Torbjørn L Knutsen
Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Is world politics driven by structural processes or by great men? Henry A Kissinger, former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State, has no doubt: world history progresses through the visions and wills of great leaders. His book presents six extraordinary people: Konrad Adenauer, Charles de Gaulle, Richard Nixon, Anwar Sadat, Lee Kuan Yew, and Margaret Thatcher. Kissinger met them all, and references to his conversations make this a unique source of 20th-century history. Leadership is, on the face of it, a string of biographies – of six leaders and the world that they shaped. But it is also about the craft and stakes of top-level diplomacy – about order, stability, and peace, as the sub-title of the book indicates. The personal, behind-the-scenes glimpses of world-level diplomacy are framed by classical Realism, a political philosophy in which historical understanding and psychological insight are essential elements. 'Leaders', Kissinger writes, 'must balance what they know, which is necessarily drawn from the past, with what they intuit about the future, which is inherently conjectural and uncertain.' Leadership, then, is more an art than a science. This is most evident in the first two chapters: on Adenauer, who brought a defeated and morally bankrupt Germany back into the community of nations through a 'strategy of humility'; and on de Gaulle, who elevated defeated France to a position on par with the victorious allies and renewed the nation's historic grandeur through a 'strategy of will'. The book is well-written and rich in detail, wisdom, and learning. But should Nixon be ranked with Adenauer and de Gaulle? Although interesting, that chapter appears exculpatory and self-serving.