Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Henry Kissinger, fully Henry Alfred Kissinger

German-born American Politician, Ambassador, Secretary of State

"If peace teaches anything it is that there can be no peace without equilibrium and no justice without restraint."

"Power is the great aphrodisiac."

"The great tragedies of history occur not when right confronts wrong, but when two rights confront each other."

"History is not, of course, a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable."

"The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer."

"One of the paradoxical lessons of the nuclear age is that at the moment when we are acquiring an unparalleled command over nature, we are forced to realize as never before that the problems of survival will have to be solved above all in the minds of men. In this task the fate of the mammoth and the dinosaur may serve as a warning that brute strength does not always supply the mechanism in the struggle for survival."

"The statesman’s duty is to bridge the gap between his nation’s experience and his vision."

"[Central Intelligence Agency] analysts were only too aware that no one has ever been penalized for not having foreseen an opportunity, but that many careers have been blighted for not predicting a risk. Therefore the intelligence community has always been tempted to forecast dire consequences for any conceivable course of action, an attitude that encourages paralysis rather than adventurism."

"Now when I bore people at a party, they think it's their fault."

"A crisis does not always appear to a policy-maker as a series of dramatic events. Usually it imposes itself as an exhausting agenda of petty chores demanding both concentration and endurance. One is forced to react to scraps of information in very limited spans of time; longing for full knowledge, one must chart a route through the murk of unknowing."

"A leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone."

"A good definition of an equitable settlement is one that will make both sides unhappy."

"A statesman who cannot shape events will soon be engulfed by them."

"All too frequently a problem evaded is a crisis invited."

"A stable social structure thrives not on triumphs but on reconciliations."

"Effective policy depends not only on the skill of individual moves, but even more importantly on their relationship to each other."

"Committees are consumers and sometimes sterilizers of ideas, rarely creators of them."

"Empires have no interest in operating within an international system; they aspire to be the international system."

"All truly great achievements in history resulted from the actualization of principles, not from the clever evaluation of political conditions."

"History is not, of course, a cookbook offering pre-tested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims."

"If history teaches anything it is that there can be no peace without equilibrium and no justice without restrain."

"Facing down a nonexistent threat is an easy way to enhance a nation’s standing."

"In crises boldness is the safest course. Hesitation encourages the adversary to persevere, maybe even to raise the ante."

"In crisis the most daring course is often the safest. The riskiest course in my experience has been gradual escalation that the opponent matches step by step, inevitably reaching a higher level of violence and often an inextricable stalemate."

"In a society of sovereign states, an agreement will be maintained only if all partners consider it in their interest. They must have a sense of participation in the result. The art of diplomacy is not to outsmart the other side but to convince it either of common interests or of penalties if an impasse continues."

"Intelligence is not all that important in the exercise of power and is often, in point of fact, useless. Just as a leader doesn't need intelligence, a man in my job doesn't need too much of it either."

"In retrospect all events seem inevitable."

"It is generally unwise… to raise an issue when one is not prepared to accept the likely response."

"Mankind will never know what it was spared because of the risks avoided or because of actions taken that averted awful consequences – if only because once thwarted the consequences can never be proved."

"It is not the fact of alliance which deters aggression but the application it can be given in any concrete case."

"Leaders are responsible not for running public opinion polls but for the consequences of their action."

"Moderation is a virtue only in those who are thought to have an alternative."

"Policy exists in time as well as in space… a measure is correct only if it can be carried out at the proper moment."

"Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac."

"Nations rarely pay for services already rendered."

"The public does not in the long run respect leaders who mirror its own insecurities or see only the symptoms of crises rather than the long-term trends. The role of the leader is to assume the burden of acting on the basis of a confidence in his own assessment of the direction of events and how they can be influenced. Failing that, crises will multiply, which is another way of saying that a leader has lost control over events."

"The convictions that leaders have formed before reaching high office are the intellectual capital they will consume as long as they continue in office. There is little time for leaders to reflect. They are locked in an endless battle in which the urgent constantly gains on the important. The public life of every political figure is a continual struggle to rescue an element of choice from the pressure of circumstance."

"Serious students of international affairs know that common policies can endure only if both parties serve their own purposes."

"The committee system, which is an attempt to reduce the inner insecurity of our top personnel, has the paradoxical consequence of institutionalizing it."

"Superpowers have a special obligation not to humiliate each other."

"The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerilla wins if it does not lose."

"The political leaders with whom we are familiar generally aspire to be superstars rather than heroes. The distinction is crucial. Superstars strive for approbation; heroes walk alone. Superstars crave consensus; heroes define themselves by the judgment of a future they see it as their task to bring about. Superstars seek success in a technique for eliciting support; heroes pursue success as the outgrowth of inner values."

"The spirit of policy and that of bureaucracy are diametrically opposed… The essence of bureaucracy is its quest for safety; its success is calculability. Profound policy thrives on perpetual creation, on a constant redefinition of goals. Good administration thrives on routine, the definition of relationships which can survive mediocrity. Policy involves an adjustment of risks; administration, an avoidance of deviation."

"The stronger one’s real position, the less one needs to rub in the other side’s discomfiture. It is rarely wise to inflame a setback with an insult. An important aspect of the art of diplomacy consists of doing what is necessary without producing extraneous motives for retaliation, leaving open the option of later cooperation on other issues."

"The ultimate meaning of history – as of life – we can find only within ourselves."

"Two centuries ago, the philosopher Kant predicted that perpetual peace would come about eventually – either as the creation of man’s moral aspirations or as the consequence of physical necessity. What seemed utopian then looms as tomorrow’s reality; soon there will be no alternative."

"While we should never give up our principles, we must also realize that we cannot maintain our principles unless we survive."

"Throughout history the political influence of nations has been roughly correlative to their military power."

"When nations are able to inflict tens of millions of casualties in a matter of hours, peace has become a moral imperative."

"History is often cruel, and rarely logical, and yet the wisest of realists are those who recognize that fate can indeed be shaped by human faith and courage."