Dr. Henry A. Kissinger Reflects on Working Toward Peace
totalitarian horrors of the twentieth century should have
brought home to us the fragility of the restraints that
embody civilization. The domestic experience of the United
States-peaceful, stable, and content-inhibits our capacity
to understand the vulnerabilities of other societies or
international orders. Blessed by history and a benign environment,
we are tempted to view our power as a dispensation and to
use it to impose our preferences. Such an attitude runs
the risk of being viewed as hegemonic by the rest of the
world and will gradually be opposed by it. Excessive reliance
on power and excessive insistence on our virtue may wind
up corroding the very values in the name of which our policy
is being conducted.
For this reason, I am made uneasy by foreign policies largely
shaped by ideologues. For ideologues have a tendency to
drive societies as well as international systems beyond
their capacities. The alleged dichotomy of pragmatism and
morality seems to me a misleading choice. Pragmatism without
a moral element leads to random activism, brutality, or
stagnation; moral conviction not tempered by a sense of
reality leads to self-righteousness, fanaticism, and the
erosion of all restraint. We must always be pragmatic about
our national security. We cannot abandon national security
in pursuit of virtue. But beyond this bedrock of all policy,
our challenge is to advance our principles in a way that
does not isolate us in the long run.
Each generation must discover that sense of proportion for
itself. In that regard, the present generation, and even
more its successors, encounter a special challenge. For
we are living through not only an exceptional period of
fluidity in international relations but through an even
more profound upheaval in how publics and leaders view the
world around them. In its scope and eventual impact, this
intellectual change is comparable to, and probably exceeds,
the consequences of the invention of the printing press
five centuries ago.
The contemporary statesman is constantly seduced by tactics.
The irony is that mastery of facts may lead to loss of understanding
of the subject matter and, indeed, control over it. Foreign
policy is in danger of turning into a subdivision of domestic
politics instead of an adventure in shaping the future.
The problem of most previous periods was that purposes outran
knowledge. The challenge of our period is the opposite:
knowledge is far outrunning purposes. The task for the United
States therefore is not only to reconcile its power and
its morality but to temper its faith with wisdom.
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