Book review: Risto Volanen: Henry Kissinger, World Order

Book review
Henry Kissinger: World Order, Penguin, New York 2014
Risto Volanen, Ph.D.
Henry Kissinger’s World Order, from Ukraine towards Westphalia II.
Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy (1994) was more or less Euro-Atlantic centric, and his On China
(2011) dealt with the other end of the Eurasian continent. Now his World Order covers the whole
planet, combining its geopolitics with geohistory.
We in the West developed the Westphalian state and the regional order based on it, and we also
spread them worldwide. But now both the sovereign state and the order based on it are being
challenged from several corners. Most of the international actors still practice them, “but none of
them considers itself the natural defender of the system.”
Needless to remind what Kissinger refers to when he speaks of violating state sovereignty. In post-
World War II history there have been events like Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968, Serbia and
Kosovo 1999 and 2008, New York and Washington 2001, Iraq 2003, Estonia 2007, Georgia 2008,
Ukraine 2014, Syria 2014, the West Bank in Palestine — and a whole bundle of cross-border
activities like cyber offensives or hybrid operations.
Geohistory of the Universal Orders
Starting with Europe, Kissinger reminds us about the Pope’s and the Emperor’s historical
universalism. However, his actual point of departure is the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. In it the
sovereign state was affirmed as a building block of the new European order. Kissinger mentions
Hugo Grotius, but basically for him the Westphalian states and their system were born as a pragmatic
solution to the crisis of the time, or to the Thirty Years War — and it was made possible by
“Division and multiplicity, an accident of Europe’s history…”
The earlier Catholic or Imperial demands for authority were based on universalism, where only one
center of power could be fully legitimate and create order or unity under its leadership. After
Westphalia, a large number of sovereign states created the order by agreeing on international laws
and developing simultaneously a balance of power “that enforces restraint where rules break down,
preventing one political unit from subjugating all others.” Or, as Kissinger puts it in a recent
interview (Prospect, October 2014), “… it was a pragmatic acknowledgement that countries would
fare better if they accepted each other’s existence — and differences.”
From Westphalia onwards, step by step across the whole world, political order became a
combination of legitimacy and balance of power — both based on sovereign states. Therefore true
statesmanship or statecraft also became the skill to manage these elements for peace and welfare.
Today the whole planet is covered by the state system and the political order based on it. But today
we also witness universalistic ideologies and technological developments challenging them. In
Kissinger’s World Order it turns out that even if states actually follow the Westphalian order, many
of them grow out of universalistic or divinely-based civilizations, which shape much of their actual
political thinking.
For Kissinger the Westphalian state and its principles define normalcy, and therefore European
political history is the natural point of departure for studying more concretely, region by region, the
state of political order in the world.
Kissinger reports how in Europe much of the first 150 years after Westphalia witnessed successes of
the sovereign state and its system of balance of power. Its first serious challengers were the
universalistic Enlightenment and the French revolution based on it, as well as Russian imperial
The Napoleonic wars were followed by the Vienna Conference and its creation of the 19th century
balance of power system in Europe. It collapsed in the First World War and was then challenged by
the German pursuit of hegemony and the new Russian Marxist-Leninist form of universalism.
It turns out that Kissinger is ambivalent about the post-World War II European order, or the
European Union. On the one hand it calms down the historical German-French conflict, but on the
other it devalues its own member states and has difficulties in shaping Europe’s role in the world
Today it is obvious that the most immediate challenge to the state-based system comes from radical
Islamism and the Middle East. Kissinger covers their history from the seventh century on or from the
time of the Byzantine and Sassanid Persian empires. According to him, these empires disabled each
other and therefore opened the way to the unique explosion of an Islamic “religion, multiethnic
superstate and a new world order.”
The modern history of the Islamic Middle East is well known: the fall of the Ottoman Empire,
Western colonial building of artificial states, their non-democratic regimes, and finally their
modernist color, as well as Islamistic revolutions. In Muslim brother Sayyid Qutb’s words, the
universalistic Islamistic challenge to sovereign states and their system is “global implementation of
Also in Asia or in China, Japan and India you have universalistic traditions but in different ways.
Since 221 BCE China developed as the Middle Kingdom covering All Under Heaven. But at a
certain moment its imperial leadership recognized its material limits and started to build the Great
Wall (in the 14th century) and put an end to overseas adventures in 1433. It started to extend its
power through a geographic-hierarchic system of dependency.
