America's greatest modern diplomat was also one of its great thinkers
NOBODY divides opinion like Henry Kissinger. As national security adviser and then secretary of state, under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Mr Kissinger was both a media superstar and disowned by his former colleagues from Harvard. In 1973 he won the Nobel peace prize; yet critics like Christopher Hitchens insisted he deserved to stand trial for crimes against humanity. Mr Kissinger has been lionised as America's supreme 20th-century diplomat. However, after he left office in 1977 at the age of just 53, no president ever again trusted him with a senior job.
Into this contested ground strides Niall Ferguson, with the first, magisterial instalment of a two-volume biography. Mr Ferguson, a British historian also at Harvard, has in the past sometimes produced work that is rushed and uneven. Not here. Like Mr Kissinger or loathe him, this is a work of engrossing scholarship.
Three conclusions lie at the heart of Mr Ferguson's analysis. The first, and the bravest, is that the period before Mr Kissinger became a statesman is worth a volume all to itself. That turns out to be inspired. It creates room for a harrowing account of the Nazis' indoctrination of Fürth, the Kissingers' hometown in Bavaria, and the deepening persecution that so much of its Jewish population, including Mr Kissinger's father, found almost impossible to comprehend. Mr Ferguson goes on to describe Mr Kissinger's intellectual development after the second world war. Here, seen through the letters, articles and books of a first-class mind, is a gripping commentary on the geopolitics of the 1950s and 1960s, including the quagmire in Vietnam and the struggle with Soviet Russia over Berlin and Cuba.
This leads to Mr Ferguson's second conclusion: that Mr Kissinger matters because of his ideas. The contrast is with Walter Isaacson's celebrated biography, which analyses its subject chiefly in terms of his—flawed—character. Because he is concerned with ideas, Mr Ferguson has read Mr Kissinger's works with great care. He is thus able to skewer simplistic claims that the professor is essentially a devotee of Machiavelli or a simple exponent of the 19th-century European balance-of-power politics that he wrote about.
Instead Mr Ferguson sets out how academic study and experience on the fringes of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations forged the views of government that Mr Kissinger would later carry with him into the White House. Most important is a scathing scepticism of bureaucracies—especially the State Department—because they pursue their own agenda, gravitate towards the middle ground and drown decision-makers in paperwork. Successful government means escaping their influence.
Mr Kissinger came to see statesmen as “tragic” figures, forced to choose between unpalatable alternatives. Decisions are usually best taken early, because incoming evidence continually narrows the options. The tragedy is that nobody appreciates the disasters statesmen avoid. Johnson, for example, would always be blamed for expanding the Vietnam war, but had he abandoned South Vietnam in 1965, as some advised, the dominoes in South-East Asia might have fallen as country after country surrendered to communism.
This focus on ideas leads to the book's third conclusion. As the title underlines, Mr Ferguson thinks that, during this part of his life, the man usually taken to embody cold-war realpolitik was in fact an idealist. Readers may not be convinced.
To most people, an idealist is someone who stands by a moral principle, come what may. In foreign-policy scholarship, the term is associated with Woodrow Wilson's notion of subordinating power to international rules. It is not always clear which definition Mr Ferguson is using. At times, he bases his claim for Kissingerian idealism on a highly technical allusion to the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant. He wins the argument only by turning “idealism” into something that will fully satisfy neither lay nor scholarly readers.
More interesting are the episodes where he cites the principled arguments Mr Kissinger uses against hard-nosed pragmatists—for example, during Kennedy's presidency, when he called for America to insist that the universal principle of self-determination should apply to Berlin, then partially under Russia's thumb.
That certainly sounds like idealism. Yet Mr Kissinger understood that the appeal of communism was justice. He believed that to counter it the United States needed to promote ideals of its own. Mr Ferguson never manages to dispel the impression that for Mr Kissinger freedom and self-determination were not sacred principles in themselves, but tools provided by American political culture to be exploited by a ruthless tactician in the contest against revolutionary communism.
