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Kissinger Essay, Research Paper

Nichlesh Patel

Fingerspitzengfhhl- Henry Kissinger

(Intuition of Power)

Kissinger wields more power than any other presidential advisor or Secretary of State in the history of the Republic. He is not the conventional American diplomat. (Kalb 544). Henry Kissinger, the statesman who at one point was called the second most powerful man in the world, developed a unique political philosophy in which the principles of realpolitik were used for the foundation of strategy while a Machiavellian outlook drove policy implementation. This unique mixture of policy and practice, the result of the pragmatism, was based in the weaknesses that Henry Kissinger saw in the American political system. Believing that the American political system was far too idealistic, Kissinger was far more cautious in allowing sentiment to jeopardize the formation of policy. Allowing him to maneuver quickly and easily through a complex diplomatic world, this philosophy utilized power and leverage to the American advantage. As was necessary in this high power and tense diplomatic style, Henry Kissinger trusted no one around him and constantly used the same methods he employed in international diplomacy to further himself in competition with his rivals. Under this Machiavellian philosophy, Kissinger had little regard for the legality or morality of his

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actions, and frequently broke laws to circumvent what he believed to be obstacles to success.

Kissinger s European-style philosophy of integrated affairs- a power oriented realism or realpolitik- was rooted in his background (Isaacson 760). Henry Kissinger s unique political philosophy materialized mainly through his experiences as a child in Nazi controlled Germany. Born in Fuerth, Germany, on May 27, 1923 to an Orthodox Jewish family, Henry Kissinger found his childhood to be particularly painful. Under the Nazi regime, the Kissinger family looked inwards to find the support they needed, and tried to weather the persecution that they faced. When it became apparent to them however in1938, that the Nazis would not pass as a phase, the Kissinger’s moved to Washington Heights, New York. There, they were able to start a new life, one in which their children had limitless possibilities. Only four years later, the last Jewish members of Fuerth, 33 orphans, were killed (Isaacson 28).

Under the reign of the Nazis, there were two possibilities of how the experience could have changed Henry Kissinger. The totalitarian government of Hitler might have spawned in Kissinger the hatred of dictatorial powers, and therefore turned him into an idealist. What happened in actuality was that the influence of the Nazis turned Kissinger into a hardened man, one who realized that it was of the utmost importance to contain people such as Hitler. Kissinger came out of the ordeal with the experience that it took equally ruthless rivals to match dictators, ones who would use power as well as the dictators. After having seen the dangers of volatility in government firsthand, Kissinger later in his career always sought to put stability above justice and freedom. He

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was later quoted as saying, The point of departure is order, which alone can produce freedom (Isaacson 681). Because the Nazis showed Kissinger that order preceded freedom, he was therefore was not beyond using dictatorial methods to achieve his goals.

Henry Kissinger once said, In the life of every person there comes a point when he realizes that out of all the seemingly limitless possibilities of youth he has in fact become one actuality (Isaacson 761). Kissinger became his actuality not only through the ordeals of Germany, but also because of his new home, America. At the age of 15, Henry Kissinger found himself in a new land, with a new language, and in a new culture. After quickly exploring the city, and naturalizing himself while in high school, Kissinger enrolled in City College. Kissinger was drafted into World War Two in March of 1943, and was quickly selected for the Specialized Army Training Program. After making some influential friends through political discussion, Kissinger was moved into the Counter-Intelligence Corps. In the Counter-Intelligence Corps, Kissinger was placed in charge of creating governments in Allied occupied towns. There, Kissinger first began his experimentation in government, and the formation of his political philosophy (Kissinger 300 Yea. Of Ren.).

Henry Kissinger was influenced heavily by the American culture that he was immersed in as a young adult. In the United States, he became entranced with political power, and that influence forever changed his political methods. His Machiavellian pursuits were first honed in the army, where he began to manipulate people and sentiments to suit his further acquisition of power (Kalb 43). More importantly however, in America Kissinger first saw the weaknesses of idealism in both a government and

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public. Kissinger considers this idealistic aspect of the American spirit a weakness in terms of sustaining policies in a messy world. To some extent, he was right, but it was also a source of strength (Isaacson 767). Recognizing the flaws of such beliefs in a changing political climate, Kissinger saw the need for order. In the army, he began to establish that order, one village at a time in Allied occupied Germany.