Japan’s emperor also represents the universal cosmic dimension on Earth, and there was a strong
expansionistic tendency until the end of World War II. Indian Hindu traditions created a mosaic of
divinely legitimized dynasties but they related to each other in much the same way as the European
Westphalian states — until they were united through a common revolution against the British
imperial power and they developed a democratic state.
Of all the universalistic powers the United States is of course the best known and also the most
important one. Kissinger follows American leaders from the earliest Europeans in New England to
president Obama — all of them thinking that they are building a new global experience of human
American foreign policy first protected their nation building from external interference and followed
the Monroe Doctrine. Then, after President Theodor Roosevelt’s Realpolitik, during the First World
War president Woodrow Wilson changed it all through his universalistic idea of making the world
safe for democracy. Since then the American role in the world has been decisive — and has
fluctuated between Wilsonian idealism and Realpolitik, as well as between maximalism and
One of Kissinger’s key findings is that the US successively goes on the offensive with a strong belief
that if a dictator or a totalitarian regime is overthrown, democracy will naturally replace it. Kissinger
is critical of this conception, but this phenomenon itself seems to be hard to analyze for anybody
working within the framework of post-Enlightenment presuppositions.
For experts of regional histories Kissinger’s new book may not give much new specific information.
As far as us generalists are concerned, it fills gaps in education. Perhaps the most interesting new
concrete insight is about President Roosevelt’s policy on Stalin. In Diplomacy Kissinger was quite
critical. Now he says that it may have been possible that Roosevelt was afraid of Stalin making a new
deal with Hitler, and therefore Roosevelt did his outmost to ensure the alliance with Stalin to the end
of the war.
But obviously for most readers Kissinger’s geohistorical journey as a whole is an experience of
higher Bildung. It conceptualizes a major political dilemma of our time.
Kissinger summarizes that “The Westphalian peace represented a judgment of reality — particularly
realities of power and territory — as a temporal ordering concept over the demands of religion.”
Kissinger recognizes today’s return of religious and earthly universalisms, the few global power
centers tempted to judge on their own, and new technologies challenging the Westphalian system. He
is convincing in his warning that if the Westphalian state and its system collapse, not very much is
left for a decently peaceful world order or for local orders.
Kissinger’s conclusion is that “To achieve a genuine world order, its components, while maintaining
their own values, need to acquire a second culture that is global, structural, and juridical — a
concept of order that transcends the perspective and ideals of any one region or nation. At this
moment in history, this would be a modernization of the Westphalian system informed by
contemporary realities.”
But what this could mean goes deeper than Kissinger’s taking the Westphalian system as a pragmatic
response to the mid 17th century European crisis. Therefore one should study more closely how
European civilization arrived at the 17th century Westphalian state and its system. A preliminary
remark is that the Westphalian human capacity for “judgment of reality” or accepting “each other’s
existence — and differences” were not just replacing the demands of religion with some readymade
or natural human competence. Something more was involved in this transformation.
The veil of ignorance in European history
Paul Kennedy began his The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by stating that in 1500, there were no
indications that something special would evolve out of Europe. Rather, the Ottoman Empire and the
empires of Persia and China seemed like rising powers. It was this period, however, which marked
the rise of the age of European hegemony, and soon, the Westphalian states.
Kennedy proposed that the centuries of European hegemony should be explained by the dynamics of
competing states and the avoidance of centralized dynasties. This sounds plausible, but it doesn’t
explain why it happened and why it led to the Westphalian states, their system, and finally to their
Kennedy seems to join a large number of mainstream scholars, who follow the Enlightenment era
historian Edward Gibbon. According to Gibbon, the Greco-Roman culture had its Golden Age in
Rome in the first centuries CE. This era was followed by a collapse and then the dark Middle Age, in
turn followed by a renascentia romanitas and the Age of Enlightenment, which again promised
prosperity in the future.
As Europe and the traditions of European origin like the Westphalian state are now more and more
challenged, it is understandable that the new wave of discussion seeks to look at their deeper roots.
After Max Weber, Oswald Spengler or Arnold Toynbee this current seems to have been revitalized by
scholars like Samuel Huntington, Charles Taylor, René Girard, Robert N. Bellah, Peter Sloterdijk,
the later Francis Fukuyama, Joseph Ratzinger — and now by Henry Kissinger.
We thus return to Max Weber’s question: What chain of events has led to the Western phenomena,
which represent something globally special — such as the Westphalian states and the political orders
based on them?
