The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

December 16, 2017

The Diplomacy of Conservatism and the Conservatism of Diplomacy
David Clinton - 10/15/08

This article is featured in the current edition of Modern Age (50:3, Summer 2008).

row of European flags

Conservatism is often, rightly, associated with the patriotism and public spirit that lead to military valor and heroism. It lays great stress on the groundedness of human existence, the situating of individual wellbeing in the historical and cultural circumstances of a particular time and place, and it is dubious that highly abstract phrases like “the human community” can possess much substantive meaning. A political orientation of this description might be thought, therefore, to have little in common with diplomacy, an activity that is conceived as an alternative to war, that celebrates an aptitude for compromise and conciliation rather than boldness and bravery, and that assumes the existence of cross-cultural norms—perhaps even a single truly transnational “diplomatic culture”—within which bargaining and representation are feasible and desirable. Yet, at least in the experience of three nineteenth-century political figures generally identified as conservatives, conservatism in politics led to a reliance on diplomacy in international relations. The association is all the more striking in light of the fact that the three represented different strands or forms of conservatism—all of which nevertheless pressed those who espoused them to emphasize diplomacy as the preferred form of international interaction. Sir Robert Peel, François Guizot, and John C. Calhoun may, from the distance of a century-and-a-half, have something to teach us about the predispositions that conservatism and diplomacy share.

They were contemporaries, all having been born in the 1780s and all entering their national political scenes by the second decade of the nineteenth century. They also left the political stage, almost simultaneously, in mid-century. More importantly, they occupied the top rung of the political ladder during the same time and therefore confronted the same international issues. Although influential as a member of the House and as Secretary of War under James Monroe, Calhoun is best known for his years as a dominant force in the Senate, serving there from 1832 to 1843 and from 1845 to 1850. After two previous abortive attempts to form a government, Peel attained the prime ministership at the head of a strong majority government in 1841 and held office until he divided his party over the repeal of the Corn Laws and was overthrown in 1846. Guizot was called to assist in forming a government in 1840, which lasted until his ouster in 1848; although serving only nominally as Minister of Foreign Affairs for almost all that time, in fact he was the guiding spirit in the government throughout those eight years. Peel and Guizot therefore held power concurrently throughout Peel’s premiership, and they used the years to construct what has been called the first entente cordiale. Because Calhoun served as Secretary of State under John Tyler for a limited but decisive period in 1844–1845, during that year all three were immediately involved in directing Anglo-French-American relations.

Finally, these three figures may be compared because they were all professedly conservative. Calhoun could not have been more explicit; his public utterances are filled with statements of this sort: “I aim not at change or revolution. My object is to preserve. I am thoroughly conservative in my politics. I wish to maintain things as I found them established. I am satisfied with them, and am of the opinion that they cannot be changed for the better.” His belief was that the Southern agricultural economy, based on slavery, was the truly conservative political, economic, and social force in the United States, and he constantly sought to preserve it for that reason. Peel, by contrast, the picture of British empiricism, would never be used, as Calhoun has been used, as a touchstone for political theory. Peel frequently described himself and his policies as conservative, perhaps in a defensive reaction to his many critics who claimed that he had no principles beyond remaining in office, and that at least twice in his public career he betrayed traditional Tory beliefs and cast his fellow Tories into the political wilderness by going over to the other side. Still, he repeatedly described his actions as having been guided by “true Conservative policy” and declared, “I am a Conservative.” Guizot, far more given to abstractions than Peel, shared his attachment to the label conservative; he frequently employed it to describe himself and the interests and currents of political opinion with which he aligned himself, and when his government was faced with difficulties he told the Chamber of Deputies that the remedy was for him and his fellow conservatives to be “more conservative than ever.”

