter, and Adams was deemed the second lowest.
Another way to determine whether Wilson was INFJ or INTJ is to pore over the body of Wilson’s political writings: When we examine Wilson’s political thought prior to his ascension to the presidency, we find indeed that Wilson’s writings contain many ideas that oppose those values and mental contents that we usually associate with Fe/Ti.
As previously detailed on this website, a person who has an Fe/Ti axis is more likely to believe that all people are created equal and that everyone should be held to the same standard (as indeed many of the founding documents of the United States, penned by Thomas Jefferson, seem to suggest). Conversely, a person with a Te/Fi axis is more likely to believe, a priori, that all people are not created equal and that it is thus mistaken to hold all people to the same standards. Setting aside the matter of FP types, in whom Fi is stronger than Te, a common belief of the TJ types, not just in politics but with regards to organizational principles as a whole, is that those who are the most competent should make the decisions while most others absolutely should not. In addition, a TJ type would be more likely to believe only in laws that are executable, as opposed to the more open-ended theoretical political principles which Fe/Ti types would be more inclined to enshrine as law. Though we are dealing here with mental contents (not processes), Wilson, during his academic career as a political scientist, argued for exactly the things we would expect of a TJ type. In his book Constitutional Government of the United States, Wilson wrote:
“No doubt a great deal of nonsense has been talked about the inalienable rights of the individual, and a great deal that was mere vague sentiment and pleasing speculation has been put forward as fundamental principle. The rights of man are easy to discourse of, may be very pleasingly magnified in the sentences of such constitutions as it used to satisfy the revolutionary ardor of French leaders to draw up and affect to put into operation; but they are infinitely hard to translate into practice. Such theories are never ‘law,’ no matter what the name or the formal authority of the document in which they are embodied. Only that is ‘law’ which can be executed, and the abstract rights of man are singularly difficult of execution. None the less, vague talk and ineffectual theory though there may be, the individual is indisputably the original, the first fact of liberty. Nations are made up of individuals, and the dealings of government with individuals are the ultimate and perfect test of its constitutional character. Liberty belongs to the individual, or it does not exist.”
In a few sentences Wilson scorns and mocks the abstract ideals of the Declaration of Independence while at the same time advocating more concretely executable practices of tangible law and individual-based liberty. Likewise, in the essay The Study of Administration, Wilson laconically asserts that “the bulk of mankind is rigidly unphilosophical, and nowadays the bulk of mankind votes,” and then proceeds to remark:
“In government, as in virtue, the hardest of things is to make progress. Formerly the reason for this was that the single person who was sovereign was generally either selfish, ignorant, timid, or a fool – albeit there was now and again one who was wise. Nowadays the reason is that the many, the people, who are sovereign have no single ear which one can approach, and are selfish, ignorant, timid, stubborn, or foolish with the selfishness, the ignorances, the stubbornnesses, the timidities, or the follies of several thousand persons – albeit there are hundreds who are wise. Once the advantage of the reformer was that the sovereign’s mind had a definite locality, that it was contained in one man’s head, and that consequently it could be gotten at; though it was his disadvantage that the mind learned only reluctantly or only in small quantities, or was under the influence of someone who let it learn only the wrong things. Now, on the contrary, the reformer is bewildered by the fact that the sovereign’s mind has no definite locality, but is contained in a voting majority of several million heads; and embarrassed by the fact that the mind of this sovereign also is under the influence of favorites, who are none the less favorites in a good old-fashioned sense of the word because they are not persons by preconceived opinions; i.e., prejudices which are not to be reasoned with because they are not the children of reason.”
Where once a reformer could appeal to one person and possibly convince them to change their mind, now the elective body of the people forms a group a million strong, and to reason with such a body is nearly impossible. Ultimately, Wilson’s solution to the problem of the masses is to create a bureaucracy drawn from the select minority of wise individuals and to make that bureaucracy independent of popular opinion, thereby commissioning a public bureau of skilled, economical administrators.
While we may say that this hierarchization of people points more to Te/Fi than Ti/Fe, all else being equal, it is nevertheless not beyond INFJ philosophers, such as Plato, to arrive at similar conclusions: Most people are base natures and only a few are fit to rule. However, where Plato holds holistic insight into “the whole of the good” as the primary qualification to rule, Wilson’s stated arguments are those of competence, proper training, and professionalism – the expertise itself entitles the few to rule rather than any alleged connection with an ineffable greater whole. In his own words, Wilson eschews “theoretical perfection” in government, while Plato and Jefferson appear guided by it. To Plato, there are people who are competent, but not insightful (Republic §485bc), whereas to Wilson, competence and insight seem to be inseparably connected as two sides of the same coin. Given that a cat has to be skinned, we are simply to establish the most rational and effective way to skin the cat. Amorphous considerations supplanted onto the task of skinning the cat, but not directly related to it, appear superfluous to Wilson.
