It appears that the best efforts of the people of the United States have decided on two candidates that they don’t like; no pair of candidates in the history of modern polling have had such high unfavorables. The fascinating and disturbing political circus this year got me thinking a few weeks ago, “I wonder if any statesman is out there who wants to identify the world’s problems thoughtfully and then intelligently provide all the answers.” My search quickly uncovered World Order by Henry Kissinger. Seen as either the greatest Secretary of State of the last fifty years or a war criminal, Kissinger at least knows what he’s talking about, and his latest book shows great knowledge and wisdom. He covers North Korea, nukes, terrorism, communism, ISIL, and the internet, and, yes, he offers hopeful advice on how to deal with all of it.
The main problem, as Kissinger points out, is that the different peoples of the world don’t all have the same vision of world order that we do. The notion that the U.S. and Europe hold to is represented by the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648. (If you don’t pay attention during the first explanation in the book, you’ll be confused by the many subsequent references to “Westphalian Order.”) The Peace of Westphalia recognized the legitimacy and borders of the various German principalities and favored peace above subjugation and forced unity. For most of the book, Kissinger travels the globe and examines the views of all the major players on the topics of legitimacy, borders, peace, and unity, and as it turns out, other places don’t see things the same way at all.
Most of the analyses depend on history hat goes back much farther then even Westphalia. From the beginning of the Chinese Empire, the emperor saw himself as the loftiest human under Heaven. The Chinese didn’t much care about borders or other countries as long as anyone coming in to the court paid homage to the emperor as Lord of All Under Heaven. The Japanese believed the same thing about their emperor, but they said what the Chinese wanted to hear and got along fairly well for centuries. Twice the Chinese have been conquered, and each time they shrugged their collective shoulders and waited as the Mongols and Manchus discovered that they had to become Chinese in order to rule hundreds of millions of people confident in their cultural superiority. India on the other hand has welcomed diversity and incorporated many of the cultural aspects of their successive invaders. The Russians have centuries of experience expecting that they will one day pave the way to world peace but must suffer in order to earn the honor. Muslim governments typically wish to see the world united as one people worshiping Allah, but they have had many different policies on how to deal with others who don’t see things their way: some policies peaceful and some not so much. And the Americans? The Americans can’t figure out why everyone else can’t just agree to disagree.
As I read, I kept wondering what life in my old dysfunctional workplace would have been like had I looked at things China’s way or India’s or Japan’s. If there had been more professors like me, I could have waited like the Chinese as the parade of administrators slowly but surely became one of us. But as part of a minority, maybe I could have adopted the Indian policy and just thought, “OK, this madness is part of who we are now.” Almost certainly I should have acted like Japan, given the bosses what they wanted to hear, and then gone on to do what I was hired to do.
Hillary Clinton has contributed a small blurb of praise to the cover of World Order. Bernie Sanders has said that he is proud not to be a friend of Henry Kissinger and wouldn’t ever wish to seek his advice. These two disagree on the topic of Kissinger, as on so many things, but at least they’ve both heard of him and have an opinion, which is more than I believe of Trump.