Published Humanitas, Volume VI, No. 2, 1993

Around the Cragged Hill: A Personal and Political Philosophy, by George Kennan. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1993. 272 pp. $22.95.

The latest book by George Kennan is a scintillating collection of reflections on the central questions confronting postmodern man. Touching on a multitude of themes in crisp concise passages, Kennan’s book is full of profound observations and brilliant insights drawn from his life as a diplomat, scholar, and statesman. Furthermore, given his professed preference for addressing historical and concrete circumstances rather than formulating abstract ideas, Kennan offers his readers a work free of the tortured prose so often associated with contemporary books on politics and philosophy. Kennan’s gifted use of the English language makes manifest the great advantages of the historical mind: clarity, elegance, and concreteness. It is not surprising that this book makes no pretense to revealing an absolute world-view or exposing the hidden truths of man or his society, but instead sets forth Kennan’s tentative observations thereon.

In the second part of the book, Kennan dissects the sentiments and tendencies in the American character which have undermined our republican government over the last two centuries. He agrees in principle with Alexis de Tocqueville’s contention that egalitarianism is the defining characteristic of American democracy and that it promotes the dangerous centralization and bureaucratization of political power, though he believes that the French aristocrat’s predictions of a creeping soft despotism are somewhat overdrawn. Assessing the…

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