Flaubert on Kissinger/Nixon

Speaking of Kissinger/Nixon, less flat-footed defenders of the Dynamic Duo like to take a tack that goes like this: “Yes, yes, massive violence at the periphery—Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, and elsewhere—but what about their more prosaic and peaceful achievements at the center: detente, the treaties with the Soviet Union, opening relations with China, and so on?”

Flaubert had their number many decades ago: “Be regular and orderly in your life,” he is supposed to have to said, “so that you may be violent and original in your work.”


  1. John September 24, 2015 at 4:56 pm | #

    The caption reads a bit like a set up line from the ‘straight man’ in a Richard Foreman’s Theatre of Ontological Hysteria.

  2. rick September 24, 2015 at 8:35 pm | #

    A bit oblique to me, Corey! I love literature, but still…

    • Corey Robin September 25, 2015 at 12:23 am | #

      Regularly and orderly in your life = US policy toward the Soviet Union, China, the “Great Powers”
      violent and original in your work = US policy toward Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, etc.

  3. Dan Schubart September 24, 2015 at 10:55 pm | #

    Je savais qu’il y avait une raison pour toute cette lecture de Flaubert (à part le plaisir, la tension et quelques verres en accompagnement).

  4. Vetty September 25, 2015 at 1:51 am | #

    Since it is advice to which Flaubert adhered himself, and that he is considered a master of literature, are we not to think then that Messrs. Kissinger and Nixon were of a similar mettle?

    If you are to argue, on the other hand, that Flaubert is of no merit because of his notoriously reactionary views, I’m afraid I cannot follow you to that particular barricade.

  5. Frank Wilhoit September 26, 2015 at 6:13 pm | #

    The periphery is real, the “center” is not. “Picking up crappy little countries and slamming them into the wall” is real. (Sorry, too lazy to look up the verbatim, but it was very like this.) “Great Power diplomacy” is not. Hence the Iran deal: Iran isn’t little or crappy enough.

    • Jim Tarrant October 13, 2015 at 3:14 pm | #

      The comment is attributed to the neo-con historian Michael Ledeen. Jonahy Goldberg called it the “Ledeen Doctrine” in a 2002 column. This tongue-in-cheek “doctrine” is usually summarized as “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business,” which Goldberg remembered Ledeen saying in an early 1990s speech.

  6. LFC September 28, 2015 at 5:29 pm | #

    I’ve just been re-reading the late Stanley Hoffmann’s chapter “The Course of Dr. Kissinger” in his Primacy or World Order (1978), and a lot of it is exceptionally clear and insightful. Still worth reading, almost 40 years after it was published. (Unfortunately, it’s not really feasible to try to summarize it in a comment box.)

  7. Lichanos November 2, 2015 at 1:38 pm | #

    You are really stretching it here, and I wouldn’t mind, except that I love Flaubert. Of course, his full remark was:

    “Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

    Gotta love that cutting irony in there with the “bourgeois” did, which you omitted. It’s an open question what GF would have thought of Nixon/Kissinger. He was a conservative in many ways, but he also detested cant. And then there’s this:

    “Axiom: hatred of the bourgeois is the beginning of wisdom. But I include in the word bourgeois, the bourgeois in blouses as well the bourgeois in coats.”

    He thought “bourgeois” denoted an ideology, a state of mind, rather than a class. In an America where “everyone is middle-class,” didn’t he have a point?

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