A Few More Links On Ferguson On Kissinger And His Idealism

Some interesting takeaways from the interview above (Kissinger was a young man whose family fled the Nazis and who not long after served in the American military, helping to free a concentration camp).

-In writing an entire undergraduate thesis on Kant’s transcendental idealism, Ferguson sketches a Kissinger who bypassed the historical determinism of the Hegelians and the economic determinism of the Marxists.  Freedom has to be lived and experienced to thrive and be understood, and Kant gets closer to championing this conception of individual freedom than do many German thinkers downstream of Kant.

-According to Ferguson, this still tends to make Kissinger an idealist on the idealist/realist foreign policy axis, but it also likely means he’s breaking with the doctrines which animate many on the political Left, hence his often heretical status.

***I’d add that unlike many thinkers in the German philosophical and political traditions, the Anglosphere has economic idealists and various systematists battling other systematists, yes, but there are looser networks of free, civic association and more avoidance of top-down organization and fewer internalized habits of order.

Perhaps such looser civic associations, broad geography and rougher, cruder practices of freedom help keep power and authority dispersed.  Kissinger came closer to being ‘America’s Metternich‘ than have all but a few other actors, and Kant was quite serious in the scope of his metaphysics.

Interesting piece here:

‘The most original and interesting aspect of the biography is Ferguson’s ability to engage with and analyze Kissinger’s ideas as set forth in the voluminous letters, papers, articles, and books written by Kissinger as a student, academic, and policy adviser. According to Ferguson, Kissinger the political philosopher was closer to Kant than Machiavelli. While he admired the brilliance of Metternich and Bismarck, his ideal statesmen (e.g., Castlereagh) sought to construct international orders that did not depend upon a guiding genius for their stability.

He was not, however, a Wilsonian idealist—idealism based on abstraction instead of experience, he believed, was a “prescription for inaction.” “The insistence on pure morality,” Kissinger once told a colleague, “is in itself the most immoral of postures.” Statesmen must act under a cloud of uncertainty and often their decisions reflect a choice among evils.’

As previously posted: – ‘Kissinger: Volume I: The Idealist.1923-1968:’

FT review. 

The Economist

Previously on this site:

Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft here, long before any Iran dealing.

Some thoughts on Fukuyama and Leo Strauss: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Francis Fukuyama uses some Hegel and Samuel Huntington…just as Huntington was going against the grain of modernization theory…:Newsweek On Francis Fukuyama: ‘The Beginning Of History’Francis Fukuyama At The American Interest Online: ‘Political Order in Egypt’

Robert Nozick merged elements of Kant and Locke in a strong, libertarian defense of the individual A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”From Slate: ‘The Liberty Scam-Why Even Robert Nozick, The Philosophical Father Of Libertarianism, Gave Up On The Movement He Inspired.’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Free Speech, Moral Relativism, And New Rules-Some Links

Via a reader: Jonathan Merritt-‘The Death Of Moral Relativism:’


‘Law, virtue, and a shame culture have risen to prominence in recent years, signaling that moral relativism may be going the way of the buggy whip.’

On this site, see: Pushing Against Moral Relativism & The Academic Fashions Of Modern Life-Some Links…Repost: Via A Reader-Peter Thiel On The Logic Of Multiculturalism

Addition: Full interview here.

“Nigel: Has relativism had its day as an influential philosophical position?

Simon: No – and I don’t think it should ever die. The danger is that it gets replaced by some kind of complacent dogmatism, which is at least equally unhealthy. The Greek sceptics thought that confronting a plurality of perspectives is the beginning of wisdom, and I think they were right. It is certainly the beginning of historiography and anthropology, and if we think, for instance, of the Copernican revolution, of self-conscious science. The trick is to benefit from an imaginative awareness of diversity, without falling into a kind of “anything goes” wishy-washy nihilism or scepticism….”

It looks like we’ve been dealing with such a problem for a long time, in one form or another.

Niall Ferguson notes something important about networks of patronage in the academy; networks increasingly colonized by people of Left-liberal persuasion and their moral lights (sometimes out-and out- Marxists):  Disagreement is typically seen as personal, heretical and beyond the bounds of presumed acceptability.  Should one disagree one is fair game to be mobbed as not merely wrong, nor mistaken, but as potentially ‘evil’ and a target for character attacks, shaming, and exclusion.

