George F. Kennan's realism

Paul Gottfried, Elizabethtown College


Recent studies of the career diplomat and distinguished historian George F. Kennan, and particularly a little noted intellectual biography by Lee Congdon, reveal a side of this figure that has often been neglected. Despite his reputation as a critic of the Cold War, Kennan was in fact a strong anti-Communist and profoundly conservative thinker. His conventional defenders have stressed his displeasure with vocal anti-Communism in order to create an image of him that is consistent with their left-of-center politics. This has come at the expense of playing down unfashionable opinions that Kennan expressed on a wide range of issues. Many of his opinions, which he viewed as eminently "realistic," would have been unacceptable to his mainstream admirers even fifty years ago, were it not for his stands on the Cold War and for certain isolated statements drawn from his post-World War Two speeches mentioning racial inequality and industrial waste. What is now being published on Kennan's life, however, provides a more balanced picture. Congdon and John Lukacs have both offered this necessary corrective to earlier views about their subject in recent biographical studies. These and other commentators are now highlighting the anti-modernist perspective from which he viewed and criticized the twentieth century. © 2010 Springer Science + Business Media, LLC.