Dr. Kissinger’s first book was A World Restored, a history of the negotiations in Vienna (1815) that ended Europe’s chronic wars going back to the French Revolution (1789). The theme, “restore,” demonstrates how the “Holy Alliance” that fought Napoleon for decades managed to revive “legitimate” (monarchy) government throughout Europe, a movement that kept great-power peace for the next century (to 1914).
The restoration of traditional culture and government ended Europe’s obsession with revolutionary politics that kept the “old regime” in continuous violence and turmoil. The names of those men (Metternich, Castlereagh, Talleyrand, Alexander) have since become synonymous with stability, legitimacy and restraint among the great powers of the world and still resonant when reflecting on today’s unrest and chaos.
Of course, the world has “changed” since 1815. Kissinger knew that — we all do — but are there similarities? Since they lacked rockets, computers, and abortion (progress?), do we dismiss their minds and circumstances? Does bringing order out of chaos before either Trump or Pelosi were born preclude their contributions to logic, reason, and thought?
The Congress of Vienna produced the resultant “Concert” of Europe, minus musicians. The diplomatic meaning of the word attests to a natural harmony of interests among the units, an “accord” or a mutual agenda toward common ends. The actual machinery, meetings, of the powers came to an early end (1822), but the spirit of cooperation and commonality lasted right up until the disastrous World War I. This saw the end of the European system in world politics, which led to communism, fascism, the end of colonialism, the rise of American liberalism (democracy), World War II, and the Cold War. Now we are left with a blend of chaos, terror, fanaticism, crypto-fascism and a political globe unsure of itself or its future.
Within the U.S., the domestic agenda has taken hold of the public, in an arena where ideological “racisms,” “sexisms,” and personalities dominate. The biggest story of 2018 was the question of whether a Supreme Court nominee behaved himself as a teen. With its acclaimed “America First” slogan, the primary effort of the administration has been to fortify the southern border, perhaps overdue, but hardly sufficient to inspire global leadership. So far in 2019, the new year has been dominated by the spectacle of the President and the Speaker of the House cancelling each other’s public appearances. Meanwhile, much of the government has stopped working.
Perhaps a higher calling might help the culture develop.
The world of 1815 also knew anarchy, but far more terrible and bloodier. They settled it with a concert that “restored” both stability and sanity to the terrible past and opened the way for a brighter, and more peaceful, future. They didn’t outlaw violence or change human nature. Nor did they create a new and larger bureaucracy, rules, or institutions. What they did was restore values, community, and coordination into a system that had been wrecked by war and death.
The “Brexit” crisis highlights the contradictions of today’s global paradox. What will the future bring: a new and larger set of unions or a restoration of the nation-state? Which values will predominate: sovereignty and territory or globalization?
Great Britain, America’s oldest ally through war and alliance, is torn in half by this very question. As before, the political globe calls out for answers and solutions, but this country, from both parties and the public, stands as if paralyzed by its own uncertainties and identities. When Woodrow Wilson fought a war to “make the world safe for democracy,” he planted the seed, realized after his death, for a “world restored.” When Harry Truman created the Marshall Plan and NATO, he created his “Doctrine” to aid “free peoples everywhere.” These reflected sentiments and values that go deep within the American psyche, to the very roots of the Founding.
That is what is missing now. “America First” sounds great, but it’s a bumper sticker, an emotion, harking back to a long-forgotten past.
At the beginning, Jefferson promised an “Empire for Liberty.” As he wrote Madison, the idea has “never surveyed since the creation, and I am persuaded no constitution was ever before so well calculated as ours for extensive empire and self-government.” The inherent contradiction aside, Jefferson’s “empire” meant to him a vehicle for liberty and political freedom. His day never knew “concert,” only empire, but his values and direction were true to the cause.
What cause do we have today? How can a cause overcome intractable and petty quarreling? Washington himself foresaw this problem in his Farewell Address, warning that party infighting “leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.”
This is the “present danger,” and the fault is mutual and systemic, but the “blame game” continues.
The future needs a higher calling. In world politics, a global “Concert of Liberty,” like the original, would fill the vacuum. Led by this country, the new vehicle would be comprised of nations that meet the qualities of sustained freedom in all aspects. This makes it selective, which is its nature in the first place. Unlike other regional groups, the beauty of a concert is its ambition: nothing. It exists for what it is, not for what it does. Like the Concert of Europe, it should meet periodically, under alternate leadership, to discuss and review the “situation.” New members are invited, if they qualify. Its growth depends on the strength of liberty worldwide.
This should not be difficult, but it will attract dissent. But dare any politician deny a U.S. official transit for their trip to the “Liberty Summit.”