In addition to life as a child and young adult, Kissinger s experiences and studies after World War Two reinforced his political philosophy. Applying to Harvard in 1946, Kissinger was accepted exceptionally late in the summer. At Harvard, Kissinger majored in government, and published an unprecedented thesis titled, The Meaning of History. He received his degree, in 1950, Summa Cum Laude largely due to this immense thesis (Isaacson 60). Realizing that he needed further schooling and experience before embarking on a political career, Kissinger enrolled in Harvard graduate school. While there, he soon established a foreign relations journal, The Confluence that attracted many of the top politicians of the day to write for the publication (Isaacson 74). Most impressive however, was the program Kissinger founded called the Center for International Affairs. At the Center for International Affairs, Kissinger invited the future leaders of Europe to attend classes and socialize over the summer at Harvard (Kissinger 210). There, he formed the network of contacts that would be so valuable to him later in life as a politician. In 1954, Kissinger obtained his doctorate in government from Harvard University with a graduate thesis, A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace 1812-22 (Isaacson 75). From then until 1971, Kissinger was a member of the Faculty of Harvard University, both in the Department of Government

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and at the Center for International Affairs. Soon his Harvard contacts got him a position with the Special Studies Project for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. After leaving the Rockefeller camp as an analyst, Kissinger continued to consult sporadically for various government agencies. Eventually, he went on to serve in various high level positions serving on both the National Security Council and as Secretary of State (Isaacson 128-30).

The political philosophy of Henry Kissinger was influenced profoundly by the education he received at Harvard and his experiences within the American government. At Harvard, Kissinger began his first in depth study of politics upon a global scale. There, he found Prince Metternich, one with whom he found much in common. They both shared a sober outlook on life, and were facing a changing world order. Most importantly however, Kissinger saw at Harvard, the need for realpolitik in American diplomacy (Kalb 45). In his approach to diplomacy, Kissinger has sought to challenge and recast the traditional American approach to the world. He believes in a more realistic, sober tradition of European statecraft recommends itself to the United States, especially as it approaches the new century (Garrity 1). While simultaneously developing an outlook on policy, Kissinger also began what was necessary for his rise to power while at Harvard. Leaning to his Machiavellian tendencies, Kissinger saw the importance of networking in foreign affairs. At Harvard, he therefore began to cultivate the contacts that would help him so much in the future, through the various programs he established. He sought the best around the globe, and skillfully used the Harvard name to build himself a substantial network of friends (Kalb 48).

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Henry Kissinger found occasion to study many people while majoring in government at Harvard. Though the political scientists he studied influenced him heavily, he was more impressed with the politicians who used political theories in practice. Among those that Kissinger studied who had a significant impact on him were Machiavelli, Metternich, Bismarck, Kant, and Thucydides. These people each gave Kissinger a unique perspective of his realpolitik view of politics, each reinforcing his overall pragmatic attitude.

The most influential politician in Kissinger s life was Machiavelli, whose The Prince, served as a model of behavior for life. It was Machiavelli s idea that a prince should be concerned only with power and be bound only by rules that would lead to success in political actions. Kissinger took a similar stance, using many methods to manipulate his way into power. Kissinger was once quoted as saying, Because I know what I want and what others are capable of, I am completely prepared (Kalb 549). Early in his Harvard career, showed his grasp of power by beginning to cultivate the networking he needed later in life. Throughout his political career, Kissinger was also quick to use flattery on the influential people he met (Isaacson 350). What defined him most as a Machiavellian however was his propensity to break moral and civil laws for the advancement of his ideas. Often, Kissinger was guilty of courting many competing candidates, using the knowledge he had to leverage one against another. Kissinger also frequently went around normal channels of power, bypassing those whom he believed would stifle his ideas. Most outrageous however, was his ordering of wiretaps of rivals in the American government in the name of national interest (Isaacson 580). These

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wiretaps were later found to be illegal, and Kissinger escaped the escapade with only shade of suspicion around him. In Kissinger s mind as well as Machiavelli s, the ends justified the means of power. He became suspicious prone to manipulating peoples antagonisms more readily than appealing to the goodness (Isaacson 761)

Metternich was also an influential man in Kissinger s life, and the one who most people associate with Henry Kissinger. In Kissinger s doctoral thesis there is a line, The reaction against Metternich s smug self satisfaction and rigid conservatism has tended to take the form of denying the reality of his accomplishments (150 Kissinger Wor. Res.). Metternich is largely associated with Kissinger, in that both followed a similar stance in diplomatic affairs. Both men lived in a time of political uncertainty, and Metternich battled France as Kissinger fought the Soviets. Much like Metternich, Kissinger resented liberalism, nationalism, and revolution. Both men were men of order in an increasingly disorganized world of rapidly changing values. Vain and indolent by nature, both often assumed responsibility for policies that they had not themselves formulated (Garrity 1). Both saw idealism as a vice, and accordingly used realpolitik to their utmost advantage. Another line in Kissinger s thesis states, The deviousness of Metternich s diplomacy had been the reflection of a fundamental certainty, that liberty was inseparable from authority, that freedom was an attribute of order (210 Kissinger A Wor. Res.). In final evaluation, both men also ended up being judged in the same manner. Some have judged both as reactionaries who tried to stem the tide of democratic progress; while others believe they were a constructive force, misunderstood by contemporaries and historians alike (Garrity 1).

