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“In Kissinger’s Wake”

Today’s title comes from a recent article in Noema, which is a sort of globalist journal that I had not heard of. (I don’t try to keep up with journals, so this is no great surprise.) I probably would not agree with much of the author’s beliefs. He describes, for example, the need to shift from Realpolitik to “Gaiapolitik,” “planetary realism recognizes that the security of each depends inextricably on cooperation and collaboration with others in aligning with the self-regulating ecosystem of the Earth.” This sounds like nonsense to me, and in fact it reminds me that I need to say something about the alleged necessity of collaboration pushing out war as a viable means of politics.

Nevertheless, I did find some interesting bits in this article. The author notes that Kissinger’s experience growing up, where he lost 13 extended relatives to the Holocaust, shaped his view of diplomcate: “The way to enable societies to flourish,” the author writes of Kissinger, “is not by reaching for the utopian perfection of human nature but by keeping the peace through constraining the innate temptations of the will to power.” This sounds plausible. On the other hand, how would this approach have helped his lost relatives? We have written that Kissinger consistently preferred order over justice, and it seems like the willingness of other powers to ignore what was going on in Germany was precisely what made the Holocaust possible. If Hitler hadn’t invaded Poland, there would have been no war against Germany. (It is also true, however, that the worst excesses of the Holocaust occurred during the war, and arguably might have been prevented or at least greatly ameliorated if there had been no war.)

The author describes Kissinger’s approach to statecraft based on his last book, called “Leadership.” He believed that the best statesmen “successfully navigated constraints to realize new possibilities through evolutionary stability.” This appeals to me. You can’t stop change, but if you are wise enough, you can anticipate it and mold it for positive purposes.

The author notes at the beginning of his essay that “Kissinger’s remarkable longevity as the star statesman on the world stage made him the symbolic carrier of the Westphalia paradigm well past its expiration date.” This corresponds to what I wrote in a recent entry, that his life corresponded pretty closely with the period when Westphalia was considered the source of state sovereignty. The author hopes that Kissinger’s death will offer an occasion to move beyond being bound by sovereignty. I think that sovereignty is a useful concept, although I am not as emphatic about protecting it as some people are. I just want to move beyond thinking of Westphalia as its source.

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