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Excerpts from A World Restored

A World Restored, by Henry A. Kissinger, subtitled Europe after Napoleon: The Politics of Conservatism in a Revolutionary Age, looks at the diplomacy of European states, especially that of Austria’s foreign minister, Metternich, and Britain’s foreign minister, Castlereagh, during and after the Napoleonic wars. Mr. Kissinger makes several generalizations about the interactions of revolutionary powers (e.g. Napoleonic France) and the existing legitimacy. The excerpts here concentrate on the generalizations, not the specific history and observations about the individuals involved.

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Chapter 1. Introduction

Pages 1-3

It is not surprising that an age faced with the threat of thermonuclear extinction should look nostalgically to periods when diplomacy carried with it less drastic penalties, when wars were limited and catastrophe almost inconceivable. Nor is it strange in such circumstances that the attainment of peace should become the overriding concern or that the need for peace should be thought to provide the impetus for its attainment.

But the attainment of peace is not as easy as the desire for it. Not for nothing is history associated with the figure of Nemesis, which defeats man by fulfilling his wishes in a different form or by answering his prayers too completely. Those ages which in retrospect seem most peaceful were least in search of peace. Those whose quest for it seems unending appear least able to achieve tranquillity. Whenever peace—conceived as the avoidance of war—has been the primary objective of a power or a group of powers, the international system has been at the mercy of the most ruthless member of the international community. Whenever the international order has acknowledged that certain principles could not be compromised even for the sake of peace, stability based on an equilibrium of forces was at least conceivable.

Stability, then, has commonly resulted not from a quest for peace but from a generally accepted legitimacy. Legitimacy as here used should not be confused with justice. It means no more than an international agreement about the nature of workable arrangements and about the permissible aims and methods of foreign policy. It implies the acceptance of the framework of the international order by all major powers, at least to the extent that no state is so dissatisfied that, like Germany after the Treaty of Versailles, it expresses its dissatisfaction in a revolutionary foreign policy. A legitimate order does not make conflicts impossible, but it limits their scope. Wars may occur, but they will be fought in the name of the existing structure and the peace which follows will be justified as a better expression of the legitimate, general consensus. Diplomacy in the classic sense, the adjustment of differences through negotiation, is possible only in legitimate international orders.

Whenever there exists a power which considers the international order or the manner of legitimizing it oppressive, relations between it and other powers will be revolutionary. In such cases, it is not the adjustment of differences within a given system which will be at issue, but the system itself. Adjustments are possible, but they will be conceived as tactical manoeuvres to consolidate positions for the inevitable showdown, or as tools to undermine the morale of the antagonist. To be sure, the motivation of the revolutionary power may well be defensive; it may well be sincere in its protestations of feeling threatened. But the distinguishing feature of a revolutionary power is not that it feels threatened—such feeling is inherent in the nature of international relations based on sovereign states—but that nothing can reassure it. Only absolute security—the neutralization of the opponent—is considered a sufficient guarantee, and thus the desire of one power for absolute security means absolute insecurity for all the others.

Diplomacy, the art of restraining the exercise of power, cannot function in such an environment. It is a mistake to assume that diplomacy can always settle international disputes if there is good faith and willingness to come to an agreement. For in a revolutionary international order, each power will seem to its opponent to lack precisely these qualities. Diplomats can still meet but they cannot persuade, for they have ceased to speak the same language. In the absence of an agreement on what constitutes a reasonable demand, diplomatic conferences are occupied with sterile repetitions of basic positions and accusations of bad faith, or allegations of unreasonableness and subversion. They become elaborate stage plays which attempt to attach as yet uncommitted powers to one of the opposing systems.

For powers long accustomed to tranquillity and without experience with disaster, this is a hard lesson to come by. Lulled by a period of stability which had seemed permanent, they find it nearly impossible to take at face value the assertion of the revolutionary power that it means to smash the existing framework. The defenders of the status quo therefore tend to begin by treating the revolutionary power as if its protestations were merely tactical; as if it really accepted the existing legitimacy but overstated its case for bargaining purposes; as if it were motivated by specific grievances to be assuaged by limited concessions. Those who warn against the danger in time are considered alarmists; those who counsel adaptation to circumstance are considered balanced and sane, for they have all the good reasons on their side: the arguments accepted as valid in the existing framework. Appeasement, where it is not a device to gain time, is the result of an inability to come to grips with a policy of unlimited objectives.

But it is the essence of a revolutionary power that it possesses the courage of its convictions, that it is willing, indeed eager, to push its principles to their ultimate conclusion. Whatever else a revolutionary power may achieve therefore, it tends to erode, if not the legitimacy of the international order, at least the restraint with which such an order operates. The characteristic of a stable order is its spontaneity; the essence of a revolutionary situation is its self-consciousness. Principles of obligation in a period of legitimacy are taken so much for granted that they are never talked about, and such periods therefore appear to posterity as shallow and self-righteous. Principles in a revolutionary situation are so central that they are constantly talked about. The very sterility of the effort soon drains them of all meaning, and it is not unusual to find both sides invoking their version of the true nature of legitimacy in identical terms. And because in revolutionary situations the contending systems are less concerned with the adjustment of differences than with the subversion of loyalties, diplomacy is replaced either by war or by an armaments race.

