Lord Peter Wimsey on Syria and the Need to Preserve ‘Prestige’

Some wise words from the late Dorothy Sayers, from the 1942 short story “Talboys.” In the story, one of Lord Peter Wimsey‘s sons is accused of stealing peaches from a neighboring farmer. Lord Peter investigates and clears his son of the crime, while fending off the well-intentioned but naive interference of a nosy governess. Along ...

Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Stephen M. Walt
By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
Thumbnail image from Amazon.com ("Lord Peter : The Complete Lord Peter Wimsey Stories")
Thumbnail image from Amazon.com ("Lord Peter : The Complete Lord Peter Wimsey Stories")
Thumbnail image from Amazon.com ("Lord Peter : The Complete Lord Peter Wimsey Stories")

Some wise words from the late Dorothy Sayers, from the 1942 short story "Talboys." In the story, one of Lord Peter Wimsey's sons is accused of stealing peaches from a neighboring farmer. Lord Peter investigates and clears his son of the crime, while fending off the well-intentioned but naive interference of a nosy governess. Along the way he offers his son, Bredon, the following advice:

Some wise words from the late Dorothy Sayers, from the 1942 short story “Talboys.” In the story, one of Lord Peter Wimsey‘s sons is accused of stealing peaches from a neighboring farmer. Lord Peter investigates and clears his son of the crime, while fending off the well-intentioned but naive interference of a nosy governess. Along the way he offers his son, Bredon, the following advice:

 

“I’ll tell you a secret, Bredon. Grown-up people don’t always know everything, though they try to pretend they do. That is called ‘prestige,’ and is responsible for most of the wars that devastate the continent of Europe.”

Or the Middle East, one might add. I don’t mean to make light of the tragedy that has been unfolding in Syria, but Sayers’s observation — in the voice of Lord Peter — has always struck me as of considerable relevance to contemporary foreign policy-making, especially in the credibility-obsessed USA.

Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University. Twitter: @stephenwalt

More from Foreign Policy

Children are hooked up to IV drips on the stairs at a children's hospital in Beijing.
Children are hooked up to IV drips on the stairs at a children's hospital in Beijing.

Chinese Hospitals Are Housing Another Deadly Outbreak

Authorities are covering up the spread of antibiotic-resistant pneumonia.

Henry Kissinger during an interview in Washington in August 1980.
Henry Kissinger during an interview in Washington in August 1980.

Henry Kissinger, Colossus on the World Stage

The late statesman was a master of realpolitik—whom some regarded as a war criminal.

A Ukrainian soldier in helmet and fatigues holds a cell phone and looks up at the night sky as an explosion lights up the horizon behind him.
A Ukrainian soldier in helmet and fatigues holds a cell phone and looks up at the night sky as an explosion lights up the horizon behind him.

The West’s False Choice in Ukraine

The crossroads is not between war and compromise, but between victory and defeat.

Illustrated portraits of Reps. MIke Gallagher, right, and Raja Krishnamoorthi
Illustrated portraits of Reps. MIke Gallagher, right, and Raja Krishnamoorthi

The Masterminds

Washington wants to get tough on China, and the leaders of the House China Committee are in the driver’s seat.