If there is one characteristic that would seem to be found in conservatives generally, it is a skepticism about the plasticity of political life. Liberals may be convinced that the application of intelligence and good will can reliably effect steady improvements in society, while radicals of many stripes may believe that their scientific understanding of history gives them a blueprint for the fundamental reordering of institutions and the attainment of justice. Conservatives are not so sure. Whether because of the limitations on human intelligence or due to the restricted supply of human benevolence, they have the sense that abstractly stated schemes of reform or plans for revolution are likely to go wrong, either missing the intended aim of amelioration or making conditions much worse through unintended consequences. The weight of accumulated history, of unchanging human nature, of acceptable (because familiar) ills, inclines conservatives at least to be resigned to what is, and at most to make the most of it and to enjoy what pleasures it affords. Conservatives tend to be much more impressed by what cannot be changed than by any alleged capacity to alter it in predictable and beneficial ways. “We fancy ourselves more powerful than we are to do what pleases us, and we are not sufficiently ready to accept what we dislike,” Guizot remarked when considering the degree to which British or French institutions could be transferred to other countries with different historical experiences. “These are inevitable, incurable evils, evils with which we must live, for we should die of the blow which extinguished them.” He always wished the advocates of change to be mindful of “the necessity of accepting what is.” Within this shared conservative house, however, there have been many separate conservative mansions, and our three figures each manifested a form of conservatism adapted to his own time and place.

Calhoun and the Conservatism of Resistance

John C. Calhoun was throughout much of his adult life a man haunted by the fear that he was on the losing side of history. This is a state of mind common to conservatives, to whom a certain gloom concerning the direction that the world is taking is often unavoidable and sometimes congenial. Calhoun’s presentiment of peril concerned the fact that the greater activity, enterprise, and productivity of the North were producing an imbalance between the regions, in which the South was falling behind, in population (and therefore congressional representation and influence over presidential selection) and in wealth.

Given the central role that Calhoun’s political analysis gave to self-interest, it was only to be expected that if numbers and wealth provided the North with more political power, it would use that power to benefit itself and to increase its hold over the minority section. His observations bore out this line of theoretical reasoning; Northern politicians of both parties seemed to him dangerously willing to press an unlimited expansion of federal power, in the form of tariffs and internal improvements, that would enrich one regional sector of the economy and impoverish the other, while (even more dangerously) it centralized power, first in the federal government over the states and then, within the federal government, in the hands of the chief executive, in a way that put liberty at risk everywhere. It was out of this fear that he canvassed such ideas as nullification, the concurrent majority, and a dual executive, with each co-president, from the North and from the South, holding a veto. Seeking to preserve both the Union and the “peculiar institution” of the South, he saw his own role as that of leading the resistance to any further advance of the influence of sheer numbers in American politics, any further decline in the relative position of the South, any further swelling in the coercive power of the federal government.

Calhoun therefore frequently warned against an overly ambitious or militarized foreign policy, generally using terms similar to what he said about the project of conquering all of Mexico:

The conquest of Mexico would add so vastly to the patronage of this Government, that it would absorb the whole powers of the States; the Union would become an imperial power, and the States reduced to mere subordinate corporations. But the evil would not end there; the process would go on, and the power transferred from the States to the Union, would be transferred from the Legislative Department to the Executive [ . . . ]. The struggle to obtain the Presidential chair would become proportionably [sic] great—so great as to destroy the freedom of elections. The end would be anarchy or despotism, as certain as I am now addressing the Senate.

Skeptical about the Mexican War from the beginning and convinced that President Polk had rushed into war unnecessarily instead of pursuing negotiations, Calhoun sought to restrain the conduct of the war; in 1847, he proposed drawing a defensive line across the northern territory of Mexico, stationing American forces along that line, and waiting for the Mexican government to come to the bargaining table prepared to accept the line as the new border, in lieu of attempting to seize Mexico City itself. The land encompassed within the line would ultimately be an ample indemnity for any wrong done by Mexico to the United States; in the meantime, many fewer American lives would be at risk than if offensive operations were continued, and the lower cost of maintaining a defensive position would cut short the growth of a large military establishment and the taxes to pay for it, both of which Calhoun feared as inimical to liberty. (His advice on military strategy was not accepted, but the line he advocated turned out to run relatively close to the border accepted in the negotiations that finally ended the war.)

