On a long plane trip, I was reading Henry Kissinger’s Leadership, which is one of the sharpest books ever written by a 99 year old. (Ronald Coase, when he published his magnificent How China Became Capitalist with Ning Wang, was 101!) Still, it is a great achievement and a splendid read regardless of the author’s age.

I didn’t expect the following reference to Adam Smith. In the context of describing Richard Nixon’s character, Kissinger describes “two Nixons”. One was “consistently gracious”, thoughtful, developing a relationship with Kissinger that “in its operational character, might have been described as a ‘partnership’ – although true partnership rarely exists when the power is so unequally distributed between the two sides. The president can dismiss his security advisor without procedure or warning and has the authority to impose his preferences … These realities notwithstanding, Nixon never treated me as a subordinate when it came to the issues of national security and foreign policy; rather, he dealt with me as a kind of academic colleague”.

There was also another Nixon, “insecure about his image, uncertain of his authority and plagued by a nagging self-doubt”. Of this other “part” of Nixon, who “involved a restless pursuit of approbation”, Kissinger writes that:

This other Nixon was accompanied by a version of Adam Smith’s ‘impartial spectator’: that is, a second ‘you’, standing outside yourself, observing and judging your actions. Nixon seemed to me to have been haunted by such critical self-awareness all his life.

I confess Leadership is the first Kissinger book I have read. I would be interested in knowing if he references Smith anywhere else.

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