Mr Ferguson is able to portray Mr Kissinger as an idealist partly because he has so little to say about the professor's machinations in the pursuit and manipulation of power. Such behaviour was to be on lurid display in the Nixon White House. The much-awaited second volume will not so easily pass over it.
There are reasons other than his longevity why so many world leaders—among them the Chinese President Xi Jinping—continue to seek the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who stepped down as U.S. secretary of state close to four decades ago. In this respect, Barack Obama is unusual. He is the first U.S. president since Dwight Eisenhower not to seek Kissinger's advice. Periodically, commentators urge Obama to be more “Kissingerian.” Others argue that he is Kissingerian in practice, if not in rhetoric. But what exactly does the term mean?
The conventional answer equates Kissinger with realism, a philosophy characterized by the cool assessment of foreign policy in the stark light of national self-interest, or, in the journalist Anthony Lewis' phrase, “an obsession with order and power at the expense of humanity.” Writing in 1983, Kissinger's former Harvard colleague Stanley Hoffmann depicted Kissinger as a Machiavellian “who believes that the preservation of the state . . . requires both ruthlessness and deceit at the expense of foreign and internal adversaries.” Many writers have simply assumed that Kissinger modeled himself on his supposed heroes, the Austrian statesman Klemens von Metternich and the Prussian leader Otto von Bismarck, the standard-bearers of classical European realpolitik.
传统的答案是在基辛格和现实主义之间划等号。所谓现实主义，是一种以在国家自身利益灯光下对外交政策进行冷静评估为其特点的哲学；用记者安东尼·刘易斯话说就是，这是“一种对于牺牲人类换取秩序和权力的痴迷”。基辛格的前哈佛校友斯坦利·霍夫曼曾在1983年的一篇文章中，将基辛格描绘为一位“崇信政府的存在. . .需要以无情和欺骗对待内外敌人之信条”的马基雅弗利式的权谋家。许多作家一直简单地认为，基辛格是按照他心目中的英雄——奥地利国务活动家梅特涅和普鲁士领导人俾斯麦这类经典的欧洲现实政治的承载者——塑造了自己。
Yet the international relations scholar Hans Morgenthau, who truly was a realist, once memorably described Kissinger as, like Odysseus, “many-sided.” In the early 1960s, for example, when the agonizing question arose of how much the United States should shore up the government of South Vietnam, Kissinger initially believed that South Vietnam's right to self-determination was worth U.S. lives. Morgenthau, the authentic realist, vehemently disagreed.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Kissinger did indeed write about Metternich and Bismarck. But only someone who has not read (or who has willfully misread) what he wrote could seriously argue that he set out in the 1970s to replicate their approaches to foreign policy. Far from being a Machiavellian, Kissinger was from the outset of his career an idealist in at least three senses of the word.
First, even if Kissinger was never an idealist in the tradition of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who sought universal peace through international law and collective security, he was not a realist. Kissinger rejected Wilsonian idealism because he felt that its high-mindedness was a recipe for policy paralysis. As he put it to his friend the historian Stephen Graubard in 1956, “The insistence on pure morality is in itself the most immoral of postures,” if only because it often led to inaction. But Kissinger knew that realism could also be paralyzing. As a refugee from Hitler's Germany who returned in 1944 in an American uniform to play his part in the final defeat of Nazism, Kissinger had paid a personal price for the diplomatic failures of the 1930s. And yet, as he pointed out in a 1957 interview, the British architects of appeasement, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, had “thought of themselves as tough realists.”
Second, having immersed himself as an undergraduate at Harvard in the work of Immanuel Kant, Kissinger was an idealist in the philosophical sense. His unpublished senior thesis, “The Meaning of History,” was an admiring critique of Kant's philosophy of history. Kissinger's central argument was that “freedom is . . . an inner experience of life as a process of deciding meaningful alternatives.” “Perpetual peace” might indeed be the ultimate, ineluctable goal of history, as Kant argued, but from the point of view of the individual, that inevitability was not a constraint on freedom. As Kissinger wrote in his thesis, “Whatever one's conception about the necessity of events, at the moment of their performance their inevitability could offer no guide to action. . . . However we may explain actions in retrospect, their accomplishment occurred with the inner conviction of choice.”