Chapter 8. Treaty of Chaumont and Nature of Peace

Pages 138-139

Although every war is fought in the name of peace, there is a tendency to define peace as the absence of war and to confuse it with military victory. To discuss conditions of peace during wartime seems almost indecent, as if the admission that the war might end could cause a relaxation of the effort. This is no accident. The logic of war is power, and power has no inherent limit. The logic of peace is proportion, and proportion implies limitation. The success of war is victory; the success of peace is stability. The conditions of victory are commitment, the condition of stability is self-restraint. The motivation of war is extrinsic: the fear of an enemy. The motivation of peace is intrinsic: the balance of forces and the acceptance of its legitimacy. A war without an enemy is inconceivable; a peace built on the myth of an enemy is an armistice. It is the temptation of war to punish; it is the task of policy to construct. Power can sit in judgment, but statesmanship must look to the future.

These incommensurabilities are the particular problems of peace settlements at the end of total wars. The enormity of suffering leads to a conception of war in personal terms, of the enemy as the cause of the misfortune, of his defeat as the moment for retribution. The greater the suffering, the more the war will be conceived an end in itself and the rules of war applied to the peace settlement. The more total the commitment, the more natural unlimited claims will appear. Suffering leads to self-righteousness more often than to humility, as if it were a badge of good faith, as if only the innocent could suffer. Each peace settlement is thus confronted with the fate of the enemy and with the more fundamental problem whether the experience of war has made it impossible to conceive of a world without an enemy.

Whether the powers conclude a retrospective peace or one that considers the future depends on their social strength and on the degree to which they can generate their own motivation. A retrospective peace will crush the enemy so that he is unable to fight again; its opposite will deal with the enemy so that he does not wish to attack again. A retrospective peace is the expression of a rigid social order, clinging to the only certainty: the past. It will make a legitimate settlement impossible, because the defeated nation, unless completely dismembered, will not accept its humiliation. There exist two legitimacies in such cases: the internal arrangements among the victorious powers and the claims of the defeated. Between the two, only force or the threat of force regulates relations. In its quest to achieve stability through safety, in its myth of the absence of intrinsic causes for war, a retrospective peace produces a revolutionary situation. This, in fact, was the situation in Europe between the two World Wars.

Chapter 9. The Congress of Vienna

Pages 144-147

Any international settlement represents a stage in a process by which a nation reconciles its vision of itself with the vision of it by other powers. To itself, a nation appears as an expression of justice, and the more spontaneous its pattern of social obligations, the more this is true; for government functions effectively only when most citizens obey voluntarily and they will obey only to the extent that they consider the demands of their rulers just. To others, it appears as a force or an expression of will. This is inevitable because external sovereignty can be controlled only by superior force and because foreign policy must be planned on the basis of the other side’s capabilities and not merely of its intentions. Could a power achieve all its wishes, it would strive for absolute security, a world-order free from the consciousness of foreign danger and where all problems have the manageability of domestic issues. But since absolute security for one power means absolute insecurity for all others, it is never obtainable as a part of a legitimate settlement, and can be achieved only through conquest.

For this reason an international settlement which is accepted and not imposed will always appear somewhat unjust to any one of its components. Paradoxically, the generality of this dissatisfaction is a condition of stability, because were any one power totally satisfied, all others would have to be totally dissatisfied and a revolutionary situation would ensue. The foundation of a stable order is the relative security—and therefore the relative insecurity—of its members. Its stability reflects, not the absence of unsatisfied claims, but the absence of a grievance of such magnitude that redress will be sought in overturning the settlement rather than through an adjustment within its framework. An order whose structure is accepted by all major powers is legitimate. An order containing a power which considers its structure oppressive is revolutionary. The security of a domestic order resides in the preponderant power of authority, that of an international order in the balance of forces and in its expression, the equilibrium.

But if an international order expresses the need for security and an equilibrium, it is constructed in the name of a legitimizing principle. Because a settlement transforms force into acceptance, it must attempt to translate the requirements of security into claims and individual demands into general advantage. It is the legitimizing principle which establishes the relative justice of competing claims and the mode of their adjustment. This is not to say that there need be an exact correspondence between the maxims of legitimacy and the conditions of the settlement. No major power will give up its minimum claim to security—the possibility of conducting an independent foreign policy—merely for the sake of legitimacy. But the legitimizing principle defines the marginal case. In 1919, the Austro-Hungarian Empire disintegrated not so much from the impact of the war as from the nature of the peace, because its continued existence was incompatible with national self-determination, the legitimizing principle of the new international order. It would have occurred to no one in the eighteenth century that the legitimacy of a state depended on linguistic unity. It was inconceivable to the makers of the Versailles settlement that there might be any other basis for legitimate rule. Legitimizing principles triumph by being taken for granted.

