The Strange Case of Freud, Bullitt, and Woodrow Wilson: I

Thomas Woodrow Wilson: Twenty-eighth President of the United States: A Psychological Study

by Sigmund Freud and William C. Bullitt
Houghton, Mifflin, 307 pp., $6.00
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud; drawing by David Levine


Another bad book on Wilson would not necessarily call for review. Nor would a bad book by William C. Bullitt. A distinguished public servant, Ambassador Bullitt does not owe the world a good book, even though many public servants think they do. But a disastrously bad book on Wilson, written in collaboration with Sigmund Freud and carrying a subtitle that raises the issue of the American presidency itself must be reviewed. It is of concern to those who are carrying on Freud’s work and recognize its fundamental grandeur even where it is most dated and most open to question. It is also of concern to historians who do not wish to shirk the task of giving a considered account of the ambiguities of greatness. But above all, it has a certain desperate relevance for all those who are aware of the indispensability of psychological insight in matters of war and peace—including the question of the wide personal margin permitted to the American president and his advisers.

Perhaps nothing characterizes the tone of this book so well as the obsessive frequency with which Woodrow Wilson is referred to as “little Tommy”:

…Tommy Wilson always tried to be on the side of the angels: he endeavored to think about serious matters and he attempted to express his thoughts in distinguished phrases. Those were exceptional attributes in the United States after the Civil War, when most men of ability were concentrating on the acquisition of wealth. They gave Tommy Wilson both prestige and an endearing idealism. He was so serious about himself that others took him seriously. To make fun of him was easy: to ignore him was impossible. He was a prig; but a prime prig. (p. 9)

In spite of the glaring incongruity of such passages with Freud’s style, his alleged senior authorship is (and will be) unhesitatingly publicized as his sole authorship. An advance selection was thus announced on the cover of Look (December 13, 1966). This misrepresentation, no doubt, is good for sales and will give amusement to otherwise literate people. “This time,” one of them says about a book nearly thirty years old, “this time, Dr. Freud, you have gone too far!” (New York Times, December, 1966.) And the chestnut of “Freudulance” will be warmed over and over.

This word, as it turns out, does have a certain tragi-comic significance here, for it is not at all certain which parts of the body of this book, if any, were written by Sigmund Freud himself. Mr. Bullitt’s own preface does not claim that Freud “wrote” any of it. He only speaks of Freud as having written “the first draft of portions of the manuscript” (p. vii). And he describes a “collaboration” extending over eight of the most dramatic years in history and in the lives of both collaborators; for the rest, Mr. Bullitt rightly accepts responsibility. In view of…

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