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

By Jen Patja Howell
Monday, May 22, 2023, 5:01 AM

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 Yet the original text they authored on the subject remained unpublished for decades, as Bullitt pursued a career in diplomacy and politics, until it was finally unearthed in 2014 by scholar Patrick Weil.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.