The Art and Practice of Diplomacy

By Charles Webster | Go to book overview

1
The Art and Practice of Diplomacy1

WE would all admit, I suppose, that we can obtain information and guidance from an expert in his own particular subject. Even the idlest professor may say something of value on a topic which has been his main means of livelihood for a long period of time. But such technical discussions are better made under different auspices. I would be taking an unfair advantage of you if I were to address you today on international history. And on the great issues of life and conduct I am doubtful whether exposition and exhortation can accomplish very much and still less whether an academic mind is very capable of dealing with them effectively. No less a person than Mr Gladstone, it is recorded, was of the opinion that the University Common Room was as bad as the Bank of England Parlour in narrowing the point of view.2 It seemed to me, therefore, that I might best, perhaps, speak on a subject which throws some light on the complexity of human nature and which I have had some opportunity to observe at close quarters. I am sure you will acquit me of any undue estimate of the importance of the role which I myself played in a subordinate position during the two great wars, if I illustrate my theme occasionally from my own experience. For it is by action that a man is made most vividly aware of the limitations which human nature imposes on the conduct of policy. It is no accident that the two most scolding pens amongst British historians today are wielded by two who have had no practical experience of political or military affairs.

The subject of diplomacy has of course been expounded by a long array of writers. They have, however, often considered it in the wider aspect of policy rather than in that of the method by which policy is implemented. But today I intend to speak of the tactics of diplomacy, not of its strategy. There is, it is true, as in

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1
Oration delivered at the London School of Economics and Political Science on 7th December, 1951.
2
The Personal Papers of Lord Rendel, 84.

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