When you have heads of departments, faculty, and university Presidents committed to some aspect of the Left-liberal moral lights and their own careers and obligations (if not the out-and-out radicalism), don’t expect them to side with heretics.

It’s worth revisiting how Ferguson’s wife, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, using the products of Western thought, has pretty much been excluded from polite society in challenging Islamists because such challenges violate the tenets of the current replacements for religion (the Left-liberals and out- and out- Marxists in the academy):

‘Yesterday Brandeis University decided to withdraw an honorary degree they were to confer upon me next month during their Commencement exercises. I wish to dissociate myself from the university’s statement, which implies that I was in any way consulted about this decision. On the contrary, I was completely shocked when President Frederick Lawrence called me — just a few hours before issuing a public statement — to say that such a decision had been made.’

Tunku Varadarajan Reviews Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ‘Nomad’ At The Daily Beast

Christopher Hitchens At Slate: Yale SurrendersYale concluded that the risk of violence and the potential consequences that stemmed from their decision to publish a scholarly work about the Mohammed cartoons (reprinting those cartoons) was not worth the risk.  Hitchens is not a fan of religion.

The Intellectual Cowardice Of The Crowd-Charles Murray At Middlebury College Race,

Free Speech And All That-John Derbyshire Will Not Be Appearing At Williams College

Repost At The Request Of A Reader-Revisting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?

Hirsi Ali seems to have found the embrace of the West out of both tribal localism and its customs, Islam, and the short-sightedness of multiculturalism.  Notice non-Muslims are not the ones threatening her with death: Tunku Varadarajan Reviews Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ‘Nomad’ At The Daily BeastRepost-Ayan Hirsi Ali At The CSM: ‘Swiss Ban On Minarets Was A Vote ForTolerance And Inclusion’

On Niall Ferguson’s new Biography- ‘Kissinger: Volume I: The Idealist.1923-1968:’

FT review.

The Economist

Ferguson discusses the first volume in D.C.

Niall Ferguson At The L.A. Times: ‘Think Kissinger Was The Heartless Grandmaster Of Realpolitik? What About Obama?’

Full piece here.

‘Wait — realism? Isn’t that the hard-nosed — not to say amoral — approach to foreign policy commonly associated with Henry Kissinger?

Having spent much of the last decade writing a life of Kissinger, I no longer think of the former secretary of State as the heartless grandmaster of realpolitik. (That’s a caricature.) But after reading countless critiques of his record, not least the late Christopher Hitchens’ influential “Trial of Henry Kissinger,” I also find myself asking another question: Where are the equivalent critiques of Obama?’

Perhaps this is a useful line of thought.

Wherever you happen to be coming from, I’ve often taken ‘realpolitik‘ to mean:  Tempering one’s idealism and moral/professional/political commitments with some empiricism or ‘things as they are’ regarding policy and world events (empiricism is complicated, and it ain’t always ‘(S)cience’ as I’ve come see the world).

This can offer a valuable space where some reflection, intellectual honesty, and adjustment can occur by those making decisions, and where people under such decision-makers can hold them to some account (a reasonable constraint if there ever was one).

People rarely agree on beliefs, principles, politics nor policy prescriptions, but as Kissinger noted, there’s always a necessary political component to our beliefs and principles:

“Moreover, the reputation, indeed the political survival, of most leaders depends on their ability to realize their goals, however these may have been arrived at.  Whether these goals are desireable is relatively less crucial.”

Kissinger, Henry. American Foreign Policy:  Three Essays.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.  1969.


‘There is disenchantment with Obama’s foreign policy these days. In recent polls, nearly half of Americans (49.3%) disapprove of it, compared with fewer than 38% who approve. I suspect, however, that many disapprove for the wrong reasons. The president is widely seen, especially on the right, as weak. In my view, his strategy is flawed, but there is no doubting his ruthlessness when it comes to executing it.’

The place where ideals are tested in the world, and found wanting, often requires the cold-eyed application of strategic logic, and to his credit, Obama’s at least stayed this course to some extent as Ferguson points out (though nowhere near enough, and without nearly enough criticism, for my taste).

As I see it, a Western Left activism and liberation idealism was always more the root from which Obama’s policy sprang (the kind of liberation politics and cooled street activism to which many folks have been hesitant to critize when it comes to implications for current institutional authority). The application of cold-logic and non-action out in the world often came later, often out of necessity, where the ideas and policies have failed or been challenged.