Although there never occurs an exact correspondence between the maxims of the legitimizing principle and the conditions of the settlement, stability depends on a certain commensurability. If there exists a substantial discrepancy and a major power which feels disadvantaged, the international order will be volatile. For the appeal by a revolutionary power to the legitimizing principle of the settlement creates a psychological distortion. The natural expression of the policy of a status quo power is law—the definition of a continuing relationship. But against a permanently dissatisfied power appealing to the legitimizing principle of the international order, force is the only recourse. Those who have most to gain from stability thus become the exponents of a revolutionary policy. Hitler’s appeal to national self-determination in the Sudeten crisis in 1938 was an invocation of justice, and thereby contributed to the indecisiveness of the resistance: it induced the Western powers to attempt to construct a truly legitimate order by satisfying Germany’s just claims. Only after Hitler annexed Bohemia and Moravia was it clear that he was aiming for dominion, not legitimacy; only then did the contest become one of pure power.

The major problem of an international settlement, then, is so to relate the claims of legitimacy to the requirements of security that no power will express its dissatisfaction in a revolutionary policy, and so to arrange the balance of forces as to deter aggression produced by causes other than the conditions of the settlement. This is not a mechanical problem. If the international order could be constructed with the clarity of a mathematical axiom, powers would consider themselves as factors in a balance and arrange their adjustments to achieve a perfect equilibrium between the forces of aggression and the forces of resistance. But an exact balance is impossible, and not only because of the difficulty of predicting the aggressor. It is chimerical, above all, because while powers may appear to outsiders as factors in a security arrangement, they appear domestically as expressions of a historical existence. No power will submit to a settlement, however well-balanced and however secure, which seems totally to deny its vision of itself. No consideration of balance could induce Britain to surrender the maritime rights or Austria its German position, because their notion of justice was inseparable from those claims. There exist two kinds of equilibrium then: a general equilibrium which makes it risky for one power or group of powers to attempt to impose their will on the remainder; and a particular equilibrium which defines the historical relation of certain powers among each other. The former is the deterrent against a general war; the latter the condition of smooth co-operation. An international order is therefore rarely born out of the consciousness of harmony. For even when there is an agreement about legitimacy, the conceptions of the requirements of security will differ with the geographical position and the history of the contending powers. Out of just such a conflict over the nature of the equilibrium the Congress of Vienna fashioned a settlement which lasted for almost exactly a century.

Pages 172-173

… For the difference between a revolutionary order and a healthy legitimate one is not the possibility of change, but the mode of its accomplishment. A legitimate order, as long as it is not stagnant, achieves its transformations through acceptance, and this presupposes a consensus on the nature of a just arrangement. But a revolutionary order having destroyed the existing structure of obligations, must impose its measures by force and the Reign of Terror of any revolution is inevitably an almost exact reflection of its success in sweeping away the prevailing legitimacy. A legitimate order limits the possible by the just; a revolutionary order identifies the just with the physically possible. A legitimate order confronts the problem of creating a structure which does not make change impossible; a revolutionary order faces the dilemma that change may become an end in itself and thus make the establishment of any structure impossible. In neither case is reform carried out through a sudden act of insight; this is the illusion of Utopians. Nor is it possible to construct an order which will have no defenders of the status quo or no reformers, and the attempt to do so leads either to the frenzy of the totalitarian state or to stagnation. The health of a social structure is its ability to translate transformation into acceptance, to relate the forces of change to those of conservation. The statesmen at Vienna had experienced an effort to establish this relation by force; it was not strange that they attempted to construct an alternative based on legitimacy.

Chapter 10. Holy Alliance and Nature of Security

Pages 180-181

For however reasonable the arguments for absolute security, they will lead to a revolutionary situation within the international community. By their insistence on only a single cause for war, they create a physical and psychological imbalance. The more punitive the peace, the more insistent will be the demand for a system of collective security, legitimized by the threat of the erstwhile enemy. But such a system is a confession of rigidity, of a peace maintainable only by overwhelming force. In an order containing a permanently dissatisfied power, harmony becomes an end in itself, and this places the settlement at the mercy of its most ruthless member, the one most ready to come to terms with the revolutionary power. The apparent weakness of the prostrate power is therefore deceptive, and the very effort to guarantee its permanent weakness may improve its relative position. For by violating the legitimizing principle of their settlement, or by their inability to exact its voluntary acceptance from the erstwhile enemy, the victorious powers create a psychological distortion. No longer can the status quo powers appeal to legitimacy in defense of their position. Against the victim of a punitive peace, they must rest their claims on force. Those most in need of stability thus become the exponents of an essentially revolutionary policy. It is no accident that a punitive peace tends to be more demoralizing for the victor than for the defeated. The quest for absolute security leads to permanent revolution.

