Monday, February 22, 2010

Avoid Trivia

George F. Kennan, 1904-2005, American advisor, diplomat, political scientist and historian, whose writings inspired the American foreign policy of communist containment that governed American foreign policy for a half century, headed a State Department "think tank" under Secretary of State George C. Marshall. Kennan credits Marshall, who hired him to constantly reappraise America's grand strategy in the world, with giving him the best advice of his career:

"Avoid trivia."

Great advice. Contrast it with this blog, which at its best can only dredge up old quotes, historical trivia if you will, as food for thought. Sigh.

After the jump, another principle that guided Kennan in his thinking of how to apply American power in the post-war world.

It's from Alexander Hamilton, writing in "The Federalist Papers":

"A dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants."
Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers

At risk of breaking Godwin's Law, I'll note that Kennan lived through the time of Hitler, Stalin and Mao. It's probably specious to assume Kennan would think Hamilton's warning applies in today's era of ObamaCare, Tea Party protests and talking heads on Fox News and MSNBC. Still, it's worth keeping in mind as we watch our own era's history unfold.

By the way, the history that inspired these thoughts is "The Hawk and the Dove -- Paul Nitze, George Kennan and the History of the Cold War" by Nicholas Thompson.

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