Kissinger the constructivistHistorians in the News
Henry Kissinger would rank in anyone’s top 10 list of the most important realists in the history of international relations theory and practice. As national security adviser and secretary of state, and as a prolific author, he became synonymous with dexterous, amoral diplomacy and a cold-blooded pragmatism attuned only to the balance of power and the pursuit of national interest. Robert Kaplan calls his “classical realism — as expressed in both his books and his statecraft — emotionally unsatisfying but analytically timeless.” Kissinger’s new book “World Order” reminds Walter Isaacson “why Realism matters.”
In fact, the most wondrous thing about “World Order” is that Kissinger, the uber-realist, has outed himself as a constructivist to the core. Forget about Kenneth Waltz’s spare realism of states jockeying for power and advantage under the relentless demands of anarchy. Enough with hard-boiled notions about the irrelevance of history, culture and identity or the scientific measurement of an objective balance of power. Nope. Kissinger’s reading of world order is that of Alexander Wendt, not Kenneth Waltz. We really are all constructivists now.
There has always been an unacknowledged strand of constructivism running through Kissinger’s academic writing, if not his statesmanship. Kissinger’s account of Europe in “World Order” recalls his outstanding early book “A World Restored,” which celebrated the efforts of early 19th century European statesmen to reconstruct international order around shared principles of legitimacy following the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. Insights about legitimacy and order ran through his magisterial book “Diplomacy.” But “World Order” offers by far Kissinger’s most explicit and unabashed embrace of constructivism. A decade ago, the George Washington University’s Henry Nau could uncontroversially juxtapose constructivists against Kissinger as “a foremost practitioner of Realist theory” interpreting world politics “in terms of the positioning and balancing of rival powers.” Not anymore.
Kissinger’s description of U.S. foreign policy now sounds less like Hans Morgenthau than John Ikenberry’s “Liberal Leviathan”: “the community of nations that they aimed to uphold reflected an American consensus – an inexorably expanding cooperative order of states observing common rules and norms, embracing liberal economic systems, forswearing territorial conquest, respecting national sovereignty, and adopting participatory and democratic systems of government.” The problem, for Kissinger, is that “today this ‘rules-based’ system faces challenges” because “there is no shared definition of the system.” This absence of a normative consensus is a recipe for instability: “any system of world order, to be sustainable, must be accepted – not only by leaders, but also by citizens.” His question, ultimately, is this: “Can regions with different cultures, histories, and traditional theories of order vindicate the legitimacy of any common system?” ...
comments powered by Disqus
- Santae Tribble, Whose Wrongful Conviction Revealed FBI Forensic Hair Match Flaws, Dies at 59
- Crowd Rallies to Keep Confederate Memorial in Downtown St. Augustine
- As Divisions Threaten America, The Pressure To Cancel Presidents Is Dangerous
- Trump is Going All In on Divisive Culture Wars. That Might not Work this Time.
- Redskins, Indians and the Long Push to Drop Native American Mascots
- The Politics of Race are Shifting, and Politicians are Struggling to Keep Pace
- Trump’s Push to Amplify Racism Unnerves Republicans who have Long Enabled Him
- The Day the White Working Class Turned Republican (Review)
- David Starkey Criticised over Slavery Comments
- ‘A Conflicted Cultural Force’: What It’s Like to Be Black in Publishing