So likewise with the Oregon Territory. Oregon had long been subject to joint treaty-based Anglo-American occupancy, due to the inability of the two countries to adjust their conflicting claims there, but in 1844 James K. Polk had won election to the presidency on the cry of “Fifty-four forty or fight,” referring to the latitude and longitude that would give the whole of Oregon to the United States. Seeing their chance to obtain their long-held goal, Western forces in Congress introduced a joint resolution authorizing the President to give the formal year’s notice through which, under the terms of the treaty, either side could abrogate it. So long as no arrangement existed for replacing joint occupancy with an agreed settlement, abandoning the treaty was looked on as tantamount to giving notice of war within a year—until Calhoun and his allies succeeded in attaching to the resolution an amendment declaring that the purpose of giving notice was “that the attention of the Governments of both countries may be the more earnestly and immediately directed to renewed efforts for the amicable settlement of all their differences and disputes in respect to said territory.” Aided by some conciliatory language emanating from the executive branch, the amendment transformed a near-declaration of war into an invitation to reopen negotiations. The British government seized the opportunity with both hands and in the spring of 1846 sent over a draft settlement. Polk was unenthusiastic, but had promised to seek the advice of the Senate, and there, with the full support of Calhoun, a vote advising the President to accept the terms was passed by more than the two-thirds margin that would be necessary to ratify them in the form of a treaty. By summer, the treaty was in place, and Calhoun had helped to avoid a war that, he was certain, would have necessitated actions that would only unsettle the domestic American political scene on questions of the gravest social import.

This theme of restraint is the major motif in Calhoun’s pronouncements on foreign affairs over the years—in his denunciation of the steps by the Jackson administration that seemed to threaten war with France over unpaid financial claims against the French government dating from the Napoleonic Wars, in his discouragement of intervention in the Yucatan in 1848, when reports seemed to indicate that the white population there was being wiped out in an indigenous insurrection, in his opposition to as seemingly innocuous a step as a Senate resolution congratulating the people of France on the revolution of 1848, out of a concern that such an expression of opinion might bring the United States into collision with other outside parties that took an opposing view. In all these instances and others, his fear was “the strong tendency [ . . . ] to resort to menace and force in the settlement of our differences with other powers”; his preferred alternative was “quiet looking on and as little interference as possible.” Ambitious schemes were unlikely to make international conditions better and were highly likely to make domestic conditions worse. Diplomacy was the less disruptive alternative. One is struck by the constant, steady influence on him of a conservative determination to resist any further degeneration in the American constitutional regime, as he saw it, by employing negotiations to avoid international crises that would necessitate steps weakening limited government.

Peel and the Conservatism of Reform

Sir Robert Peel was born in 1788, only a year before the beginning of the French Revolution, and the fear that revolution would cross the Channel dominated his political life. “Behind him the fires of 1789 still burned on the horizon,” Peel’s grandson wrote of him; “before him, seen as in a glass darkly, was 1848.” Where Peel differed from the mass of the Tory party was the proper response to this threat. In America, Calhoun counseled staunch resistance at every point; in Britain, so did most Tories, believing that to make concessions was only to strengthen the influence and the appetite of demagogic democracy. Peel by contrast favored moderate reforms, in the belief that satisfying legitimate grievances, remedying real “abuses,” would satiate the appetite for change and avoid leveling measures that would go too far.

What Peel endeavored to preserve were the ancient institutions of the settlement of 1688—the monarchy as something more than a ceremonial component of the constitution, the predominant role of the aristocracy in leading the country, the established Church of England, the restriction of electoral power to those with the property, education, and training to employ it wisely, and the deferential attitude in the lower classes that made the survival of these elements of the eighteenth-century constitution possible. So long as this fundamental framework survived, much else might have to be sacrificed. This task of moderation by appeasement required more, however, than the abandonment of certain institutions; it necessitated as well the positive work of reforming and updating others.

