Henry Kissinger’s Philosophy of History
PERHAPS governmental 05cial has been no
so analyzed by the American intellectual
community as Henry Kissinger. Much of this interest is due to his dramatic personal diplomacy and his cultivated image as a 4 6 secret swinger.” Kissinger, however, has the additional attraction of being an intellectual and a scholar. As an academic with immense power he provides vicarious identification for academics with little influence on policy. Equally important, Kissinger is unique among contemporary American statesmen in that his voluminous writings expose his basic ideas and invite scrutiny. It is natural that historians should have a ...view middle of the document...
”2 Despite his belief that history offers relevant examples for current leaders, Kissinger has never argued that the present is identical with the past. “History teaches by analogy, not identity,” he has cautioned, “the lessons of historical experience . . . are contingent. They teach the consequences of certain actions, but they cannot force recognition of comparable situations.” Kissinger has also dismissed as “childish” the persistent argument that he identifies himself with Metterni~h.~ Despite these disclaimers, it is clear that Kissinger feels history does offer parallels with the present. An examination of Kissinger’s historical writings reveals numerSpring 1975
ous attempts to equate past situations with contemporary problems. He repeatedly makes the analogy between post-World War I1 America and England in the 1820’s. Both are, in Kissinger’s view, “island powers” reluctant to intervene in the European balance-of-power unless there is an obvious military threat. Nineteenth century Prussia is often compared with modem Israel: both are forced by geography to pursue preemptive wars. The Soviet Union is seen as an historical parallel of revolutionary France. Ideology committed both to territorial expansion. Aside from present-mindedness, Kissinger’s history is characterized by a fascination with the individual and with the great powers. Due to his decision to concentrate on the history of foreign relations and his view that only the rare man of genius influences history, public opinion, domestic politics, political parties, and ideological differences appear in Kissinger’s writings only as extraneous hindrances that befuddle, restrict, and occasionally destroy the individuals he is most concerned with. What preoccupies Kissinger is not institutions but individuals such as Bismarck, De Gaulle, Lenin, and ICastlereagh. Partly because of this obsession with the great man, Kissinger makes no attempt to avoid moral judgments. Individuals are dismissed as ‘Lblunderers,” “pedants,” or the ultimate insult, “bureaucratic minds.” Those he admires, on the other hand, are lavishly praised as “geniuses,” “brilliant,” L L men of vision” possessing “spontaneity” and “creativity.” The criterion for these distinctions is Kissinger’s alone. Historians might well object to these summary characterizations. They would likely be more upset with Kissinger’s assessment of other historians and their methods. Kissinger’s methodology violated every rule postulated in a graduate seminar. While preparing his doctoral dissertation, “A
World Restored : Metternich, Castlereagh, and the Problems of Peace, 1812-1822,” Kissinger refused to read any of the secondary literature on the Congress of Vienna or the leaders of Europe. Instead he went directly to the writings and memoirs of the individuals involved. Only after he had begun to write was he finally persuaded to review the works of Charles Webster and others who had devoted their life to the study of...