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Among the other notables who influenced Kissinger to a lesser extent, were Otto Van Bismarck, and Thucydides. Each person taught Kissinger a specific lesson about pragmatism in foreign affairs. Otto Van Bismarck, the chancellor of Germany at one time, created a diplomatic web so complex that it frightened even his associates in the foreign office, who considered it a house of cards unsustainable in any serious crisis (Kaplan 2). Kissinger did quite the same during the Cold War, scaring those around him in the government into thinking that the tension would snap at some point and begin open hostilities. Exactly like Kissinger s legacy, Bismarck’s legacy, in short, was at best an extremely intricate system that depended on the personality of the man. From this example however, Kissinger learned the mistake of overextension. He warns that European-style diplomacy tempts its practitioners toward overextension. Nations that pursue security through the acquisition of power can easily go too far. This dangerous tendency led to the tragedy of the First World War. Kissinger believes that the solution to overextension lies in seeking an agreement on common values (Kaplan 1). From Thucydides, Kissinger learned that the strategic interaction of states followed a discernible and recurrent pattern. According to Thucydides, within a given system of states, a certain hierarchy among the states determined the pattern of their relations. Kissinger was careful to study such patterns, and was therefore prepared when he was able to anticipate the actions of other nations. Thucydides was the father of political “realism,” the school of thought which states that interstate relations are based on might rather than right (Kaplan 1). Kissinger seemed to learn this lesson early, as in his

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undergraduate writings we find, Foreign policy cannot be conducted without an awareness of power relationships (1 Kissinger Nucl. Wea. and For. Pol).

Henry Kissinger developed an interesting mix of Machiavellian principles and those of realpolitik. The methods he was forced to employ were necessary for this brand of quasi-dictatorial power he wanted over American diplomacy. Upon examination however, the actions Kissinger took cannot be summarily dismissed as regrettable. Kissinger s tending to be secretive even deceitful was partly a reaction of this insecurity and nervousness. But it was also linked the policies he pursued (Isaacson 762). Henry Kissinger was forced to make to pursue policies as he did because he believed he was acting in the interests of the country as a whole. It can be questioned whether it was moral to make those actions, but we must consider favorable outcome of them. Henry Kissinger guided America through the Cold War, and did so against daunting odds.

The impact that Henry Kissinger had upon the politics and government of the United States will continue to be developed and felt for centuries to come. At the very least however, he can be summed up in the words of Zhou Enlai, You are a very brilliant man, Dr. Kissinger (Isaacson 760)

Works Cited

Garrity, Patrick. How to think about Henry Kissinger . On Principle. Ashland: x Ashland University Press, 1997.

Isaacson, Walter. Kissinger. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.

Kaplan, Robert. Kissinger, Metternich, and Realism . The Atlantic. June 1991: 73-82

Kalb, Bernard and Marvin. Kissinger. Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1974.

Kissinger, Henry. A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh, and the Problems of Peace, 1812-22. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.

Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Touchstone Books, 1995.

Kissinger, Henry. Years of Renewal. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999.


Burr, William, ed. The Kissinger Transcripts: To Top Secret Talks With Beijing and

Moscow. New York: New Press, 2000.

Hersh, Seymour. The Prince of Power. New York: Summit Books, 1983.

Hitchens, Christopher. The Trial of Henry Kissinger. Chicago: Verso Publishing, 2001.

Isaacson, Walter. Kissinger. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.

Garrity, Patrick. How to think about Henry Kissinger . On Principle. Ashland: Ashland University Press, 1997.

Kaplan, Robert. Kissinger, Metternich, and Realism . The Atlantic. June 1991: 73-82

Kalb, Bernard and Marvin. Kissinger. Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1974.

Kissinger, Henry. A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh, and the Problems of

Peace, 1812-22. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.

Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Touchstone Books, 1995.

Kissinger, Henry. Years of Renewal. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999.

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