Pages 186-187

… It is proper, of course, that policy is not conducted in the mood of a moment of exaltation, because statesmen must be as interested in preserving as in conquering the world. But this is no consolation for the fanatic—or for the prophet. The statesman lives in time; his test is the permanence of his structure under stress. The prophet lives in eternity which, by definition, has no temporal dimension; his test is inherent in his vision. The encounter between the two is always tragic, because the statesman must strive to reduce the prophet’s vision to precise measures, while the prophet will judge the temporal structure by transcendental standards. To the statesman, the prophet represents a threat, because an assertion of absolute justice is a denial of nuance. To the prophet the statesman represents a revolt against reality, because the attempt to reduce justice to the attainable is a triumph of the contingent over the universal. To the statesman, negotiation is the essence of stability, because it symbolizes the adjustment of conflicting claims and the recognition of legitimacy; to the prophet, it is the symbol of imperfection, of impure motives frustrating universal bliss.

Chapter 11. Metternich and Conservative Dilemma

Pages 191-195

The conservative in a revolutionary period is always somewhat of an anomaly. Were the pattern of obligations still spontaneous, it would occur to no one to be a conservative, for a serious alternative to the existing structure would be inconceivable. But once there exists a significant revolutionary party, even more once a revolution has actually triumphed, two complementary questions have been admitted as valid, more symbolic in their very appearance than any answer that may be given: What is the meaning of authority? What is the nature of freedom? Henceforth stability and reform, liberty and authority, come to appear as antithetical; the contest becomes doctrinal and the problem of change takes the form of an attack on the existing order, instead of a dispute over specific issues. This has nothing to do with the label of political parties. There have been societies, such as the United States or Britain in the nineteenth century, which have been basically conservative, so that existing parties could be considered at once conservative and progressive. There have been others, such as France for over a century, where all issues have been basically revolutionary, however the parties consider themselves, because of the existence of a fundamental social schism.

But what is a conservative to do in a revolutionary situation? A stable social order lives with an intuition of permanence, and opposition to it is either ignored or attempted to be assimilated. Voltaire was fashionable in the eighteenth century, not because it was a revolutionary period, but because revolution was inconceivable. A revolutionary period, on the other hand, is characterized by its self consciousness, because political life loses its spontaneity once the existing pattern of obligations has been challenged. The motivation of a stable order is a concept of duty—the assertion of the self evidence of the social maxims—where alternative courses of action are not rejected but inconceivable. The motivation of a revolutionary period is a concept of loyalty, where the act of submitting the will acquires a symbolic and even ritualistic significance, because alternatives seem ever present. An ethic of duty involves a notion of responsibility which judges actions by the orientation of the will. It is for this reason an ethic of motivation, striving to achieve identification of the individual code with a standard of morality which, no matter how rigid, must become individually accepted in order to be meaningful. An ethic of loyalty involves a notion of orthodoxy, because it is a means to achieve a group identity. It does not exclude the identity of the individual with the social code, but it does not require it. Right or wrong my country—this is the language of loyalty. So act that your actions could become by your will universal laws of nature—this is the language of duty. Duty expresses the aspect of universality, loyalty that of contingency.

In this manner the conservative, when he organizes himself politically, becomes, in spite of himself, the symbol of a revolutionary period. His fundamental position involves a denial of the validity of the questions regarding the nature of authority; but the questions, by exacting a reply, have demonstrated a kind of validity. To the revolutionary, the conservative’s position therefore becomes an answer, a victory even should the immediate battle end adversely. For what does it profit a conservative to emerge victorious in a battle of wills? His battle is not personal but social, his justification not individual but historical. It is no accident that in revolutionary contests the conservative position comes to be dominated by its reactionary—that is, counter-revolutionary-wing, the group which fights in terms of will and with an ethic of loyalty. For the true conservative is not at home in social struggle. He will attempt to avoid unbridgeable schism, because he knows that a stable social structure thrives not on triumphs but on reconciliations.

How then can the conservative rescue his position from the contingency of conflicting claims? How can that which is, persuade when its self-evidence has disintegrated? By fighting as anonymously as possible, has been the classic conservative reply, so that if the answer must be given it will transcend the will, so that the contest occurs at least on a plane beyond the individual, so that obligation can become duty and not loyalty. To fight for conservatism in the name of historical forces, to reject the validity of the revolutionary question because of its denial of the temporal aspect of society and the social contract—this was the answer of Burke. To fight the revolution in the name of reason, to deny the validity of the question on epistemological grounds, as contrary to the structure of the universe —this was the answer of Metternich.

The difference between these two conservative positions is fundamental. To Burke the ultimate standard of social obligation was history; to Metternich it was reason. To Burke history was the expression of the ethos of a people; to Metternich it was a force to be dealt with, more important than most social forces, but of no greater moral validity. Burke denied the revolutionaries’ premise that reason supplied the sufficient basis for social obligation and his challenge was therefore destined to have no immediate effect. Metternich accepted this premise, but drew from it conclusions diametrically opposed to that of his opponents and his was therefore a mortal challenge. To Burke a revolution was an offense against social morality, the violation of the sacred contract of a nation’s historical constitution. To Metternich it was a violation of the universal law governing the life of societies, to be combated, not because it was immoral, but because it was disastrous. Historical conservatism abhors revolution as undermining the individual expression of a nation’s tradition; rationalist conservatism fights it as preventing the implementation of universal social maxims.

