In the Wake of Controversy: Appreciating the Intellectual Legacy of Henry Kissinger

In Memoriam: Henry Kissinger (1923-2023)

A Complex Legacy: Remembering Henry Kissinger

Henry Kissinger, the influential former Secretary of State, passed away at the age of 100, leaving behind a legacy marked by both enduring influence and controversy.

Niall Ferguson reflects on Kissinger’s life, addressing the criticism and examining the extraordinary improbabilities that defined his journey.

Controversy Amidst Condolences

Critics wasted no time in challenging the customary restraint in speaking ill of the deceased.

Rolling Stone’s headline, ‘Henry Kissinger, War Criminal Beloved by America’s Ruling Class, Finally Dies,’ highlights the polarized opinions surrounding Kissinger.

Against the backdrop of rising anti-Semitism post-October 7 atrocities in Israel, Ferguson questions why Kissinger faced such vehement criticism compared to other American diplomats.

An Extraordinary Journey

Ferguson delves into the improbable events that shaped Kissinger’s life, from surviving the Holocaust as a German Jew to rising from a teenage refugee to holding the highest offices in the U.S. government.

The narrative unfolds, exploring Kissinger’s academic achievements, diplomatic roles, and his unique feat of concurrently serving as national security adviser and secretary of state.

The 50-Year Campaign Against Kissinger

Examining the 50-year campaign against Kissinger, Ferguson notes the inadequacies in research, bipartisan criticism from the progressive Left to the populist Right, and the reluctance of critics to present counterfactual alternatives.

Ferguson challenges the detractors to consider the broader context and strategic significance of Kissinger’s decisions during the tumultuous Cold War era.

Eight Historical Achievements

Ferguson outlines eight key achievements that defined Kissinger’s diplomatic legacy, including extricating the U.S. from Vietnam, preventing World War III with the Soviet Union, establishing dialogue with China, negotiating peace between Egypt and Israel, revitalizing the transatlantic alliance, resisting communism in Latin America, expediting the end of white minority rule in southern Africa, and navigating the domestic-political crisis of Watergate.

Unseen Consequences and Technological Influence

The article delves into the unintended political consequences of technology, such as the role of audio-taping in Watergate and the transformative rise of personal computers.

Kissinger’s foresight on artificial intelligence and his understanding of the implications of technological change are highlighted, challenging critics to appreciate the depth of his intellectual contributions.

A Lasting Influence

As the world bids farewell to Henry Kissinger, Ferguson acknowledges the enduring impact of Kissinger’s ideas, encapsulated in influential terms like ‘shuttle diplomacy’ and ‘world order.’

Kissinger’s influence transcends his lifetime, as demonstrated by his reflections on artificial intelligence in his later years.

In his concluding remarks, Ferguson invites readers to explore Kissinger’s 2018 essay, ‘How the Enlightenment Ends,’ emphasizing the depth and foresight that characterized Kissinger’s thinking until his final days.

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