As for realpolitik, some of its inherent pragmatism is applicable now, as it’s wise to be pragmatic about what should stay and go, and what’s working now and what might work better. This seems worthy of consideration for no other reason than the reasonable transfer of power in our Republic.

On that note, some people get really angry at Henry Kissinger, with an anger perhaps reserved for heretics and apostates.  I’m figuring his roots in an Enlightenment Kantian transcendental idealism make him a target for adherents, believers and true-believers of Left-liberalism idealism out in the world.

This seems to challenge many folks where they live.

As previously posted:

On Niall Ferguson’s new Biography- ‘Kissinger: Volume I: The Idealist.1923-1968:’

FT review.

The Economist

Ferguson discusses the first volume in D.C.


-Scowcroft and Brzezinski may be offering plans: ‘George Shultz & Henry Kissinger At The Hoover Institution: ‘What A Final Iran Deal Must Do’

Israel, Iran, & Peace: Andrew Sullivan Responds To Charges Of Potential Anti-SemitismSome Saturday Links On Iran-Skepticism, To Say The Least George Shultz & Henry Kissinger At The Hoover Institution: ‘What A Final Iran Deal Must Do’ So what are our interests and how do we secure them as the fires in the Middle-East rage?  Michael Totten makes a case here in Why We Can’t Leave The Middle-East.’  He gets push-back in the comments

Henry Kissinger & George Schulz Via The WSJ: ‘The Iran Deal And Its Consequences’Inside Everyone Is A Western Individual Waiting To Get Out?-Repost-Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Somewhere, It All Connects-Niall Ferguson, Theodore Dalrymple-Some Links

Ferguson offers a mix of history, political economy, current events and politics in Networks & Hierarchies:

‘In today’s terms, the hierarchy is not a single city but the state itself, the vertically structured super-polity that evolved out of the republics and monarchies of early modern Europe. Though not the most populous nation in the world, the United States is certainly the world’s most powerful state, despite the limits imposed by checks (to lobbyists) and balances (as in bank).’

Are we headed back to the landscape of a few favored, large firms on the American scene (mostly tech…now operating in and with ever greater access to global markets) in bed with a strong, regulatory government apparatus?

Which kinds of policies would such a marriage end-up churning out?

More like Comcast or more like Google as it currently stands?

Has the culture shifted broadly towards more liberal ideals, or just some more visible institutions? Aren’t many folks in tech more liberalishly inclined anyways?

From time to time, I imagine a few familiar faces in the Congress and Senate, allowing them to pass through my mind. These are my representatives, there are many like them, but these ones are mine…drafting laws, calculating political advantage, trying to keep their jobs and appealing to their constituents….at best trying to become Statesmen, at worst…trying not to get caught.

A sobering thought.

As Walter Russell Mead keeps arguing, the Rhode Island/Detroit/California Legislature ‘blue’ model of big labor, public pensions, larger social safety nets etc. is sclerotic and dysfunctional, pegged to economic conditions which have clearly changed.

The governance of current Detroit ain’t necessarily a path to the future.

He links to a piece by Aaron Renn at the City Journal:

Poor Little Rhody:

‘The result: a state with “the costs of Minnesota and the quality of Mississippi,” as Rob Atkinson, former executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Policy Council, told WPRI-TV. Indeed, Rhode Island is arguably America’s basket case, overlooked only because it is small enough to escape most national scrutiny’

I remember Reason’s video on Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios boondoggle.

Clearly, the innovators in Providence knew a good investment when they saw one.


*I’m thinking the Republican party is a little further ahead of some of these changes at the moment, dragged kicking and screaming by the Tea Party and libertarian/conservative base, mostly forced to think fresh and be more responsive to conservative principles and change as they’re out of power.

That could change soon enough.

On the Left-liberal side, folks like Elizabeth Warren are trying to freshen-up the progressive ideals and appeal to the larger public from a populist base. Unsurprisingly, this requires more regulations and laws to achieve her aims, and ultimately red-meat and regulatory rhetoric for that base, for such is politics. Expect more broad and popular support from many media outlets, as usual. After all, dear Citizen, you didn’t build that and we’re all in this together, building roads, schools and health-care laws towards greater fairness and a more equal tomorrow etc….

Cruising the international scene, Theodore Dalyrymple is not fond of the obesification and unkempt dress and behavior seen on the streets of Amsterdam.