Current discussion often refers to Karl Jasper’s Achsenzeit, i.e. the Axial Age. It signifies the period
between 800–200 BCE, when the even now recognizable civilizations rose: Confucianism,
Hinduism, Buddhism, classical Greece and the great prophets of Israel — and finally also Roman
Imperial order and Christianity. This means the civilizations whose political impact on today’s world
Henry Kissinger is studying in his World Order.
Studies of the Axial Age are characterized by the naturalistic-sociological school represented by
Robert N. Bellah and by an anthropological approach, represented by René Girard. According to
Bellah, in the legitimacy crisis of the pre-Axial Age, archaic-barbaric systems led everywhere on the
planet — if not in the Americas — to the formation of ‘denialist’ groups, and once they had achieved
cultural hegemony, these prophets, hermits, and philosophers finally effected sociocultural change or
a new phase in a civilization.
Now, the term archaic-barbaric should be used to refer to Europe’s pre-Axial Age as well, in order to
emphasize the similarly primitive stage of development of both our European native culture and
other cultures — something veiled by Gibbonian Enlightenment and Romanticism.
At the centre of Girard’s theory is that the Axial and pre-Axial cultures created a manageable
communal unity with the help of human or animal sacrifices, or by focusing uncontrolled hate in a
community towards some human or animal scapegoat. Linked to this is how the new era began when
these hate-scapegoat cultures were displaced or reformed. To this Peter Sloterdijk adds that the
internal hatred within archaic-barbaric communities might be eased by directing it as a Homeric hate
towards an external enemy, as in Homer’s Iliad.
René Girard and Robert Bellah, each from his own perspective, analyze how in the pre-Axial Age
civilizations transformed themselves from hate-scapegoat cultures to the next phase of human
development. It turns out that cultures kept some aspects of their sacrifice traditions. Now, together
with Kissinger, we can recognize that whatever the specifics of the post-Axial Age civilizations,
there was something in common in their political systems. The mainstream Axial Age solution to the
legitimacy crisis of the time was the transformation towards political systems, whose supreme leader
received his legitimacy from representing universal godly order on Earth.
In a way, Kissinger’s World Order is a comparative study of how the political orders of these post-
Axial Age civilizations have developed first on their own — and then adapted themselves, resulting
in the exceptional European order or Westphalian political order.
On closer analysis, the early cultural-historical root of the Westphalian order in Europe is also
parallel with but different from the ancient non-European civilizations. A post-Axial Age supreme
leader with legitimacy from universal celestial order emerged also in Southern Europe, namely the
Roman Emperor. But as it is well known, he was soon challenged and finally defeated by a different
project, namely Christianity.
Therefore, a study of the European project is on the one hand a case study in global geohistory, and
on the other, gives light to the early development towards the Westphalian states and their order from
their European origins.
Towards Westphalia, Europe as a humanitas Bildung project
The idea of Rome was enlargement, and finally its original republican order could not manage it.
Leadership was transferred to the Emperor, and he was divinized through the traditional Roman cults
and Platonist arguments. Starting from Octavianus, named Augustus in 27 BCE, the Emperor
represented on earth, or in microcosm, the rational, just, divine celestial order of the macrocosm.
Western Rome survived to 476 CE and Eastern Byzantium to 1453 CE. But the idea of the Emperor
representing universal order was sustained in Europe and in Russia until the First World War.
However, in parallel, the Christian project was to transmit by God's grace the right order (dikaiosyne,
Iustitia Dei) directly to the psyche of an individual. Subsequently, these justified people, having their
souls in the right triune order, were to build their own community, ecclesia, or the Kingdom of God.
And as it is well known, this project succeeded, and over a period of time it mobilized also Classical
civilization to serve it as a partner.