What really concerned Peel was creating the modern state through a series of concessions to specific changed circumstances, each of which required its own particular adjustment. He set up a professional police force, freeing the government from reliance either on untrained yeomen or on the Army to maintain day-to-day law and order. He established something like a central bank, a fundamental tool for attempting to manage the economy. He laid the foundation for a permanent, non-partisan civil service by combating the awarding of posts to political friends in Ireland and elsewhere. He rationalized the legal system, standardizing penalties for different crimes and aligning them with contemporary notions of proportionate punishment. He gave the state the reliable means of paying for these instrumentalities of power by instituting the income tax as a peacetime measure. And he believed that all these measures of modernization were compatible with—were indeed essential to—the continued influence and honored position of Throne and Altar, the aristocracy and the landed interest generally. His reforms were pragmatic rather than programmatic; they were adjustments responding to what he saw as irresistible pressures, not an overall plan for the remaking of society, though they had the effect of changing much in British life; they were examples of reform tempered with conservatism, and conservatism made possible through reform.

When the July Monarchy fell to popular revolt in 1848, Peel happened to be in the House of Commons to hear the news; it is said that he pointed to the ranks of Tory members sitting behind him, who had opposed his repeal of the Corn Laws, and said, “This is what would have happened here if I had listened to them.” As it was, in his last months in office in 1846, he had written,

I have done everything in my power [ . . . ] to harmonise the action of conflicting authorities in the State, and to maintain order and contentment among very powerful and enlightened classes of society, by convincing them that their comfort and happiness is one of the main objects of civil government. This policy may be obstructed; it may temporarily fail; but I have a deep conviction that it is the true Conservative policy, and that another policy, though sanctioned for a time by powerful majorities, would ultimately tend to discord and confusion.

A considerable distance separates this self-assessment from the conclusion reached by Monypenny and Buckle in their magisterial biography of Disraeli. Reflecting the bitter opposition that Disraeli had led to Peel on the repeal of the Corn Laws, they contended,

Peel was trying to substitute for the Toryism of the past something which was almost a contradiction in terms—a middle-class Toryism. His Toryism was better than Eldon’s in that it was in motion; but he moved, not according to principles or towards a goal of his own choice, but by a series of retreats before the pressure of the enemy, and this could only end, as it did, in his facing about and adopting the enemy’s line of march.

In part, the difference between the two evaluations is the difference between the conservatism of resistance (which Disraeli adopted in the 1840s) and the conservatism of reform (with which Peel associated himself and to which Disraeli acceded after Peel’s death).

In the search for conservative reform, foreign policy adventures were for Peel a costly distraction, and he sought as avidly as Calhoun to limit overseas commitments and to avoid international collisions through negotiation and compromise. Even military actions could have as their objective a settlement that would be ultimately sustainable through diplomatic and not purely military means. Immediately upon Peel’s taking office in mid-1841, he had the opportunity to name a new Governor-General of India, but the outgoing occupant of the office, Lord Auckland, took the occasion of his impending retirement to launch an invasion of Afghanistan with the proclaimed purpose of seating a British-selected king on the throne of that country, once it had been united by British arms. Peel feared “a terrible retribution for the most absurd and insane project that was ever undertaken in the wantonness of power,” but the slowness of communication between London and India prevented him from countermanding that or almost any other step before it could be taken. Unfortunately, his own choice to replace Auckland, Lord Ellenborough, proved to be equally rash, and it was not until Peel sent out an old colleague, Sir Henry Hardinge, as military commander, that he found someone who would follow the restrained policy he wished. Hardinge ignored the order for a precipitate retreat issued by Ellenborough, retrieved the military disasters that had followed on Auckland’s invasion, and then, having restored the credibility of British arms with his victories, pulled back from Afghanistan into India. Peel was as pleased with the retraction of the British defensive position as with the triumphs on the battlefield; coupled with a peace treaty settling the Opium War with China, which the Whigs had bequeathed to their successors, the ending of the Afghan War stanched a severe drain on British resources in Asia.

