Here are two out-takes from Henry Kissinger’s World Order that I believe are timely insights for each of us.
I introduced my eulogy at President Ford’s funeral with the following sentences: According to an ancient tradition, God preserves humanity despite its many transgressions because, at any one period, there exist ten just individuals who, without being aware of their role, redeem mankind. Gerald Ford was such a man.
EVERY AGE HAS ITS LEITMOTIF, a set of beliefs that explains the universe, that inspires or consoles the individual by providing an explanation for the multiplicity of events impinging on him. In the medieval period, it was religion; in the Enlightenment, it was Reason; in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it was nationalism combined with a view of history as a motivating force. Science and technology are the governing concepts of our age.They have brought about advances in human well-being unprecedented in history. Their evolution transcends traditional cultural constraints. Yet they have also produced weapons capable of destroying mankind. Technology has brought about a means of communication permitting instantaneous contact between individuals or institutions in every part of the globe as well as the storage and retrieval of vast quantities of information at the touch of a button.
Yet by what purposes is this technology informed? What happens to international order if technology has become such a part of everyday life that it defines its own universe as the sole relevant one? Is the destructiveness of modern weapons technology so vast that a common fear may unite mankind in order to eliminate the scourge of war? Or will possession of these weapons create a permanent foreboding? Will the rapidity and scope of communication break down barriers between societies and individuals and provide transparency of such magnitude that the age-old dreams of a human community will come into being? Or will the opposite happen: Will mankind, amidst weapons of mass destruction, networked transparency, and the absence of privacy, propel itself into a world without limits or order, careening through crises without comprehending them? The author claims no competence in the more advanced forms of technology; his concern is with its implications.
My own observation is that beside Kissinger’s wealth of experience, intellect and insight – he is asking the right questions! Grandiose humilité.