The core of the winning Christian project seems to have been to develop the human psyche as an
Imago of triune Dei, sustainably capable of free and practical reasoning — judgment of reality — and
corresponding action. But free practical reasoning can lead to different decisions even in identical
conditions, and this inevitably led to the differentiation of European communities and people. This in
turn inevitably led to a need to generate a civil kingdom that fits the diversified social lives of freely
deliberating people — and thus finally, to the Westphalian state, and very finally, its democratic
To put it shortly, from the very beginning of the post-Axial Age in Europe, there were two
mainstream competitors, the post-Roman universalism and division and multiplicity of the Christian
justified peoples' communities. As is well known, the idea of an Emperor and the Emperor himself
were reborn in 800 CE to protect Western Christendom against both the Byzantine Empire and
expanding Islam. However, in accordance with the logic of European civilization, this first post-
Roman concentration of power broke down only 40 years later, to reappear as a weaker version in
So the Roman idea of a universal or imperial, unifying power survived and was reborn in the
European tradition. However, the Roman bishop also soon developed an appetite for power on the
one hand and wanted to get rid of the Eastern Roman style Emperor’s control of the Church on the
other. The great struggle of medieval politics was between the universalistic traditions of the
Emperor and the Pope competing over who would represent the universal order and unite Europe
under a single leadership — as well as the struggle between them and the slowly emerging states,
such as France and England.
What was fundamental in this competition was that the Emperor’s legitimacy was based on the
Roman Augustan argument and the blessing of the Pope. But the Pope also demanded
comprehensive legitimacy both in religious and in earthly matters using both religious argument and
inheritance of the imperial power — even if based on falsified documents. At the same time this
rivalry was an opportunity for the nascent states, England and France in particular.
Gradually, the Pope first gained the upper hand, and in 1075, Pope Gregory VII ousted from
ecclesiastical matters Emperor Henry IV. In 1302 Bonifacius VIII, in the papal bull Unam Sanctam,
proclaimed his authority superior both spiritually and secularly — a bull which was formally
canceled only in 1871, and then replaced by the dogma of Papal infallibility only in religious matters.
But that was the first time for a European state to demonstrate its force, and the Pope was placed
under house arrest in Avignon for 70 years by Philip IV of France.
But the Emperor did not give in either. In 1519 the Habsburgian Charles V undertook a plan to unify
Europe as a Respublica Christiana with a common Dominium Mundi.
The Pope and the Emperor competed for dominion over Europe, but the legitimacy of their earthly
powers was ultimately based on the same philosophical or theological argument, namely, their
representing the celestial macrocosm on Earth. A new era in European history began when that
argument collided first with the Protestant Reformation, and then with the new scientific method and
the Enlightenment which it engendered.
The theology of Martin Luther, by Faith Alone, by Grace Alone, by the Scripture Alone, was for
Lutherans the original Christian idea, but for all of Europe, also a revolutionary doctrine. It
challenged the legitimacy of the Pope, because it meant that a human being can directly
communicate with God and interpret his Word without a mediator. That also gave secular lords an
ideological argument against the power of both the Pope and the Emperor. As a result, the Pope and
the Emperor allied against the Reformation, which eventually led to the Thirty Years' War — and the
Westphalian peace and its state system.
So Henry Kissinger is right when he says in World Order that “The Westphalian peace represented
a judgment of reality — particularly realities of power and territory — as a temporal ordering
concept over the demands of religion,” — or accepting “each other’s existence — and differences.”
But this did not come from thin air, and neither did it emerge from humans just by nature.
Human independent capacity for judgment of reality, temporal ordering or sustainable practical
reasoning, and acting according to it, as well as getting rid of the demands of Papal or Imperial
religious authority was a product of the Christian-Classic humanitas Bildung process of some 1500
This also takes us to another of Kissinger’s findings, especially in today’s American universalism,
namely the presupposition that if a dictator or authoritarian regime is displaced, a liberal democratic
system follows naturally. This fundamental error does not recognize the nature of pre-Westphalia
history but it also relates to the post-Westphalian Western cultural-ideological development.
It is true that today, mainstream neoconservative thinking identifies the historical nature of the
democratic psyche and democracy, but it seems to have made things even more risky. It has implied
that good governance or even balance of power can be used to speed up this history towards
democracy in today’s world. Kissinger critically refers to the National Security Strategy 2002: “We
seek instead to create a balance of power that favors human freedom: conditions in which all nations
and all societies can choose for themselves the rewards and challenges of political and economic
The dilemma of modern political theory
After the Westphalian peace treaty, the European Baroque states were sovereign, but their sovereign
rulers were monarchs, whose legitimacy was argued in the same way as that of the Popes and the
Emperors. After the Reformation, the next decisive blow to that supranatural argumentation of
legitimacy was delivered by the new, or scientific method. According to it the truth of an argument is
based on objective observations, verifiable in principle by anyone, and on logical reasoning. In
putting Galileo Galilei to Court in 1633 the key issue was not his empirical findings as such, but the
fact that in the judgment of reality an empirical observation was his supreme authority — and not
Papal theology.
