Peter Collier, Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick (Encounter Books). To order it, click here.
As America prepares for another presidential election, there is little prospect that the sharp partisan differences that have polarized our politics in recent years will be healed. While these differences concern current domestic and foreign policy, they are rooted in battles that were fought decades ago—though few people can recall the circumstances of those fights or the main protagonists.
Jeane Kirkpatrick was at the center of many of the battles, both as an intellectual who wrote influential articles about American foreign policy and the nature of communist totalitarianism, and as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a cabinet official in the Reagan administration who helped shape the policies that contributed to the fall of communism. It is now more than five years since her death and more than a quarter of a century since she left public life. But the ideas and values that Kirkpatrick defended amid the tumult of controversy remain relevant, and her career sheds a distinctive light on how a private citizen can rise to prominence and advance the ideals of American democracy.
Peter Collier’s “Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick” is a gracefully written and nuanced biography that captures both the significance of Kirkpatrick’s achievements and the complexity of her thought and personality. I worked for Kirkpatrick at the U.N. for three years as senior counselor and find his portrait of her both sensitive and accurate. Mr. Collier is right when he says that despite her reputation for being a foreign-policy hawk and Thatcher-like “iron lady,” Kirkpatrick recoiled at violence and resented being called “tough” for having attitudes that would be considered “normally assertive in a male.” He is also right that she was deeply resentful toward the feminist movement, which derided her even though Kirkpatrick was at the time the “most influential woman in the history of U.S. foreign policy.”
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