其次，鉴于他是一位痴迷于伊曼努尔·康德著作的哈佛毕业生，基辛格是一位哲学意义上的理想主义者。他的未公开发表的毕业论文《历史的意义》是一部令人起敬的对于康德历史哲学的批判之作。基辛格这篇文章中的核心论点是：“自由是 . . . 生命作为一个对有意义的选择做出决定的过程的一种内在经历。”正如康德所说，“永久的和平”也许的确是历史最终的和不可逃避的目标。但是，从个人的角度的来看，这种不可避免性不是加之于自由的一种约束。正如基辛格在论文中所指出的那样，“不管一个人关于事件必然性的观点如何，在它们的表现时刻，其不可避免性无法提供行动的指南……然而，我们可能会在回顾时用选择的内在观念去解释它们的完成。”
Third, from an early stage in his career, Kissinger was a convinced antimaterialist, as hostile to capitalist forms of economic determinism as he was to Marxism-Leninism. It was dangerous, he argued in his senior thesis, to allow “an argument about democracy [to] become a discussion of the efficiency of economic systems, which is on the plane of objective necessity and therefore debatable.” By contrast, “the inward intuition of freedom . . . would reject totalitarianism even if it were economically more efficient.” This attitude contrasted starkly with that of his contemporaries, such as the economist and political theorist Walt Rostow, for whom the Cold War could be won so long as capitalist growth rates were higher than communist ones. “Unless we are able to make the concepts of freedom and respect for human dignity meaningful to the new nations,” Kissinger wrote in The Necessity for Choice, “the much-vaunted economic competition between us and Communism . . . will be without meaning.” In other words, liberal democratic ideals had to be defended for their own sake, without relying on the material success of capitalism to make the case for them. This was a theme to which Kissinger returned repeatedly in the 1960s as an adviser and speechwriter to Nelson Rockefeller, whose three unsuccessful bids for the Republican presidential nomination he supported.
第三，从其职业生涯的早期开始，基辛格就是一位毫不动摇的反物质决定论者，他对资本主义的各类经济决定论同对对马克思－列宁主义一样敌视。他在毕业论文中指出，放任“一种关于民主的轮调变身为成一种关于经济体系效率的讨论的行为”是危险的。与之相比，“自由的内在直觉……也会在哪怕其经济效率更高的情况下拒绝独裁主义。”这种态度同他的同辈——如认为只要资本主义的增长率高过共产主义，冷战就能够获胜的经济学家和政治理论家华尔特·罗斯托——的观点形成了鲜明的对比。“除非我们能够让自由的概念和对于人类尊严的尊重对于新生国家国家来说具有意义，”基辛格在《选择的必然性》中写道，“不然的话，被极端夸大了的我们与共产主义间的经济竞争. . . 将毫无意义。”换言之，自由民主理想不得不受到保护，是为了能让自己在没有依赖资本主义的物质成功的情况下让它们具有意义。这是基辛格在上世纪60年代作为三次在共和党总统提名战中失败的纳尔逊·洛克菲勒的顾问和演讲稿撰写者时曾经反复回归的一个主题。
As Kissinger observed in the first volume of his memoirs, “High office teaches decision-making, not substance. . . . On the whole, a period in high office consumes intellectual capital; it does not create it.” Since nearly all scholarly attention has been focused on Kissinger's time in office, his own intellectual capital—the ideas he developed between the early 1950s and the late 1960s at Harvard, at the Council on Foreign Relations, and for Rockefeller—has been insufficiently studied. Properly understood as an innovative critique of realpolitik, his ideas offer at least four key insights into foreign policy that Obama, not to mention his successor, would be well advised to study: history is the key to understanding rivals and allies; one must confront the problem of conjecture, with its asymmetric payoffs; many foreign policy decisions are choices between evils; and leaders should be wary of the perils of a morally vacuous realism.