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The great leaders, according Kissinger have a mix of steady statecraft and a ideal vision of what they want their societies to become.  The last paragraphs from the review of “Middle-Class Statecraft”.

Kissinger laments the failings of today’s faltering meritocracy:

‘The civic patriotism that once lent prestige to public service appears to have been outflanked by an identity-based factionalism and a competing cosmopolitanism. In America, a growing number of college graduates aspire to become globe-trotting corporate executives or professional activists; significantly fewer envision a role as regional- or national-level leaders in politics or the civil service. Something is amiss when the relationship between the leadership class and much of the public is defined by mutual hostility and suspicion.’

Kissinger here recognizes that interest cannot bind a people together. Ideology might bind peoples in common derangement, he suggests. But the “civic patriotism” he references is rooted in a people’s common moral life, shared culture, and even their religious faith. This is not to say that at age ninety-nine, Kissinger has become a public moralist. But this account recognizes that America—and much of the West—has lost something as they have encouraged their best and brightest to adopt the more cosmopolitan mores exemplified by the academy and elite business class. This is not the only cause of our crisis of leadership, however.

Our obvious lack of great leadership flows from the decline of deep literacy and thoughtfulness. Here, Kissinger argues that the rise of visual and digital culture is responsible. Television and social media produce less thoughtful and attentive minds, and television in particular, Kissinger thinks, undermined older norms of self-command and restraint in favor of public emotionalism and impatience. That this shift has happened amidst a world experiencing dramatic technological change is a disaster, he argues.

But despite a kind of gloomy realism about the challenges confronting our world, Kissinger’s overarching argument nonetheless demands an attitude of hope. Just as previous great leaders were to some degree sui generis, the next great statesmen could emerge from the most unlikely of places.

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