Harold Nicolson reveals the principles of professionalism
Sir Harold George Nicolson KCVO CMG was the product of a patrician Victorian and Edwardian background and upbringing. The son of a future ambassador and the grandson of an admiral, he was born in Persia, where his father, later The Lord Carnock, was chargé d’affaires at the British Embassy.
Nicolson spent his childhood, inter alia, in Tehran, Budapest, Constantinople and Tangiers. He went away to school in England and attended Wellington College before going up to Oxford to study at Balliol, from which he graduated in 1907. Two years later he entered the Foreign Office and after the Great War was a member of the British delegation to the Paris Peace Conference which resulted in the Treaty of Versailles and became the subject of his book Peacemaking 1919.
During twenty years as a diplomat, then as a journalist and a member of Parliament, he wrote prolifically throughout his whole life, including the official biography of King George V, which earned him his knighthood. He was married to the outrée and aristocratic Vita Sackville-West — both Harold and Vita engaged in affairs but Vita’s were legend — and, despite the ups and downs of their marriage, they remained intensely devoted to and supportive of each other, as recorded in their quotidian correspondence and in their son Nigel’s Portrait of a Marriage. They also created together the splendid gardens at Sissinghurst.
The diplomat writes Diplomacy
In 1939, Harold Nicolson published a short, highly readable, immensely informative and impressively authoritative review of the practice of international affairs, entitled simply Diplomacy. The book makes manifest Nicolson’s colossal cultural capital — across history, literature and diplomacy itself — enthralling and edifying the reader.
Nicolson begins with an examination of the ‘Origins of Organized Diplomacy’, taking care to scrutinise the diverging and sometimes casual definitions of diplomacy, opting above all for the most official, ‘the management of international relations by negotiation’. This initial chapter traces the history of diplomacy from ancient Greece and Rome through to modern times.
In a second chapter, ‘The Development of Diplomatic Theory’, Nicolson looks at diplomacy from the perspectives of international law, the influence of commerce, the role of morality. He continues this approach in ‘The Transition from the Old Diplomacy to the New’, incorporating the concept of a community of nations expressed initially in the Concert of Europe, the increasing importance of public opinion and the acceleration in means of communication. Not unnaturally, this gives way to a focus on ‘Democratic Diplomacy’, including its shortcomings owing to divergent constitutional arrangements and its difficulties resulting from disorganised decision-making processes or the intrusive role of the media.Read More
Charles de Gaulle’s masterpiece on leadership — and himself
In the concise canon of genuinely ingenious books on leadership — of which Machiavelli’s The Prince is perhaps the most celebrated and the most cited — Charles de Gaulle’s Le Fil de l’épée [The Edge of the Sword ] can rightly claim pride of place. The work has often been described as the handbook on leadership which the younger scholar-soldier Charles wrote for the later politician-statesman de Gaulle. (The General was wont, like Julius Cæsar in The Gallic War, to refer to himself in the third person.)
De Gaulle is to France as Churchill is to Britain
In the English-speaking world, the personage Charles de Gaulle was widely misconstrued in his time as a gratuitously irascible character embodying all the tetchiness and pretentiousness that those who do not know French society from the inside so often associate with the personality of French people. Happily, more than one recent biography in English has served to rectify that misconception. In France, on the other hand, the towering figure of de Gaulle has become as unjustifiably idealised, and as unjustly vilified, as Winston Churchill in America or Britain.
The relationship between the two, during the Second World War, was characterised by intense admiration and incandescent irritation, leading Churchill, according to legend, to quip: ‘the heaviest cross I have to bear is the Cross of Lorraine’, which was the symbol of the Free French led by de Gaulle. But for all their similarity as acolytes of History and each one’s conviction that he would become — as each one clearly did become — a man of destiny and thereafter a man of letters, they were nonetheless products of different personal backgrounds and professional vocations.
Charles becomes de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle was born in 1890 in Lille to a traditional Roman Catholic family. His father was a professor of history and literature. De Gaulle was educated in Paris and then admitted to the St Cyr military academy in 1909. He served in the First World War, much of his time as a German prisoner of war despite five escape attempts, and thereafter held command positions in the 1920s in Poland, in the French-occupied Rhineland and later in France’s League of Nations mandate of Lebanon and Syria.