It was this rationalist conception of conservatism which imparted the rigidity to Metternich’s policy and to his interpretation of the complementary issues of the nature of freedom and the meaning of authority. The West has produced two basic replies: freedom as the absence of restraint or freedom as the voluntary acceptance of authority. The former position considers freedom to reside outside of the sphere of authority; the latter conceives freedom as a quality of authority. The negative version of freedom is the expression of a society transcending its political structure, a society which, as in Locke, exists prior to the state and whose political organization becomes like a company of limited liability organized for the achievement of determinate goals. In such a society the issue of conservatism against reform tends to appear as a question of emphasis, of greater or lesser change on problems of specific form and content. Since the significant field of activity occurs outside the governmental sphere, politics has a utilitarian, but not an ethical function; it is useful, not moral. A society based on Locke’s concept of freedom is always conservative, whatever form its political contests take. Were it not, it could not operate a system whose strength resides in its social cohesiveness, in the things which are taken for granted. Burke’s defense of conservatism had for this reason no applicability to the British domestic scene, but was directed against its misapprehension by foreigners.

But the Continent has never been able to accept the Anglo-Saxon version of freedom. Before the French Revolution, this was because Locke’s became the philosophy of an accomplished revolution, a doctrine of reconciliation which lacked the logical rigor of a call to action. Afterwards, it was because the French Revolution, unlike the British, had produced a fundamental social schism. Cohesive societies can regulate themselves through custom which reveals that disputes are peripheral. Societies which contain fundamental schisms must rely on law, the definition of a compulsory relationship. Thus Kant and Rousseau, not Locke, were the representatives of the Continental version of liberty which sought freedom in the identification of the will with the general interest and considered government freest, not when it governed least, but when it governed justly. To the British conservative, the social problem was one of adjustment: to protect the social sphere by timely political concession. But to his Continental counterpart, the problem was one of conservation in the literal sense, because to him political concession was equivalent to social surrender. For one can make concessions only to something. When state and society are two different entities, this is no problem. But when they are identical, a concession is a confession of failure, a recognition of an unbridgeable social schism. Thus even at the end of his life, after his era had long ended, Metternich could still object to a speech by a British Peelite, Sir James Graham, that the statesman’s wisdom consisted of recognizing the proper moment for making concessions: My conception of statesmanship differs completely. The true merit of a statesman … consists of governing so as to avoid a situation in which concessions become necessary.

This did not mean that the conservative statesman had to oppose all change. To be a conservative, wrote Metternich, required neither return to a previous period, nor reaction, but carefully considered reform. True conservatism implied an active policy. Yet reform had to be the product of order and not of will; it had to assert the universality of law against the contingency of power. The word freedom, wrote Metternich in his political testament, has for me never had the character of a point of departure but of a goal. The point of departure is order, which alone can produce freedom. Without order the appeal to freedom is no more than the quest of some specific party for its special objectives and will in practice always lead to tyranny. Because I have been a man of order, my efforts were directed towards the attainment of a real, not a deceptive, freedom. … I have always considered despotism of any kind a symptom of weakness. Where it appears, it condemns itself; most intolerably where it appears behind the mask of advancing the cause of liberty.

Pages 200-202

If Metternich considered the quest for formal constitutions chimerical, he saw in revolutions a physical disaster. In a universe characterized by a balance between the forces of conservation and those of destruction, revolution was due to a disturbance of the equilibrium in favor of the latter. But since the equilibrium was the natural condition, a revolution could achieve no more than a dislocation straining towards a new integration. The disorders attendant on revolutions were therefore symptoms of a transitional period and their violence a reflection of the ignorance of their advocates: Revolutions are temporary disturbances in the life of states. … Order always ends up by reclaiming its own; states do not die like individuals, they transform themselves. It is the task of statesmanship… to guide this transformation and to supervise its direction. The difference between a conservative and a revolutionary order was not the fact of change, but its mode: A consideration the liberal spirit usually ignores… is the difference in the life of states, as of individuals, between progress by measured steps or by leaps. In the first case, conditions develop with the consequence of natural law; while the latter disrupts this connection. … Nature is development, the ordered succession of appearances; only such a course can eliminate the evil and foster the good. But leaping transitions wind up by requiring entirely new creations—and it is not given to man to create out of nothingness. Civilization, then, was the degree to which change could come about naturally, to which the tension between the forces of destruction and of conservation was submerged in a spontaneous pattern of obligation. Thus true civilization has come only with the advent of Christianity, which made authority inviolable, obedience sacrosanct and self-abnegation divine—the rationalist’s functional interpretation of religion.

