Thursday, December 8, 2011

More on Kennan

I heard a talk by Gaddis this afternoon about his Kennan bio (save the first ten minutes or so, which I missed). On the question of Kennan's feelings about America (raised by a commenter here on an earlier post), Gaddis (and I assume this is also what he says in the book) views Kennan's critique of American culture (i.e., materialism, consumerism, the automobile, advertising, all of which Kennan loathed) as being akin to that of a "prophet" who holds his country to "an impossibly high standard." But Kennan did not "hate America," in Gaddis's view, quite the contrary. Personally I think the question whether Kennan "hated" or "loved" America is actually not a very interesting question. His criticisms of American culture are interesting, however, and one author (not Gaddis) has suggested that Kennan would have found some of the cultural criticism of the Frankfurt School (esp. Adorno and Horkheimer) congenial, had he read it. (More on this later, perhaps.)

A couple of other points that struck me as noteworthy from the talk: Gaddis emphasized how deeply Kennan was influenced by Russian literature, above all Chekhov, in the way he formulated his thoughts about the future evolution of the USSR, e.g. in the X article. (Don't have time to go into the details now.) The other thing that struck me was Gaddis's statement that although Kennan despised Ronald Reagan, the latter was actually the president who came closest to implementing Kennan's strategic vision. This I found, to put it mildly, less than persuasive (or at least very debatable), and I was tempted to ask Gaddis a question about it, but I didn't. (Which was probably just as well.)

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