It is fitting, if not tragic, that the centenary of Woodrow Wilson’s death on February 3 should coincide with events that again illustrate the perils of his internationalist agenda. United Nations’ complicity in terror against Israel, threats of economic warfare by the European Union against member states — all point to the illogic of the so-called international order and the virtues of state sovereignty in international affairs.

As a statesman and ideologist, President Wilson was among the architects of the modern era. His vision, aspects of which were realized long after his death, was of a global system rooted in a moralistic liberal consensus upheld by a concert of powers and conducted through such institutions as the United Nations and its International Court of Justice. Mr. Wilson was a determinist for whom the arc of history bent toward peace.

In his thinking, the president was not alone. The Roman emperor, Caracalla, in 212 of the common era attempted to forge a universal order by granting Roman citizenship to all free men. Universality was also attempted by, among others, Charles the Great and Alexander I of Russia. Yet so long as it has been tried, universal or international order has largely failed. Global consensus on first principles is no easy feat — or even desirable.

As realists will note — and current affairs make clear — states behave in their own self-interests. While those interests might at times yield similar outcomes, they seldom proceed from the convergence of first principles or in the name of a Wilsonian notion of a universal community. Consider South Korea and Japan. The recent thaw in their ties is rooted not in a shared goal of advancing towards Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history.”