It is expressive of the conservative dilemma that Metternich’s pronouncements on the nature of authority are truistic—because a conservative takes it for granted; and those on the meaning of freedom are skimpy—because he considered the question meaningless. But his analysis of the nature of revolutions is lucid and powerful. In 1820, while arranging the series of congresses designed to defeat the revolutionary outbreaks, Metternich wrote a profession of faith which coupled an analysis of the nature of revolution with a philosophy of history. Up to the sixteenth century, Metternich maintained, the forces of conservation and of destruction had been in an increasingly spontaneous balance. But then there occurred three events which in time caused civilization to be supplanted by violence and order by chaos; the invention of printing and of gunpowder and the discovery of America. Printing facilitated the exchange of ideas which thereby became vulgarized; the invention of gunpowder changed the balance between offensive and defensive weapons; and the discovery of America transformed the situation both materially and psychologically. The influx of precious metals produced a sudden change in the value of landed property which is the foundation of a conservative order, and the prospect of rapid fortunes brought about a spirit of adventure and a dissatisfaction with existing conditions. And then the Reformation completed the process by overturning the moral world and exalting man above the forces of history.

All this gave rise to a type of individual who symbolized the revolutionary era: the presumptuous man, the natural product of a too-rapid march of the human spirit towards seeming perfection: Religion, morality, legislation, economics, politics, administration, all seem to have become a common good and accessible to everyone. Science appears intuitive, experience has no value for the presumptuous; faith means nothing to him, and he substitutes for it the pretense of a personal conviction, to arrive at which, however, he dispenses with analysis or study, for these seem too subordinate activities to a mind which believes itself capable of embracing at one blow the whole ensemble of issues. Laws have no value for him, because he did not contribute to their preparation, and it is below the dignity of a man of his quality to recognize limits traced by ignorant and brute generations. Power resides in himself; why submit to what can have use only to men deprived… of insight? That which was appropriate for an age of weakness is no longer adequate for that of reason. … [All this] tends to an order of things which individualizes all the elements which compose society. … It would be difficult to find a more tragic statement. What was intended as sarcasm—the exhibition of an incommensurability between pretense and reality— amounted to no more than a description of the objectives of his opponents. That which Metternich believed he merely needed to exhibit to reduce to absurdity, his opponents thought required only an affirmation in order to be validated. It was the inevitable revolutionary misunderstanding, the reluctance to admit that truth may not be self-evident. While Metternich desperately attempted to protect reality against its enemies, the issue increasingly became a debate about its nature and the nature of truth. Had reality still proved unambiguous, he would not have needed to affirm it. By increasing insistence of his affirmation, he testified to its disintegration.

Pages 206-207

It was thus that Metternich posed the conservative challenge as the need to transcend the assertion of the exclusive validity of the will and as the requirement to limit the claims of power. It was a redefinition of the classic theological version of humility, Thy will be done, only that reason took the place of God. It represented an effort to deal with the most fundamental problem of politics, which is not the control of wickedness but the limitation of righteousness. To punish the wicked is a relatively easy matter, because it is a simple expression of public morality. To restrain the exercise of righteous power is more difficult, because it asserts that right exists in time as well as in space; that volition, however noble, is limited by forces transcending the will; that the achievement of self-restraint is the ultimate challenge of the social order. Metternich dealt with this problem by asserting that excess in any direction was disruptive of society. The individual will was contingent because man was an aspect of forces transcending him: of society and its historical expression, the state, which were products of nature as surely as man himself, for they reflected his basic needs for justice and order. Because they were natural, states had a life cycle just as human beings, only they were incapable of the ultimate human solace: they could not die, they had to pay the price of all their transgressions.

Chapter 17. The Nature of Statesmanship

Pages 316-318

… But the claims of the prophet are sometimes as dissolving as those of the conqueror. For the claims of the prophet are a counsel of perfection, and perfection implies uniformity. Utopias are not achieved except by a process of leveling and dislocation which must erode all patterns of obligation. These are the two great symbols of the attacks on the legitimate order: the Conqueror and the Prophet, the quest for universality and for eternity, for the peace of impotence and the peace of bliss.

But the statesman must remain forever suspicious of these efforts, not because he enjoys the pettiness of manipulation, but because he must be prepared for the worst contingency. To be dependent on the continued goodwill of another sovereign state is demoralizing, because it is a confession of impotence, an invitation to the irresponsibility induced by the conviction that events cannot be affected by one’s will. And to rely entirely on the moral purity of an individual is to abandon the possibility of restraint, because moral claims involve a quest for absolutes, a denial of nuance, a rejection of history. This in its fundamental sense is the issue between the conqueror or the prophet on the one side and the statesman on the other; between the identification of conception and possibility and the insistence on the contingency of the individual will; between the effort to escape time and the need to survive in it. It is a tragic and necessarily inconclusive contest. For the statesman will treat the prophet as a political manifestation, and the prophet will judge the statesman by transcendental standards. The prophet, however pure his motives, pays the penalty for the false prophets who have preceded him, and it is the latter for which statesmanship attempts to provide. And the statesman is confronted with what must always upset his calculations; that it is not balance which inspires men but universality, not security but immortality.