Peel was equally anxious to avoid a war in North America, and to that end he proved himself willing to make considerable concessions to the United States, as demonstrated by his practice of bypassing the usual channels of diplomacy by sending special envoys, armed with full powers to negotiate, in order to demonstrate the desire of the Government for a settlement and its willingness to pay the price necessary to do so. The case of the Oregon settlement, with its demonstration that the British were no less likely to accept an agreement than the Americans were to offer one, followed upon a similar resolution of a long-standing boundary dispute at the other extremity of the continent, between Maine and New Brunswick. Controverted since the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and plagued by inaccurate and contradictory maps of the territory in question, this issue had seemed to open the door to war when Peel had felt impelled to increase British forces in Canada, although the hope was that the deployment would bring diplomatic accommodation rather than armed conflict, if it convinced the Americans of British seriousness. In the end, the Webster-Ashburton Treaty split the difference, giving the Americans more than half of the acreage in dispute but preserving to the British the line of defensive positions that they felt necessary. Palmerston denounced the terms of the agreement, arguing that the British claim was well-founded and should not have been compromised in any degree, that Ashburton had no training as a diplomat and was of doubtful reliability in any event, since he had an American wife, and that the resulting line placed the Americans far too close to the city of Quebec for safety, but Peel strongly defended the results that his emissary had obtained, asking, “But can you ever effect any adjustment without some degree of mutual concession?” and declaiming that “a few thousands or millions of acres is nothing against the advantage of a permanent and satisfactory peace.” For Peel, most reluctant to commit the resources needed to prosecute a war against the United States over territory in either the east or the west of North America, accommodation was the policy most compatible with his brand of reforming conservatism.

François Guizot and the Conservatism of Repose

A long-term possibility for Calhoun and a worrying threat for Peel, revolution was for Guizot a horrific personal reality. His father had been guillotined in the Terror, and Guizot and his mother had spent the years of his youth in Geneva. Returning to Paris under the Empire, he had nonetheless never been an adherent of the Napoleonic regime, and he played a minor role in the first Restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814. As that government became increasingly repressive in the 1820s, however, he had lost sympathy with it as well, particularly after it deprived him of his teaching post because of doubts about his loyalty. The July monarchy that came to power in 1830 averted a more thorough-going revolution, but it lived in fear that the appetite for equality had not yet spent itself and the cycle of revolution had not ceased to turn.

The political lesson that Guizot drew from these experiences made him and his collaborators into the party of the doctrinaires. There is in this term more than a hint of Calhoun’s conservatism of resistance. What distinguished Guizot’s plight, however, was that, in order to construct that stable parliamentary majority that would support a government possessing the support of both the Chamber and the King, he found it necessary to combine every member who accepted the Charter as it stood. As Guizot saw it, Peel could lose power to the Whigs and still not lose the game, because the Whigs wanted to overthrow the constitution no more than the Tories. Calhoun differed profoundly with a Northern Whig like Webster, but he did not believe that Webster consciously intended to end the American regime. In Guizot’s eyes, because the party he assembled, to which he always referred as the “conservative” party, was defined by its adherence to the existing laws, its opponents were by definition the opponents of the existing laws, and again and again he branded them “revolutionaries.” If the political spectrum has resolved itself into two and only two camps—the conservatives who wish to preserve the regime, and the revolutionaries who wish to overturn it—then even a consistent “no” to demands for fundamental change is insufficient. The only safe course is to prevent such questions from ever arising: the conservatism of repose.