The new or scientific method challenged further the supranatural argument of the rulers’ legitimacy,
and consequently Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau each developed a new
social contract theory between the ruler and the ruled to serve as a foundation for the legitimacy of
the government in the Westphalian state. This challenged also the post-Westphalian monarch, and
revolutions were bound to come.
But as it is well known, the new method also challenged the Christian and Classical humanitas
Bildung history which had educated the independent human psyche. René Descartes, following the
new scientific method, rejected Plato’s tripartite conception, or St. Augustine’s trinity of the psyche,
basically because they cannot be observed or logically deduced.
What followed as a mainstream Enlightenment was Immanuel Kant’s and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s
argument that humans are by nature — and not through humanitas Bildung history — free rational
beings. Therefore they should liberate themselves from the internal or external controls imposed
upon them. “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains,” said Jean-Jacques Rousseau in
1762. “Sapere aude! Have the courage to use your own intelligence!” declared Immanuel Kant in
Therefore, according to the Enlightenment, if only humans are liberated from an external authority or
authoritarian regime, they by nature are free, rational, ethical beings ready to establish a democratic
regime. It worked well for the first New England state builders, because they had their cultural
humanitas Bildung tradition of being free, reasonable, ethical citizens. And after some painful
experiences, it worked also in Europe after the French revolution. But this is not the case with
whatever civilization without – not necessarily same but – a parallel humanitas Bildung history.
On the contrary, if a regime is lost in a society without humanitas Bildung history or its parallel, an
older tradition, or even a pre-Axial age hate-scapegoat community and its psyche can re-emerge.
Finnish essayist Olavi Paavolainen of the 1930’s saw it well: European Nazism was basically a
revenge of the past European pre-Axial barbaric culture against the Christian humanitas Bildung
This mistaken modern Western Enlightenment preconception of a by nature free, informed, and
ethical or democratic human psyche seems to be the fundamental reason for what Kissinger observes
in World Order: The repeated mistakes of American and European policies supposing that removing
an authoritarian regime can naturally produce a democratic regime like in the West.
So Henry Kissinger’s World Order is a landmark in Western political literature, marking the need to
look to the fundamentals of our own civilization in order to understand others — and ourselves.
Four universalistic political cultures
Kissinger’s World Order opens a perspective to take one step further towards a comparative
geohistorical study of today’s universalistic political cultures, namely the three post-Roman —
European, American, Russian — political cultures and the four post-Hellenistic cultures, including
also the Islamic culture.
In post-Roman Europe, the Roman Emperor’s universalism was followed by the humanitas Bildung
project, but also by the Pope’s and the Emperor’s universalism. This post-Roman universalism was
first opposed by the oldest states, France and England, and finally by the Westphalian state and its
system. Later on it avenged itself as Napoleon, the self-made Emperor, and in the endeavors towards
hegemony in the two World Wars. But Kissinger is also concerned that modern Enlightenment
universalism challenges the state even in the form of the European Union.
Early modernity in Europe was crystallized by René Descartes who, following the conceptual basics
of the new or scientific method, made a distinction between the rational mind and the body of
passions. In the same way, the whole modern Enlightenment era began to develop in these two main
directions, both of them demanding universal validity — and at the same time devaluing cultural
humanitas Bildung of the human psyche as well as the historically differentiated local and national
communities or states.
The Rationalist Immanuel Kant proposed a program for the universal rational administration of
Europe as early as 1795 in his article “Zum Ewigen Frieden” — today followed for instance by
Jürgen Habermas’ arguments. As far as the satisfaction of passions in a free market is concerned, a
parallel program was presented in David Ricardo’s “On the Principles of Political Economy and
Taxation” in 1817 — today underlined for instance by British Prime Minister David Cameron while
defending his state.
Once the cycle of post-Napoleonic wars had reached its climax in the Second World War, the
builders of the new Europe developed in the 1950’s a new outlook of European future, a finalité, out
of the elements of universal modern Enlightenment available in culture at that time. Following the
Descartian division, these universalistic elements were Kant’s rational administration and Ricardo’s
free market in Europe and beyond.
The ideological finalité of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 was summarized by Jean Monnet: "We unite
people, not states." The first objective of the Treaty itself is an “ever closer (sans cesse plus étroite)
union of the Peoples of Europe.” From a historical point of view the monistic Augustan Emperor’s
or the Pope’s universalism was thus transformed into monistic Enlightenment universalism
developing towards ever closer internal harmonization and centralization, as well as external
enlargement - and even further towards expanding the“cooperative empire” to use the term of
Robert Cooper, a long time strategist in EU's foreign services.