It is the inextricable element of history, this conflict between inspiration and organization. Inspiration implies the identification of the self with the meaning of events. Organization requires discipline, the submission to the will of the group. Inspiration is timeless; its validity is inherent in its conception. Organization is historical, depending on the material available at a given period. Inspiration is a call for greatness; organization a recognition that mediocrity is the usual pattern of leadership. To be effective politically one requires organization, and for this reason the translation into political terms of prophetic visions always falsifies the intentions of their proponents. It is no accident that the greatest spiritual achievements of religious or prophetic movements tend to occur when they are still in opposition, when their conception is their only reality. Nor is it strange that established religions or prophetic movements should exhibit a longing for their vanished period of true inwardness. It is the origin of mass frenzy, of crusades, of reformations, of purges, this realization that the spontaneity of individual reflection cannot be institutionalized.

While the conqueror attempts to equate his will with the structure of obligations and the prophet seeks to dissolve organization in a moment of transcendence, the statesman strives to keep latent the tension between organization and inspiration; to create a pattern of obligations sufficiently spontaneous to reduce to a minimum the necessity for the application of force, but, at the same time, of sufficient firmness not to require the legitimization of a moment of exaltation. It is not surprising that Castlereagh and Metternich were statesmen of the equilibrium, seeking security in a balance of forces. Their goal was stability, not perfection, and the balance of power is the classic expression of the lesson of history that no order is safe without physical safeguards against aggression. Thus the new international order came to be created with a sufficient awareness of the connection between power and morality; between security and legitimacy. No attempt was made to found it entirely on submission to a legitimizing principle; this is the quest of the prophet and dangerous because it presupposes the self-restraint of sanctity. But neither was power considered self-limiting; the experience of the conqueror had proved the opposite. Rather, there was created a balance of forces which, because it conferred a relative security, came to be generally accepted, and whose relationships grew increasingly spontaneous as its legitimacy came to be taken for granted.

Pages 326-332

… For the spirit of policy and that of bureaucracy are diametrically opposed. The essence of policy is its contingency; its success depends on the correctness of an estimate which is in part conjectural. The essence of bureaucracy is its quest for safety; its success is calculability. Profound policy thrives on perpetual creation, on a constant redefinition of goals. Good administration thrives on routine, the definition of relationships which can survive mediocrity. Policy involves an adjustment of risks; administration an avoidance of deviation. Policy justifies itself by the relationship of its measures and its sense of proportion; administration by the rationality of each action in terms of a given goal. The attempt to conduct policy bureaucratically leads to a quest for calculability which tends to become a prisoner of events. The effort to administer politically leads to total irresponsibility, because bureaucracies are designed to execute, not to conceive.

The temptation to conduct policy administratively is ever present, because most governments are organized primarily for the conduct of domestic policy, whose chief problem is the implementation of social decisions, a task which is limited only by its technical feasibility. But the concern with technical problems in foreign affairs leads to a standard which evaluates by mistakes avoided rather than by goals achieved, and to a belief that ability is more likely to be judged by the pre-vision of catastrophes than the discovery of opportunities. …

For this reason, too, it is dangerous to separate planning from the responsibility of execution. For responsibility involves a standard of judgment, a legitimacy. But the standard of a bureaucracy is different from that of the social effort. Social goals are justified by the legitimizing principle of the domestic structure, which may be rationality, tradition or charisma, but which is in any case considered an ultimate value. Bureaucratic measures are justified by an essentially instrumental standard, the suitability of certain actions for achieving ends conceived as given. A society is capable of only a limited range of decisions, because its values are relatively fixed; an ideal bureaucracy should be able to carry out any decision which is administratively feasible. The attempt to define social goals bureaucratically will, therefore, always lead to the distortion inherent in applying a rationality of means to the development of ends. …

In addition to the obstacle of bureaucratic inertia, a statesman will tend to have great difficulty legitimizing his policy domestically, because of the incommensurability between a nation’s domestic and its international experience. The whole domestic effort of a people exhibits an effort to transform force into obligation by means of a consensus on the nature of justice. The more spontaneous the pattern of obligation, the more natural and universal will social values appear. But the international experience of a people is a challenge to the universality of its notion of justice, for the stability of an international order depends on self-limitation, on the reconciliation of different versions of legitimacy. A nation will evaluate a policy in terms of its domestic legitimization, because it has no other standard of judgment. But the effort to identify the legitimizing principle of the international order with a parochial version of justice must lead to a revolutionary situation, particularly if the domestic legitimizing principles are sufficiently incommensurable. If a society legitimizes itself by a principle which claims both universality and exclusiveness, if its concept of justice, in short, does not include the existence of different principles of legitimacy, relations between it and other societies will come to be based on force. For this reason competing systems of legitimacy find it extremely difficult to come to an understanding, not only because they will not be able to agree on the nature of just demands, but, perhaps more importantly, because they will not be able to legitimize the attainable international consensus domestically.

