Tag: George Kennan

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-host Cara Candal talks with John Lewis Gaddis, the Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of George F. Kennan: An American Life. He shares some of the wider background knowledge, major historical themes, and key events that today’s students should know about the Cold War and its impact. He discusses the life and legacy of George F. Kennan, the subject of his Pulitzer-winning biography, who was the architect of America’s Containment policy toward Soviet communism and understood the true character of the Russian people and why communism would fail. They survey some of the outstanding political, military, literary, and religious leaders, as well as the murderous dictators, of the Cold War era. Prof. Gaddis explains why the West has often seemed less resolute towards Communist China and Putin’s Russia since the Cold War, and explores what teachers, students, and the public should know regarding Russia’s long-standing goal of dominating Ukraine. The episode concludes with a reading from Prof. Gaddis’s book, The Cold War: A New History.

Stories of the Week: In Massachusetts, education policymakers are moving ahead with a second review of the Boston Public Schools (BPS), which may lead to state receivership, after reports found that 16,000 BPS students attend schools performing in the bottom 10 percent statewide. Pioneer Institute’s Senior Fellow Charles Chieppo, most recently co-author of a RealClearPolicy op-ed on this topic, joins Cara for an in-depth discussion.

The Sources of American Conduct


Claire suggested someone ought to try to write an article examining the sources of American foreign policy from the perspective of one of our global rivals, modeled after George Kennan’s famous 1947 “X” article. Herewith, I humbly take up the gauntlet. [Disclaimer: This is an imaginative exercise. Any similarity to real persons or institutions is purely coincidental.]

A longer version of the following article appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of the Russian language Journal of the Institute of USA and Canada Studies. Published by the Russian Academy of Sciences, it is the country’s pre-eminent scholarly publication focusing on American politics. Its contents during the Soviet era were presumed to bear the imprimatur of the Foreign Affairs Department of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. The author is reputed to be a high-ranking Russian diplomat, but the slightly absurd name is previously unknown and is almost certainly a pseudonym. The article is of uneven quality and highly eccentric in its policy recommendations. However, parts of it are strikingly perceptive and its appearance in a prominent Russian foreign affairs publication ought to give rise to serious concerns within the American foreign policy establishment, but probably won’t. I have therefore undertaken to translate it myself, edit it down to a (somewhat) manageable length and post it on Ricochet, where it is certain to catch the eye of Very Important People.

Unreality and Nihilism


shutterstock_273465104George Kennan’s classic 1947 “X” article, published anonymously in Foreign Affairs under the title The Sources of Soviet Conduct, laid the foundation for more than 40 years of American Cold War policy toward its Soviet adversary. Kennan’s article is a model of analytical clarity and grand-strategic vision, best known for formulating the strategy of “containment”. But while containment was Kennan’s famous – and famously successful – policy prescription for the challenge facing the United States in 1947, what is often forgotten is his thesis, which is hiding in plain sight within the article’s title: if you want to prevail over your adversary, you must first understand what motivates him. What are the sources of his conduct? What is his “political personality”?

In the case of the Soviet Union, Kennan identifies the basic source in Marxist-Leninist ideology, and in particular, two of its key postulates: the innate and irreconcilable antagonism between capitalism and socialism; and the infallibility of Soviet political leadership. All Soviet conduct in foreign affairs flows from these two elements. In light of which, Kennan deduces that “Soviet pressure against the free institutions of the Western world is something that can be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counterforce at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and maneuvers of Soviet policy, but which cannot be charmed or talked out of existence.”

Secretary of State George Marshall and President Truman were persuaded by Kennan’s analysis and, with much public debate, committed the United States to a costly, long-term national effort to contain Soviet Communism. The precise meaning and form of this effort were subject to some disagreement around the edges, but its main contours remained firm and constant for over 40 years. This massive commitment was made while the smoking ruins of World War II still smoldered, and with the catastrophic failure of the major democracies to understand and confront the sources of Nazi conduct still fresh in the minds of America’s leadership class.