The United States
As far as the United States is concerned, Kissinger reminds the reader about the very earliest origins
of American universalism. Aboard Arabella in 1630, bound for New England, Puritan lawyer John
Winthrop preached to the passengers: “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.
The eyes of all people are upon us.” This mission reflected in a moving way the early Christian
vision: "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden."
Max Weber also identified the importance of various Protestant currents in building a new Kingdom
of God free from the European Pope’s or Monarch’s authority “which then commenced gradually to
pass over sober economic virtue.”
As it is well known, at the time of the 1776 Declaration of Independence the Christian Protestant
freedom tradition had become in many ways integrated with the European or British Enlightenment
tradition of John Locke and Scottish Moralists such as David Hume, Francis Hutcheson and Adam
Smith. It is a scholarly debate of its own how each of these currents influenced the Founding Fathers,
but the end result clearly reflects both of them:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by
their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of
Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just
powers from the consent of the governed.”
Kissinger describes how this integration of Christian and Enlightenment universalism for all men
was translated into Woodrow Wilson’s idea of making the world safe for democracy, and further
during the 20th century up to president Obama — like in his West Point speech in May 2014.
Although concerned with the future of the Westphalian state, Kissinger repeatedly stresses also the
importance of balance between his Westphalian state Realpolitik and Wilsonian universalism.
It was argued above that the modern European citizen is an outcome of the European humanitas
Bildung project complemented by the Enlightenment. His European Union can be taken as a renewed
Enlightenment universalistic transformation from the old Roman Imperial and Papal universalism —
leaning towards the continental rational Enlightenment and Catholic traditions. The same Christian-
Classic humanitas Bildung history is also the core of the American individual psyche. American
universalism also seems to be a modern transformation of universalistic European Imperial-Papal
traditions — but leaning towards Humean satisfaction of passions (“pursuit of Happiness”) and
Protestant traditions.
Russia is introduced by Kissinger to the European balance of power politics as a potential
troublemaker from the Seven Years War (1756–1763) onwards. He goes through the main steps from
Kiev Rus to the fall of Constantinople in 1453, which was translated “into an almost mystical
conviction that Russia’s Czar was now…. ‘the sole Emperor of all Christians in the whole
Kissinger’s account is of course accurate, but it could be specified by studying its development in
parallel with post-Roman universalism in Western Europe and the US.
As is well known, the Roman Emperor Constantine turned to Christianity in 312 CE. He moved the
capital from Rome to Constantinople in 324. In 380 Christianity became the only accepted religion in
Rome with the Emperor as its supreme head. In the 4th and 5th centuries the Eastern and Western
Christians found a common formulation to the question of Holy Trinity, but in 1054 started the Great
East-West Filioque Schism concerning it.
From the 8th century onwards the spectacular expansion of Islam pushed the commercial routes from
the Occident to Constantinople to go via the Baltic Sea and the rivers of today’s Russia.
Scandinavians established a good piece of control over this business, and together with locals they, in
the mid 9th century, founded a new power base called Rus in Kiev. Its Orthodox Christianization took
place step by step and was completed in the 980’s.
From the 1220’s onwards followed Mongol power in Russia, and the new Russian rise took place
step by step from Moscow in the early 15th century. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 was followed
by an extremely skillful operation to make Russia the inheritor of Eastern Rome.
Finally in 1547 the Patriarch of Constatinople accepted the imperial title, and he crowned and
blessed the Czar Ivan IV: “Grant Ivan long life…. Seat him on the throne of righteousness…. bring
all the barbarian nations under his power.” Following the Byzantic-Roman imperial tradition, the
Czar was from this on the head of the Church and, according to doctrine, even appointed by God.
So Kissinger is right in that the Russian Emperor and Empire had their universalistic ideology, but
there was nothing more mysterious in it than in Western Europe at the same time. There also the
universalistic legitimacy of the Emperor and the Pope was inherited from Augustan Rome
complemented by Christianity. In Russia, the Roman double-headed eagle was made the Russian
coat of arms, but it is worth mentioning that the same Roman imperial symbol was also the
contemporary Habsburgs' coat of arms in the Holy Roman Empire.