This will not do:

‘Modern scruffiness, then, is a manifestation of egotism. Outside one of the shops in Amsterdam was a large plasma screen showing models wearing the kind of clothes to be had within. They were precisely the insolently ragged clothes that the great majority of people in the street were wearing anyway. This was a form of flattery of the public, for it implied that its members had nothing to aspire to in the matter of dress higher than that which they themselves were already wearing—that in the matter of appearance they had already reached acme of the possible’

Is it the work of markets dragging folks away from the kinds of properly civilizing manners and habits Dalrymple would like to see?

Would an American be flattering himself by seeing an ‘Americanization’ and democratization at work, in which many Europeans on the street forge different relationships with their governments and underlying hierarchies and histories?

Should we eagerly await the arrival of European women going to the grocery store in pajamas, texting in line while chewing gum?

***Looking across the Atlantic to the Eurozone, where even reform-minded Eurocrats can become lost in the machine, working within the inertia of such a system, lulled by its slow processes and claims for ever greater efficiency and stability on the way to gradual technocratic progress, the Eurocratic political union itself seems resting awkwardly atop deeper chasms, clunky, unresponsive and hierarchically…distant.

Can you see limited government from here?

Related On This Site:   What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘

Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Have you downloaded the apps…and the concepts of Enlightenment and post Enlightenment liberty that can lead to runtime errors and fiscal failure? Sachs and Niall Ferguson duke it out: CNN-Fareed Zakaria Via Youtube: ‘Jeff Sachs and Niall Ferguson’

Jesse Prinz Discusses “The Emotional Construction Of Morals” On Bloggingheads...

Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

..A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantSome Friday Quotations: (On) Kant, Locke, and Pierce

Niall Ferguson At The Daily Beast: ‘China Should Intervene in Syria, Not America’

Full piece here.


Under President Obama, U.S. grand strategy has been at best incoherent, at worst nonexistent. I can think of no better complement to the president’s recent “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region than to invite China to play a greater role in the Middle East—one that is commensurate with its newfound wealth and growing military capability

I can see a benefit in trying to entice China into international action, especially its military capabilities with regard to Syria, as there is wisdom in getting them to bear some cost of their heavy oil consumption and in getting them involved in a broader security partnership with international players.  However, I could also see danger as many interests in China don’t really see themselves aligned with Western interests at all (Russia’s pushing the envelope in Syria now).  The Western moral and/or human rights reasoning which favors Syrian intervention would probably not be primary for China, and such interaction could lead to power plays on a bigger chessboard, with Syria as a pawn, and a potential for greater conflict.

We might not like what we would get.

Related On This Site: Over a billion people and a culturally homogenous Han core.  Rapid industrialization atop an ancient civilization.  There is state-sponsored hacking and espionage, a good bit of corruption and a lot of young men floating around fast-growing cities.   There are people fighting for their freedoms, better laws, and making their way forward.  There is an often lawless, ruthless capitalism (and hefty State involvement and cronyism) and it will take smart leadership to maintain steady growth. Can they do it?  TED Via Youtube: Martin Jacques ‘Understanding The Rise Of China’From Foreign Affairs: ‘The Geography Of Chinese Power’From Via Media At The American Interest: ‘History Made; Media Blind’From The New Perspectives Quarterly: Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Is America Ready for a Post-American World?’Repost-From The American Interest Online: Niall Ferguson on ‘What Chimerica Hath Wrought’

Have you downloaded the apps…and the concepts of Enlightenment and post Enlightenment liberty that can lead to runtime errors and fiscal failure? Sachs and Niall Ferguson duke it out: CNN-Fareed Zakaria Via Youtube: ‘Jeff Sachs and Niall Ferguson’

Thursday Quotation: Jeane Kirkpatrick – J.S. MillFrom Foreign Affairs-’Former Syrian General Akil Hashem on the Uprising in Syria’From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘Syria’s Regime Not Worth Preserving’

 Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are…upon a Kantian raft of perpetual peace?:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

Add to Technorati Favorites

Niall Ferguson At The Daily Beast: ‘Israel and Iran on the Eve of Destruction in a New Six-Day War’

Full post here.

Ferguson runs through 5 arguments why Israel should not attack Iran, and why he thinks they’re wrong.