Two views existed on the best way to ground the legitimacy of the regime so solidly that neither within the narrow ranks of the electorate nor among the great majority of the population beyond would the idea arise of demanding constitutional change. One method, favored even by some who were favorable to the government of Louis Philippe, was to provide the people with grandeur. The government should appeal to the same patriotism that had supported Napoleon, and in the same way, by pursuing an active, ambitious, and glorious foreign policy. In this fashion, it would identify itself with the emotions of the populace and with the traditions of the State, monarchical, republican, and imperial. It was necessary for the government, always and on every issue, to be seen defending the honor of France, even at the cost of straining relations with other powers, even at the cost of war. The second method, the alternative consistently chosen by Guizot, was to provide the people with wellbeing. The distinguishing trait of modern society was under this conception the taste, and even the demand, for material prosperity, and a government that wished to secure popular acceptance had to concentrate its efforts on economic progress. What was needed was a foreign policy that was quiet rather than ambitious, pacific rather than martial, cooperative rather than bold. Guizot repeatedly linked and equated revolution and war. He believed that the same political forces in France that yearned for one would promote the other, and it was his determination to oppose both. The surest way to avoid revolution was to abstain from war, and the way to steer clear of war was to collaborate with the other great powers in stabilizing the international system. “All the great conquests are accomplished, all the great interests are satisfied,” he told the Chamber in 1842. “Our . . . predominant object should be to secure the steady enjoyment of what we have won. To succeed in this, we only require two things, stability in our institutions, and judicious conduct in the daily and naturally incidental affairs of the country,” including foreign affairs.

But what did “judicious conduct” in international relations consist of? A political contemporary like Tocqueville, who might, in his hope for the survival of the Orleanist regime and in his stand on several other specific issues, be thought to be a natural ally of Guizot, refused his cooperation on this very ground. He charged Guizot’s government with being “incurably pacific” and preferring to “retire [the people] from the contemplation of the general interest [and] to immure them in the contemplation of particular [material, individual] interests.” Guizot took precisely the opposite stand, contrasting “two opposing currents[,] one deep and regular, which carries us towards the definitive goal of our social state; the other superficial and disturbed, which throws us here and there in search of new [foreign] adventures and unknown lands.” Guizot found this “definitive goal of our social state” in “the progress of civilization and public reason” in contrast to “the spirit of conquest, of armed propagandism, and of system.” In other words,

The extent and activity of industry and commerce, the necessity of consulting the general good, the habit of frequent, easy, prompt, and regular intercourse between peoples, the invincible bias for free association, inquiry, discussion, and publicity,—these characteristic features of great modern society, already exercise, and will continue to exercise more and more, against the warlike or diplomatic fancies of foreign policy, a preponderating influence.

Moreover, these changes in attitudes and alterations in social practices produced their calming, beneficial effects in ways that impeded both of Guizot’s twin bêtes noires, revolution and war, through, “internally, progress by peace and liberty; and externally, patient influence through respect for rights and examples of sound policy, instead of the improvident intervention of force.”

At least as long as Peel and Aberdeen remained at the helm of British policy, Guizot’s primary partner in international cooperation was Britain. Once the obstreperous Palmerston had been replaced at the Foreign Office by the emollient Aberdeen in 1841, Guizot was happy to negotiate a new Anglo-French treaty granting British naval forces the “right of search” against vessels flying the French flag in certain zones on the high seas through which slave traders sailed (though the Chamber declined to ratify the replacement treaty, and Guizot, not for the last time, had to plead with Aberdeen not to make an issue of the defeat, on the grounds that doing so would put at risk the continuation in office of Guizot himself, who was the leader best disposed toward Britain that London could hope to have in power). He was more successful in persuading King and Chamber to agree to offer an indemnity to a British missionary detained by French officials in the South Pacific, a way of finding a diplomatic solution to an emotional dispute that had threatened to bring the two countries to war. Cooperation between the old rivals was symbolized by summit meetings—two visits to France by Queen Victoria and one to England by Louis Philippe. Furthermore, Guizot consistently portrayed himself as a loyal member of the Concert of Europe, abjuring all thought of challenging the Vienna settlement, and seeking concurrence among all five Great Powers on collaborative actions that would tamp down revolution wherever it stirred in Europe.