However, there were certain differences between the post-Roman Eastern and the post-Roman
Western Christendoms. In Eastern Rome Emperor Constantine’s followers’ state religion integrated
the Emperor’s and the Patriarch’s roles and there was no separation and less competition between the
earthly and religious powers. Meanwhile in the West there was the separation and competition
between the Pope’s and the Emperor’s universal powers as well as the Reformation against both of
Linked to the Byzantine-Orthodox tradition was of course the way in which Russia developed its
cultural and educational system as well as the character of its citizens. Neither was there any
Reformation, and the People’s Enlightenment movements started later than in the West.
In Russia, the transformation from Roman imperial universalism to a modern one took place through
Marxism-Leninism. In it the information of Karl Marx’s idea of the universal real essence of man
bound towards Communism was argued to be a monopoly of the Working Class and its foremost
group the Communist Party — and its Central Committee. Today in the post-Soviet Union time
president Putin’s Russia is seeking its quasi-universal, or broader than its own state, legitimacy from
combining modernity with the Russian national, Slavic and imperial history as well as with its
Orthodox tradition.
As to Islamic universalism, Kissinger’s key explanation for its birth and growth is that the Byzantine
and Sassanid Persian empires disabled each other and therefore opened the way for Islam. This is
obviously a part of the story, but not all of it. The socio-cultural context of Mohammed’s time was
the time after centuries of Christianization of the Hellenistic Eastern region of the Roman Empire on
the one hand and the internalization or partial Hellenization of the Persian Sassanid Empire on the
The Trinitarian creeds of Nicea and Chalcedon had become official Roman state doctrines by
Emperor Gratian’s edict in the late 4th century. But at the same time they had created an intense
opposition based to a great extent on Platonic and Aristotelian logic and traditions, as well as on
older pre-Axial Age popular traditions. This opposition took shape in the Alexandrian
Monophysitism, which insisted on Christ’s godly nature, and in the Eastern provinces, in the
Nestorian doctrine insisting on Christ’s human nature.
Both of these opposition doctrines received support from many Platonic and Aristotelian
philosophical currents and schools of the time. Given that the same schools also taught other
disciplines, like law and medicine, this created a lot of troubles for imperial administration and order.
Therefore Emperor Justinian in 529 CE closed the Athenian Academy and other heretic or pagan
From a position of power, the defense of the official Christian doctrine was also often quite heavyhanded.
The result was that a great amount of faithfully Hellenistic scholars fled to the Eastern
Nestorian regions and even to the Sassanid Empire — including the seven Platonic philosophers
from the closed Athenian Academy. The Sassanid Empire even officially recognized Nestorianism.
There are several schools of thought on how the cultures of the time were translated to Islam with its
highly sophisticated Platonic and Aristotelian theologies of wise men interpreting the Quran. One
obviously solid argumentation by F.E. Peters says that the Greek learning passed to Islam “simply
through Nestorians.”
So in the context of the time, the idea of a human Prophet giving to humans the universal word of
God or law fit well with the post-Hellenistic or East Roman Nestorian cultures. And when launched,
Islam also received a most powerful argumentation and interpretation from the still faithfully
Hellenistic scholars of the time. The pre-democratic theories of a polis or state managed by those
who know Plato’s universal ideas or Mohammed’s universal word of God or law are not far from
each other.
And as it is well known, it was only through these Islamic scholars that the Western scholars
rediscovered most of the Greek Classic texts in the 13th century — among other things, giving
philosophical or theological arguments for the suprahuman legitimacy of the Popes’s or the
Emperor’s universal power. This endeavor for universal power and its arguments were then attacked
by the Reformation in the 16th century.
So, Henry Kissinger seems to be right in that the Westphalian state and its order were born from the
European “division and multiplicity,” but that was not “an accident of Europe’s history.” Rather, the
Westphalian state was born from European post-Axial Age history based on Christian-Classic
humanitas Bildung, which was a solution to the older thymotic hate-scapegoat cultures. Its
specialties were slowly educating and developing a sovereign personality, multiplicity in its ways of
life as well as the sovereign polis defining justice for its citizens — and also division of political and
religious powers.
In the same post-Axial Age all the other great civilizations also sought their ways, and as the Indian
example demonstrates, a culture creating a democratic personality or a sovereign democratic
Westphalian state can develop in several ways.
