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:

 

"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."

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

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