Remarks at the Reale Accademia dei Lincei in Rome, Italy
Your Majesty, Mr. President, and Gentlemen of the Academy:
I have listened, sir, with the profoundest appreciation to the beautiful address which you have been kind enough to deliver, and I want to say how deeply I appreciate the honor you conferred upon me in permitting me to become a member of this great Academy, because there is a sense in which the continuity of human thought is in the care of bodies like this. There is a serenity, a long view on the part of science which seems to be of no age, but to carry human thought along from generation to generation, freed from the elements of passion. Therefore, it is, I dare say, with all men of science a matter of profound regret and shame that science should in a nation which had made science its boast have been put to such dishonorable uses in the recent war. Every just mind must condemn those who so debased the studies of men of science as to use them against humanity, and therefore, it is part of your task and of ours to reclaim science from this disgrace, to show that she is devoted to the advancement and interest of humanity and not to its embarrassment and destruction.
I wish very much, sir, that I could believe that I was in some sense a worthy representative of the men of science of the United States. I can not claim to be in any proper sense a man of science. My studies have been in the field of politics all my life and, while politics may by courtesy be called a science, it is a science which is often practiced without rule and is very hard to set up standards for, so that one can be sure that one is steering the right course. At the same time, while perhaps there is no science of government, there ought to be I dare say in government itself the spirit of science, that is to say, the spirit of disinterestedness, the spirit of seeking after the truth so far as the truth is ready to be applied to human circumstances. Because, after all, the problem of politics is to satisfy men in the arrangements of their lives, is to realize for them so far as possible the objects which they have entertained generation after generation and have seen so often postponed. Therefore, I have often thought that the university and the academy of science have their part in simplifying the problems of politics and therefore assisting to advance human life along the lines of political structure and political action.
It is very delightful to draw apart for a little while into this quiet place and feel again that familiar touch of thought and of knowledge which it has been my privilege to know familiarly through so great a part of my life. If I have come out upon a more adventurous and disordered stage, I hope that I have not lost the recollection and may in some sense be assisted by counsels such as yours.
APP Notes: The President referred to King Victor Emmanuel III and to Enrico d'Ovidio President of the Royal Academy
Woodrow Wilson, Remarks at the Reale Accademia dei Lincei in Rome, Italy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/317596