Joseph Epstein reviews the recently published diaries of George Kennan.
Kennan, in many ways, was more conservative than most of our current right-wing pundits. He was also more intellectually honest and more rigorous.
Proper distance, mutual respect, non-interference, above all the avoidance of war—these were the pillars on which Kennan thought foreign policy ought to stand.
The modern right is rendered absurd on just this point. They catalogue in detail the failings of one government program after another. Yet they persist in thinking that foreign policy and military affairs are different and will not be plagued by unintended consequences or governmental over-reach.
Government generally, he wrote in Around the Cragged Hill, A Personal and Political Philosophy, “is simply not the channel through which men’s noblest impulses are to be realized. Its task, on the contrary, is largely to see that its ignoble ones are kept under restraint and not permitted to go too far.”
The architect of the Marshall Plan and Containment, two of the most successful government programs of the 20th century, did not let hubris cloud his vision of what the world was really like.
It's possible that Kennan is more relevant now than at any time in the last fifty years.