Executive Branch Foreign Relations & International Law

The Lawfare Podcast: Patrick Weil on ‘The Madman in the White House’

Jen Patja Howell, Scott R. Anderson, Patrick Weil
Monday, May 22, 2023, 12:00 PM
In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson made a self-defeating decision. 

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In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson came out in opposition to a compromise that would have resulted in Senate ratification of the Versailles Treaty and thereby put the nail in the coffin of an international agreement that he had spent months negotiating and would have secured U.S. participation in one of his greatest legacies, the League of Nations.

Wilson's self-defeating decision shocked many who had been involved in the treaty negotiation, including a young diplomat and journalist named William Bullitt. Deciphering what about Wilson's psychology led to such a monumental decision became an obsession for Bullitt, one he pursued with an unlikely partner, Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychoanalysis. Yet the original text they authored on the subject remained unpublished for decades, as Bullitt pursued a career in diplomacy and politics, until it was finally unearthed in 2014 by scholar Patrick Weil. Weil's new book, “The Madman in the White House,” tells the unlikely story of the Bullitt-Freud analysis of President Wilson and the lies it intersected with.

Weil joined Lawfare Senior Editor Scott R. Anderson to discuss Bullitt’s exceptional life and career, what he and Freud truly thought of one of our most complex and controversial former presidents, and what it tells us about how we should think about the role psychology plays in the modern presidency. 


Jen Patja Howell is the editor and producer of The Lawfare Podcast and Rational Security. She currently serves as the Co-Executive Director of Virginia Civics, a nonprofit organization that empowers the next generation of leaders in Virginia by promoting constitutional literacy, critical thinking, and civic engagement. She is the former Deputy Director of the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison's Montpelier and has been a freelance editor for over 20 years.
Scott R. Anderson is a fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and a Senior Fellow in the National Security Law Program at Columbia Law School. He previously served as an Attorney-Adviser in the Office of the Legal Adviser at the U.S. Department of State and as the legal advisor for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.
Patrick Weil is a political scientist, scholar, and author of "The Madman in the White House: Sigmund Freud, Ambassador Bullitt, and the Lost Psychobiography of Woodrow Wilson."

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