‘1. The Iranians would retaliate with great fury, closing the Strait of Hormuz and unleashing the dogs of terror in Gaza, Lebanon, and Iraq.

2. The entire region would be set ablaze by irate Muslims; the Arab Spring would turn into a frigid Islamist winter.

3. The world economy would be dealt a death blow in the form of higher oil prices.

4. The Iranian regime would be strengthened, having been attacked by the Zionists its propaganda so regularly vilifies.

5. A nuclear-armed Iran is nothing to worry about. States actually become more risk-averse once they acquire nuclear weapons.’

Click through for the responses. He finishes with:

‘War is an evil. But sometimes a preventive war can be a lesser evil than a policy of appeasement. The people who don’t yet know that are the ones still in denial about what a nuclear-armed Iran would end up costing us all.

It feels like the eve of some creative destruction.’

Related On This Site:  Sachs and Niall Ferguson duke it out: CNN-Fareed Zakaria Via Youtube: ‘Jeff Sachs and Niall Ferguson’

Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘Remember Libya?’

 From Reflections Of A Rational Republican: ‘Are Airstrikes Imminent In Iran?’From Reflections Of A Rational Republican: ‘Will Israel Attack Iran This Spring?’

Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: ‘Iran: Keeping The World’s Oddest Couple Together’…Materialism and Leftism Paul Berman On Bloggingheads: The Left Can Criticize Iran

Add to Technorati Favorites

CNN-Fareed Zakaria Via Youtube: ‘Jeff Sachs and Niall Ferguson’

Sent in by a reader.  A bit heated.

I would humbly point out: There does need to be shared sacrifice and there are moral obligations that people have to other people, but defined and led by whom?  What is the social contract?

As Ferguson points out…it’s fair for individuals to be skeptical when they are obliged to enter into a contract with an entity that doesn’t necessarily look out for their interests (a wealth transfer from themselves to others in the name of greater justice).  As Sachs argues, the primary goal for all citizens (led by the State) ought to be providing some people food, shelter, a fair shot at learning, job opportunities, job-retraining at the moment in our post-industrial, globalizing, more and more technology-driven society (can we bring industry back, or will they be cottage industries?).  Perhaps the government has a role to help us get more competitive and maintain some social mobility in the long run.  There’s substance there.

Yet, we are currently promised programs that work for the public good that are often delivered inefficiently, fail regularly to meet the needs they address, fail fiscally to deliver returns, and can become ends for political and ideological gain in themselves.   There sure is a lot of entrenched self-interest involved and reason to be skeptical.

This does not excuse Wall Street of course, nor its obligations to Main Street, but it doesn’t seem to necessarily follow that more redistribution, more regulation and more State are necessarily the answers.

A fair summary?


This blog has been a place to remain skeptical of distributive and redistributive definitions of justice (for as many have pointed out, such definitions freeze in place an impossibly high standard of human behavior given how people and groups actually behave, thus limiting the effectiveness of our institutions in addressing the problems they are created and maintained to address…quite possibly making less justice and less freedom in the long run).

The blog has also been a place to remain skeptical of positive definitions of liberty.  Liberty and individual liberties are one of the hallmarks and triumphs of Western, post-Enlightenment thought, but liberty can clearly come with dangers of its own: excessive freedom and no responsibility, Rousseauian radical freedom, totalitarian impulses, group-think, scientism, Statism, fascism, theories of how the individual ought to fit into the whole etc.

I think we’re more likely to be led down the garden path toward more regulated markets, higher-unemployment, less social mobillity, more class-riven, bureaucratic/technocratic Europe (old monarchic Europe?) by such ideas over time.  Of course we’ll be promised the great art, good food, fine literature, justice/social justice, the more fair and equal society…

…but frankly it seems like a total-European package.

Related On This Site:  Fareed Zakaria BBC Interview: America In Decline?…Richard Lieber’s not necessarily convinced:  Richard Lieber In The World Affairs Journal–Falling Upwards: Declinism, The Box Set..

The State causes all poverty?  I’m not sure about that. Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’A Few Thoughts On Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: “Why Blue Can’t Save The Inner Cities Part I”

Samuel Huntington responded to liberalism and influenced generations from Fukuyama to Fareed Zakaria:  From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s Work

Statism and art/popular art and NPR?: From ReasonTV Via Youtube: ‘Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a “Yellow-Dog Democrat,” & Missing Walter Cronkite’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Add to Technorati Favorites