Wilson’s preference for objectively measurable efficiency over theoretical perfection and his confounding of the efficient execution of a task with its moral value both suggest Te over Ti and Fe, but perhaps Wilson’s own terseness will make the point better than any exposition offered by us. In Wilson’s own words, “seeing every day new things which the state ought to do, the next thing is to see clearly how it ought to do them. … This is why there should be a science of administration which shall seek to straighten the paths of government.”
Why Wilson Is Te/Fi
Most of the evidence we have supplied for Wilson being a Te/Fi type so far has come from his academic career, which preceded his ascension to the presidency. As president, Wilson seemingly exhibited much more idealistic characteristics, and it is from this period of his life that the popular image of Wilson as an idealist is derived.
However, it is our contention that closer inspection of Wilson’s characteristics as president only serves to make his Te/Fi axis even clearer. One cardinal difference between INFJ and INTJ is the differing nature of how they translate the dictates of Introverted Intuition into action: Because INTJs have Te, they tend to translate their visions into something pragmatic and clear-cut; something that allows itself to be determined by outer objects and tasks while diminishing the holistic nature of the original Ni vision (Psychological Types §583). Hence when the original amorphous observations (Ni) are transformed into a series of specific injunctions (Te), the transformation tends to entail a certain lessening of the purity of their ideas. Conversely, INFJs have no Te and thus no need to transform the discernments of Ni into reductionistic and clear-cut conclusions. Consequently the mental processes of an INFJ are frequently more nebulous and abstract, rendering them more idealistic, but also less applicable to reality.
If one were to examine Wilson’s speeches and rhetoric from his presidential period, it would perhaps be understandable if one came away with the impression that INFJ was the better fit for Wilson’s personality. Yet as is so often the case in politics, rhetoric can be beguiling; indeed it often serves to mask the unpopular aspects of a politician’s underlying ideology or agenda.
In spite of the popular image of Wilson as a soft-spoken idealist, there is an ongoing scholarly debate over whether Wilson was really a hard-nosed realist or a starry-eyed, too-good-for-this-world idealist. The debate has raged for nearly a century and has still not been resolved. Yet if Wilson’s visions were so unabashedly idealistic, then why the need for this ongoing debate?
Even in the world of Jungian typology, both sides have been taken: There are those, including Keirsey, who class him as an STJ type, portraying him as a pragmatic realist with little need for impractical intellectual introspections, while at the other end there are those who class Wilson as an INFJ, supposedly on account of him being a full-blooded idealist type (and perhaps being led on by Bullitt and Freud’s “disastrously bad” but widely-read account of Wilson’s personality that was discussed above).
It is our suspicion that this century-old and perennially enduring divide in scholarly opinion may itself offer a clue to Wilson’s true leanings: He was neither an unabashed realist nor a pure-blooded idealist, but rather something in-between – a “pragmatic idealist.”
Wilson’s Factual Empiricism
“[We have not] adjusted to the facts of the case, and until we do, and unless we do, the facts of the case will always have the better of the argument.” – Woodrow Wilson: The New Freedom
One salient distinction between INTJs and INFJs is that INTJs, having Te, tend to be more empirically oriented than INFJs who have Fe/Ti and who are therefore more guided by principles and ideals. Wilson, despite his sometimes moralistic exterior as president, was really an empiricist with regards to the mental processes that led him to his conclusion. In the book Reconsidering Woodrow Wilson Trygve Throntveit explains:
“Empirical yet empathetic; reformist yet restrained – what exactly was the nature of the progressive politics Wilson brought to the White House? His injunction against drawing-board reforms sounds like the creed of a conservative, while his rejection of ideological rigidity created a safe distance from the ‘radicals’ of his day. Yet his legislative accomplishments in office mark him as one of the most radical reformers to occupy the presidency. In fact, the sweeping changes he effected in office can only be understood as the product of a skeptical and deliberative yet creative and adaptive mind – as the work of radical empiricist in politics.”
In other words, it may well be that “the facts as they were” – the arbitrary historical starting point that Wilson inherited as president – formed the irrefutable psychological basis of the changes that Wilson instituted in office. Rather than the nemesis of a radical and principled idealist, “the facts as they were” were Wilson’s enablers – the stepping stones that allowed him to see clearly the ways in which he wanted to reform the American government.
This characterization, if true, points again to a preference for Te over Ti in Wilson’s psyche. As explained in Psychological Types, Te types tend to begin with the facts before moving onto principles and theory, whereas with Ti types, the reverse is often true. Despite his idealistic aura as President, Wilson’s thought had empiricist origins.
