Saturday, June 28, 2008

Talleyrand & The Interests of the State by Louis Evan Palmer

It is without dispute that Talleyrand was a clever man, adroit with words and ideas. Even his enemies trusted his diplomatic prowess. He, and by extension France, had much success. As a result, his thoughts and advice still hold sway, particularly, among the ruling classes and their various servants.

The quote that is the focus of this article deals with diplomacy and morality: "States do not have friends, they only have interests."

While Talleyrand, in the venal ethos of the period, made a fortune in bribes and assorted undisclosed payments, he always seemed to aim for the long-term benefit of France. His vision and love of France allowed him to consider the sensibilities and needs of his neighbours and of France's own citizens. It also gave him an historical perspective that helped him navigate through regimes and revolutions. Through it all he maintained a steadfast notion of what France was and what France needed.

When someone of Talleyrand's talent and insight says "States only have interests", he will act differently than a less-qualified politician or diplomat of today. Talleyrand always sought to avoid war and made arrangements to ensure a lasting peace. Therefore, to him a defeated nation could not be humiliated and bankrupted because it would harm the peace and lead to future wars. Therefore, to him freedom of the press was a good thing as it drew the population into the process of governance and strengthened the domestic peace.

Talleyrand was a force for logic and the betterment of all (European) nations. His special focus was on the legitimacy of the state and its sovereign. This was a prime driver of Talleyrand through the negotiations at Vienna. Napoleon wrecked that "Peace" when he returned from imprisonment on Elba and got many more thousands killed in his further vain-glorious military quests. Earlier, after Napoleon invaded Russia, Talleyrand had resigned rather than continue to serve in what had become a blood-thirsty march for glory and empire.

Lesser politicians use Talleyrand's observation on a State's interests as an excuse for amoral short-sighted actions. They seem to forget that it is people who constitute a State and reflect or surmise its interests and while those interests, as Talleyrand notes, are greater than any single person or group of persons (or should be), they are nonetheless the outcome of people. States that consistently betray and bully will have no allies (or friends) but it is the State's leaders and the people who run its institutions who will bring that about. People betraying people who represent States. Circumstances change and those changes may necessitate an adjustment in a State's position or actions. It does not mean that amorality reigns and that a lack of ethics will not hurt a given nation in the mid or long-term.

In trying to emulate Talleyrand but without his genius, these sorcerer's apprentices threaten all of us, looking for any excuse to take what they see as the expedient way.

Talleyrand & The Interests of the State, Louis Evan Palmer, The Way It Can Be,
Copyright 2008 Louis Evan Palmer lives in Ontario Canada. His short stories have appeared in numerous publications.


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