But even when there exists no fundamental ideological gulf, a nation’s domestic experience will tend to inhibit its comprehension of foreign affairs. Domestically, the most difficult problem is an agreement on the nature of justice. But internationally, the domestic consensus inherent in the definition of a policy must often be compromised with a similar domestic consensus of other powers. It is no accident that the tool of policy domestically is bureaucracy, which symbolizes the unity of will and execution, while its tool internationally is diplomacy, which symbolizes the contingency of application. Not for nothing do so many nations exhibit a powerful if subconscious, rebellion against foreign policy, which leaves the travail of the soul inherent in arriving at decisions unrewarded, against this double standard which considers what is defined as justice domestically, merely an object for negotiation internationally. Nor is it an accident that the vision of itself of so many societies exhibits a picture of rectitude deprived of its birth right by the sharp practices of foreigners. For the impetus of domestic policy is a direct social experience; but that of foreign policy is not actual, but potential experience—the threat of war—which statesmanship attempts to avoid being made explicit.

The statesman is therefore like one of the heroes in classical drama who has had a vision of the future but who cannot transmit it directly to his fellow—men and who cannot validate its truth. Nations learn only by experience; they know only when it is too late to act. But statesmen must act as if their intuition were already experience, as if their aspiration were truth. It is for this reason that statesmen often share the fate of prophets, that they are without honor in their own country, that they always have a difficult task in legitimizing their programmes domestically, and that their greatness is usually apparent only in retrospect when their intuition has become experience. The statesman must therefore be an educator; he must bridge the gap between a people’s experience and his vision, between a nation’s tradition and its future. In this task his possibilities are limited. A statesman who too far outruns the experience of his people will fail in achieving a domestic consensus, however wise his policies; witness Castlereagh. A statesman who limits his policy to the experience of his people will doom himself to sterility; witness Metternich.

It is for this reason that most great statesmen have been either representatives of essentially conservative social structures or revolutionaries: the conservative is effective because of his understanding of the experience of his people and of the essence of a continuing relationship, which is the key to a stable international organization. And the revolutionary, because he transcends experience and identifies the just with the possible. The conservative (particularly if he represents an essentially conservative social structure) is legitimized by a consensus on the basic goals of the social effort and on the nature of the social experience. There is, therefore, no need to justify every step along the way. The revolutionary is legitimized by his charismatic quality, by an agreement on the legitimacy of his person or of his principle. His means are therefore considered incidental; his ends or his person legitimize the means. A conservative structure produces a notion of quality, which provides the framework of great conception; a revolutionary order produces a notion of exaltation, which dissolves technical limitations. Both thus deal with the fundamental problem of statesmanship: how to produce an understanding of the complexity of policy when it is impossible to produce a comprehension of its substance.

There remains the question of the validity of conclusions drawn from historical experience, expressed in the assertion that historical events are essentially unique. It can be admitted that events do not recur precisely, that in this sense history does not repeat itself. But this is true of even the coarsest physical experience. A man seeing an elephant for the first time would not know what he was confronting. (Unless he had seen a picture or description which is a substitute for experience.) When he saw a second elephant, he might be able to name it by abstracting from its individual appearance in time and by establishing a standard of correspondence. A concept, therefore, never says everything about an object nor a law about a class. It is no indictment of Newton’s Law that it fails to say anything significant about apples, because its significance resides precisely in the fact that it abstracted from the apples both their uniqueness, their individual appearance in time, and their appleness, their appearance as members of a class, through the recognition of a formal relationship of falling bodies. Similarly, it is no objection to a study of international relations in terms of history to point out that Napoleon is not exactly equivalent to Hitler or Castlereagh to Churchill. Whatever relationship exists depends, not on a precise correspondence, but on. a similarity of the problems confronted. And the conclusions will reflect—just as with any other generalization—the ability to abstract from the uniqueness of individual experience.

A physical law is an explanation and not a description, and history teaches by analogy, not identity. This means that the lessons of history are never automatic, that they can be apprehended only by a standard which admits the significance of a range of experience, that the answers we obtain will never be better than the questions we pose. No profound conclusions were drawn in the natural sciences before the significance of sensory experience was admitted by what was essentially a moral act. No significant conclusions are possible in the study of foreign affairs—the study of states acting as units—without an awareness of the historical context. For societies exist in time more than in space. At any given moment a state is but a collection of individuals, as positivist scholars have never wearied of pointing out. But it achieves identity through the consciousness of a common history. This is the only experience nations have, their only possibility of learning from themselves. History is the memory of states.

To be sure, states tend to be forgetful. It is not often that nations learn from the past, even rarer that they draw the correct conclusions from it. For the lessons of historical experience, as of personal experience, are contingent. They teach the consequences of certain actions, but they cannot force a recognition of comparable situations. An individual may have experienced that a hot stove burns but, when confronted with a metallic object of a certain size, he must decide from case to case whether it is in fact a stove before his knowledge will prove useful. A people may be aware of the probable consequences of a revolutionary situation. But its knowledge will be empty if it cannot recognize a revolutionary situation. There is this difference between physical and historical knowledge, however: each generation is permitted only one effort of abstraction; it can attempt only one interpretation and a single experiment, for it is its own subject. This is the challenge of history and its tragedy; it is the shape destiny assumes on the earth. And its solution, even its recognition, is perhaps the most difficult task of statesmanship.