Wilson’s Pacifism, Hegel, and the League of Nations
“Wilson’s thought owes a substantial intellectual debt to G. W. F. Hegel, especially when one considers the historicism and organic state theory that serve as the backbone for Wilson’s political arguments.” – Ronald J. Pestritto: Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism
“[Hegel] used to search for – and in most cases, find, it seems to me – the fundamental psychological facts of society.” – Woodrow Wilson: Personal Letter to Ellen Louise Axson
Finally, a large part of Wilson’s reputation as an idealist is grounded in his founding of the League of Nations and his ostensible love of peace. This is the popular view that Rubenzer and Faschingbauer allude to when they say that “Wilson is remembered as visionary, a man ahead of his time, whose dream did see eventual fulfillment in the United Nations.” If Wilson were indeed just someone who dreamt of reciprocal relations amongst all nations with no ulterior motives, then in terms of mental contents, then this longing might suggest the workings of an otherworldly INFJ over an empirical INTJ concerned with the practical efficiency and purpose of his commendations.
However, it is our contention that, far from forming an antithesis to Wilson’s political writings from before he was president, Wilson’s internationalist agenda as president and support for the League of Nations is actually a continuation of the same view of politics that Wilson had been espousing all along. In his essay The Wilsonian Chimera, the historian Stephen Wertheim argues that “understanding Wilson‘s political thought is especially important to understanding his internationalism.” Indeed, as Wertheim sees it, Wilson’s political ideas as an academic were wholly integrated into his ideals as President. This is our contention also.
As the quotes furnished above make clear, Wilson was strongly influenced by the philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel. Far from the popular image of the League of Nations as a forerunner to the United Nations that we know today with its use of conventions as a mode of ethics, it may well be that Wilson viewed the League of Nations as the embryo of “a fuller global polity,” that is to say, as a form of Hegelian teleological integration of world politics in its progress towards the end goal of history. Hence the Wilson of the pre-president years who had written that “seeing every day new things which the state ought to do … there should be a science of administration which shall seek to straighten the paths of government” is not at all different from the Wilson of the later president years who advocated an internationalist order as a step on the road towards global government.
If this analysis is agreed to, it will no longer make sense to view Wilson as a moralistic idealist or the savior-like persona that he is sometimes perceived as. Wilson did dream and he did have definite visions but his dreams were of a Hegelian nature and laden with empiricism. Overall, when examining Wilson’s thought and actions, there is little evidence of principled idealism and much evidence of pragmatic empiricism in spite of the outwardly idealistic rhetoric that he sometimes employed.
If the point that Woodrow Wilson was an Ni type is granted, the only feasible possibilities are INTJ or INFJ. Though Wilson may seem moralistic and idealistic at first glance, this view of him appears untenable once the full range of his life and work is factored in. In reality, Wilson was neither a realist nor an idealist, but rather something in-between – a “pragmatic progressivist.” Because Wilson was neither one nor the other, a century-long debate has ensued over whether he was really a realist or an idealist, and this debate has never been fully resolved.
However, examining Wilson’s viewpoints from before the presidency and reconciling them with his actions as president, we see that Wilson held empiricist and pragmatic leanings. His conclusions were thought through empirically, in spite of the seemingly idealistic conclusions he sometimes reached.
A final point of curiosity may be that Wilson’s personal values (namely self-love, power, measurable efficiency, self-confidence and a pride in standing firm in the face of opposition) are diametrically opposed to Jefferson’s beliefs in equality, modesty, mutuality, moral righteousness, and avoiding debate. While Wilson’s values are different from Jefferson’s, they are similar to those of John Adams. Wilson’s Big Five scores also closely resemble Adams’s in all regards but diverge strongly from Jefferson’s on Agreeableness, which correlates with the T/F dimension as known from the Jungian system.
Photo of Wilson restored especially for this publication by artist AnushyaDevi Jeyaram.
Bullitt & Freud: Woodrow Wilson: A Psychological Study Houghton Mifflin 1966
Garrett: Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of Its People and Events, 1880s-1930s University of Georgia Press 2011
Pestritto: Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism Rowman & Littlefield 2005
Rubenzer & Faschingbauer: Personality, Character, and Leadership in the White House Potomac Books 2004
Throntveit, in Cooper (ed.): Reconsidering Woodrow Wilson: Progressivism, Internationalism, War, and Peace Woodrow Wilson Center Press 2008
Wilson: Constitutional Government in the United States Quid Pro Books 2011
Wilson: The New Freedom Mundus Publishing 1965
Wilson: The Study of Public Administration Public Affairs Press 1955