Conservatism and Diplomacy

What is striking is that among all the variety in the conservatism of these three statesmen, and in the presence of all the dangers that a self-help international system raises for its members, the mode of conduct to which all three were led was that of diplomacy. Each saw in the patient negotiation of differences and in respect for the rules of diplomatic behavior the safest way of warding off the dangers that he feared. Diplomacy, unlike costly and passionate war, would not necessitate the expansion of federal and executive power that, Calhoun was convinced, would derange the domestic constitutional order. Nor would it distract the officers of state from pushing through the domestic reforms through which, Peel believed, lay the sole road to social peace and the conservation of the larger political and social order. Nor yet would it agitate the popular mind and rouse dormant revolutionary impulses, which haunted Guizot’s mind. War and the threat of war could do all these things, which urged these conservatives in the direction of peaceful bargaining rather than martial defiance.

Of the three, Calhoun had the most instrumental view of diplomacy. It was for him an expedient, to be employed as the situation required, for reasons primarily internal. Its value was negative, in the perils that it avoided. In Guizot’s eyes, diplomacy formed one of many sinews that bound together a field of forces and a social network that were both domestic and international. In a fashion similar to the constitution of the Orleanist regime, it recognized pluralism and set bounds to the appetite of any single holder of power, while it calmed the passions that might, if unleashed, carry international society into war and revolution.

Ironically, it was Peel, the greatest foe of abstract theory, who understood diplomacy in the most complex way. Therefore, the question with which to conclude this essay is the one that he raised. “What is diplomacy?” he asked in the last speech he delivered in his life. It is “a costly engine” and “a remarkable instrument.” Here is a view of diplomacy as a set of instruments, useful for states pursuing different purposes, and in large measure indifferent to them. All states could employ resident envoys, diplomatic immunity, formulaic diplomatic language, and so forth to gain their ends, whatever those ends might be; and in its reflection of international pluralism diplomacy found one of its great strengths. Peel was firmly in favor of a general policy of non-intervention, not only because it kept national ends in line with national means, but also because it accorded with his view that there might exist many paths to the realization of the good life, institutionalized in the existence of many sovereign states and in the diplomacy that accorded equal legitimacy to them all. Yet diplomacy was also a stock of ideas—of attentiveness to the needs of others, willingness to settle for half a loaf, belief in the value of communication for its own sake, respect, courtesy, and calmness. If governments acted with other ends and attitudes than these, they might be employing the tools of diplomacy, but they would be acting undiplomatically:

Unless [diplomacy] is used to appease the angry passions of individual men, to check the feelings that rise out of national resentments . . . it is an instrument not only costly but mischievous. If then your application of diplomacy be to fester every wound, to provoke instead of soothing resentments, to place a minister in every court of Europe for the purpose, not of preventing quarrels, or of adjusting quarrels, but for the purpose of continuing an angry correspondence, and for the purpose of promoting what is supposed to be an English interest [ . . . ] then I say, that not only is the expenditure upon this costly instrument thrown away, but this great engine, used by civilized society for the purpose of maintaining peace, is perverted into a cause of hostility and war.

Here, a preference for order, a concern to moderate one’s own conduct, and an appreciation for the diplomatic art fused into one seamless fabric.

In the eyes of all three statesmen, there existed a natural affinity for skepticism about planned change at home, a seeking after some stability abroad, and an instinctive first reliance on the settled, ordered, unemotional, and comparatively inexpensive rules and norms of diplomacy. Diplomacy was their preferred form of international interaction, perhaps because it too tends to rest on case-by-case adjustment to developing social pressures rather than visions of far-reaching international reconstruction. Diplomacy, like conservatism, assumes that the world cannot be greatly altered in its major outlines. It will remain a world of many players, each bearing its own goals and interests which must somehow be accommodated without unnecessary conflict; it will not become a global empire guided by the improving zeal of one unchallenged center of power. In expecting a multi-state world to continue, it also presumes some sort of interaction among its constituent parts; and, rather than dreaming of abolishing all collisions among them, works in a modest way only to buffer them. In its affinity for pluralism, its adherence to persuasion and bargaining instead of force, and its reliance on the rule of law, diplomacy certainly betrays a connection to liberalism, but in its assumption of a consensual order, its capability for incremental as opposed to radical change, and its readiness to accept many ills in the status quo before it risks a leap in the dark toward a promised utopia, it shows its conservative side.

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