Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

The Myth of Henry Kissinger

Whether you’re a fan of Kissinger or not (I’m not) understanding his ideas and influences is important to understanding American foreign policy during the latter period of the Cold War because, along with Zbig B, he was one of its principal architects. He is from the old school Rockefeller elites (he was one of their chief foreign policy advisors) who preferred a Hamiltonian model of imperialism. What is interesting about him today is that the Hamiltonian model of imperialism (influenced by realists such as Machiavelli, Clausewitz, Bismarck, and Metternich) has been gradually replaced over the past 30 to 40 years with the Wilsonian (liberal internationalist) and neoconservative (Trotskyist) model of imperialism. The former model was basically an Americanized version of the older British Empire, and the latter stems from the ideas of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic model of imperialism.

By Thomas Meaney, The New Yorker

In 1952, at the age of twenty-eight, Henry Kissinger did what enterprising graduate students do when they want to hedge their academic future: he started a magazine. He picked an imposing name—Confluence—and enlisted illustrious contributors: Hannah Arendt, Raymond Aron, Lillian Smith, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Reinhold Niebuhr. The publisher James Laughlin, who was a backer of the magazine, described the young Kissinger as “a thoroughly sincere person (terribly earnest Germanic type) who is trying his hardest to do an idealistic job.” Like his other early production, the Harvard International Seminar, a summer program that convened participants from around the world—Kissinger gamely volunteered to spy on attendees for the F.B.I.—the magazine opened channels for him not only with policymakers in Washington but also with an older generation of German Jewish thinkers whose political experience had been formed in the early thirties, when the Weimar Republic was supplanted by the Nazi regime.

For Cold War liberals, who saw the stirrings of fascism in everything from McCarthyism to the rise of mass culture, Weimar was a cautionary tale, conferring a certain authority on those who had survived. Kissinger cultivated the Weimar intellectuals, but he was not impressed by their prospects for influence. Although he later invoked the memory of Nazism to justify all manner of power plays, at this stage he was building a reputation as an all-American maverick. He appalled the émigrés by running an article in Confluence by Ernst von Salomon, a far-rightist who had hired a getaway driver for the men who assassinated the Weimar Republic’s foreign minister. “I have now joined you as a cardinal villain in the liberal demonology,” Kissinger told a friend afterward, joking that the piece was being taken as “a symptom of my totalitarian and even Nazi sympathies.”


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