It is worth mentioning that the former Pope Benedict XVI or Joseph Ratzinger has in many respects
the same geohistorical map as Henry Kissinger. However, he advices us to go to the opposite
direction or to return to the Hellenistic time in order to find a kind of modus vivendi between
Catholic and Orthodox Christianity as well as Islam and even the pre Chalcedonian Christian
Churches, the Nestorians and the Monophysitists.
Ratzinger’s reflection uses neo Platonic ideas not only in geohistory but also in today’s context: “…
John uses the word ‘cosmos’ – world – in two different senses…. The present ‘world’ has to
disappear: it must be changed to God’s world.” He almost reminds us about Unam Sanctam when
he draws a parallel between this concept and some other recent formulations telling, that the
“modern philosophers have described this (today’s, RV) historical state of mankind in various
ways” like Martin Heidegger as “inauthenticity” or Karl Marx as “man’s alienation”.
What should be a major theme in the post World Order discussion is that sovereign persons or their
sovereign state do not appear by nature alone but through some humanitas Bildung process educating
persons competent to run both themselves and a sovereign state — this meaning also a permanent
danger of regression in this history as the last century has demonstrated.
Ukraine and Westphalia II or Helsinki II
In Prospect magazine (October 2014) Kissinger responds to some criticisms his World Order has
received. One of them is that he is not consistent with what he has advocated as a senior advisor of
the American presidents. One of the cases was the attack on Iraq in 2003. He comments that he was
in favor of the attack as a “demonstration in the Middle East of the consequences of challenging
American security…” However, then “it became an occupation to bring about democracy. I
Even more interesting is Kissinger’s zooming of his thinking to the Ukraine crisis of today. He points
to problems in Western management of the crisis. Ukraine also demonstrates his basic concern for
the tension between Western universalism and Realpolitik: “The west has defined the current issue
as demonstrating to Russia that it must adhere to the Western international system. And that’s OK,
for the present. But for the long term, one has to think of Russia as a huge state.” And according to
Kissinger, today’s Western policy towards Ukraine and Russia opens no attractive scenarios for the
Kissinger criticizes in the Ukraine crisis as well as in Iraq the Western effort to educate another
civilization to follow its own model. He is strongly concerned about Russian and Islamic
universalism, but he is not very much less concerned about American or European universalism. To
put it shortly, if three or four universalistic civilizations try to fulfill their universalistic visions
against each other, the result is at least thirty years of troubles or confrontations for all of them.
To put this into perspective, this is not the first time Western and Russian universalisms collide with
each other. The competition between the Eastern and the Western Churches in Europe was the first
larger confrontation, including a large number of European crusades and defining the European
borderlands, which became for centuries the battlefields of the East and the West. In the last three
centuries there have been confrontations 1–3 times a century: the Great Northern War, the
Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, World War I, World War II and the Cold War.
Now Ukraine crystallizes the question: Should there be for one more generation one more
confrontation between these post-Roman universalistic powers, just to move their border line a few
hundred miles, or to teach each other a lesson — or to waste their resources in a time when their 500
years-old global hegemony is fading anyway?
Needless to say, if a new round of the historical vicious cycle of the Eastern and Western
universalists continues and accelerates, the worst sufferers will again be the border countries. In the
best case it would mean cutting normal growth, giving up socio-economic exchange in the
geographic neighborhood but investing extra resources into military preparedness. From this on the
options worsen towards different kinds of hybrid confrontations and even military collisions.
According to Robert N. Bellah, the legitimacy crisis of pre-Axial Age, archaic-barbaric systems led
everywhere to a transition to new civilizations, which Kissinger now in World Order identifies to
have been universalistic empires. An in principle similar transition happened in Westphalia when the
states recognized that the continuous war on behalf of the inherited post-Roman Papal or Imperial
universalisms was not worth it and created the Westphalian states and their order of rules and
Henry Kissinger’s message is that the Westphalian solution to tame the post-Roman universalisms is
in danger when facing today’s universalisms. In Prospect he considers that the Ukraine crisis is an
example of this. Now Kissinger can be taken to repeat the pre Westphalian question: do the
modernized post-Roman Western and Eastern universalisms have any legitimacy, if they once more
push the next generation to repeat in new or old ways the old sins?
From the point of view of any borderland the answer is clearly negative. And in a closer analysis the
same holds for the whole East and whole West — or anybody else.
So you could say in Henry Kissinger’s spirit that a Westphalia II is needed, or Helsinki II.
Järvenpää, Finland. October the 25th 2014.