AROUND THE CRAGGED HILL by George F. Kennan

AROUND THE CRAGGED HILL

A Personal and Political Philosophy
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The former foreign-service officer, professor at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, and author of 18 books now offers The World According to Kennan. Here, Kennan (Sketches from a Life, 1989, etc.) tries to set forth a coherent personal and political philosophy. Unfortunately, he starts with the personal. Sex, he tells us, is usually ``tedious, monotonous, at times ridiculous,'' and, along with conceit, constitutes ``a little demon companion in attendance on every civilized person.'' The widespread American hostility to the idea of hereditary effects on personality stems, he contends, from our being ``a nation of immigrants.'' Kennan declares that the soul is separate from the body, and that it's difficult to reconcile God-the-creator with God-the-custodian-of-our-fates. Kennan's general statements on government also tend to be chatty and unhelpful: Power is ``not, in truth, a nice thing''; government is an ``unpleasant business''; urban expansion is ``simply a horror.'' There are odd moments here, as when Kennan calls for carrying on the tradition of household servants. Yet when he talks about foreign policy, his words take on the weight of a distinguished career. Kennan rejects ``any and all messianic concepts of America's role in the world'' and calls for ``a modest and restrained foreign policy,'' with cuts in military spending and foreign aid. An admirer of the European system of democracy, he also suggests that the secretary of state become a sort of prime minister to supervise the executive branch and deal with party politics. Finally, Kennan recommends that a ``permanent, nonpolitical advisory body'' be formed to take advantage of the collective wisdom of retired statesmen, jurists, and educators. Quoting Goethe, Chekhov, Gibbon, and Clausewitz, Kennan veers from the erudite to the platitudinous. He presents some valuable policy suggestions toward book's end, but, most of the way, he seems asleep at the wheel.

Pub Date: Jan. 11th, 1993
ISBN: 0-393-03411-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1992




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