Kirkpatrick, Jeane

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Jeane Kirkpatrick

Born November 19, 1926
Duncan, Oklahoma

U.S. diplomat

J eane Kirkpatrick was the first American woman to be named a permanent representative to the United Nations (UN). The UN is an international organization that was established at the conclusion of World War II (1939–45); its purpose is to peacefully resolve conflicts before they lead to war. Kirkpatrick held this post from 1981 to 1985. She exercised greater influence over the formulation of U.S. foreign policy than any other representative before her. Respected for the strength and conviction of her views, she remained active in American political life long after leaving office. In 1985, Congress awarded Kirkpatrick its highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Political beginnings

Born Jeane Duane Jordan on November 19, 1926, Jeane Kirkpatrick was the daughter of Leona Kile Jordan and Welcher F. Jordan, an oil-drilling contractor in the town of Duncan, Oklahoma. Both parents took politics seriously and instilled in Jeane a sense of civic duty.

Jeane finished her undergraduate work at Barnard College and went on to earn a master's degree in political science from Columbia University in New York in 1950. She then worked in an intelligence and research bureau at the U.S. State Department. The bureau was headed by Evron "Kirk" Kirkpatrick, a former political science professor. After a year of study at the Institute of Political Science in Paris, France, Jeane returned to the United States and married Kirkpatrick in 1955. They honeymooned at a political science conference at Northwestern University. Jeane's marriage to Evron Kirkpatrick led her from a scholarly interest in politics to active participation in the Democratic Party. The couple raised three sons while Jeane was working on her doctorate and beginning her career as a college professor. She received her Ph.D. (doctoral degree) in 1968 from Columbia University.

Jeane Kirkpatrick concentrated on furthering her career as an academic, first as an assistant professor of political science at Trinity College in Washington, D.C., and later as associate professor and then full professor at Georgetown University, also in Washington, D.C. During the 1970s, she was a political activist and held several important positions in the Democratic Party while writing political articles. In 1974, Kirkpatrick published Political Woman, a work dealing with women in state legislatures.

In 1979, one of Kirkpatrick's articles appeared in the November issue of Commentary. Kirkpatrick laid out her criticism of U.S. foreign policy in the article, titled "Dictatorships and Double Standards." The foundation of her argument was the importance of weaving a careful course between support for authoritarian political regimes and opposition to totalitarian governments. Authoritarian governments are headed by a single leader or a small group of people who are not constitutionally answerable for their actions and who demand total obedience from all citizens. Authoritarian governments are often military dictatorships. Totalitarian governments, such as communist governments, exert almost complete control over citizens' lives. A communist government controls the economy by controlling production and prices; it controls political opposition by restricting individual liberties and banning all political parties other than the Communist Party.

Early U.S. policy during the Cold War (1945–91), a prolonged conflict for world dominance between the democratic United States and the communist Soviet Union, was to support oppressive authoritarian regimes, primarily military dictatorships in Latin America, because of their strong anticommunist positions. Totalitarian regimes, Kirkpatrick argued, could not be expected to change. In her view, authoritarian regimes held more potential for reform and thus were proper recipients of U.S. support. Despite her Democratic standing, Kirkpatrick's argument fit the views of hard-line conservatives of the time, such as Republican presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan (1911–; served 1981–89; see entry), the former governor of California. Reagan invited Kirkpatrick to join his group of advisors; she accepted the offer and participated in Reagan's successful 1980 campaign for the presidency.

At the United Nations

President Reagan appointed Kirkpatrick as permanent representative to the United Nations in 1981. She was a Democrat and the top woman in his administration. Kirkpatrick was also a member of the National Security Council, the part of the executive branch of the U.S. government that advises the president on matters of foreign policy and defense. Kirkpatrick spoke fluent French and Spanish, but she had no experience in directing foreign affairs or in managing a diplomatic post. The two institutions where she was supposed to fulfill her responsibilities—the State Department in Washington, D.C., and the United Nations in New York—at first viewed her as a complete outsider.

Kirkpatrick shared President Reagan's anti-Soviet views and could be counted on to be a tough, articulate spokesperson at the United Nations. Reagan and Kilpatrick's admiration for each other and their shared beliefs on foreign policy gave Kirkpatrick a strong position in the administration. She is considered one of the chief architects of Reagan's hard-nosed anti-communist policies. Communism is a system of government in which a single political party, the Communist Party, controls nearly all aspects of society. In a communist economy, goods produced and wealth accumulated are, in theory, shared equally by all. Communist nations such as the Soviet Union are incompatible with capitalist democracies such as the United States. A democratic system of government allows multiple political parties. Capitalism is an economic system in which

property and businesses can be privately owned. Production, distribution, and prices of goods are determined by competition in a market relatively free of government intervention.

Relations between the United States and the Soviet Union had reached their lowest point in the years following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979. The United States responded by strengthening its military systems and bolstering the strength of its allies in Western Europe. Kirk-patrick's stance in the UN reflected the Reagan administration's confrontational attitude in world affairs. Although her straightforward style was often criticized, Kirkpatrick was credited with giving strong, effective responses to Soviet attacks. However, as her four years at the UN progressed, the U.S. position toward the Soviets became less confrontational and leaned more toward a posture of negotiation with the Soviets. This set the tone for future discussions on disarmament (reduction or removal of nuclear weapons) and the end of the Cold War in 1991.

Going home

In 1985, Kirkpatrick resigned from her position and officially joined the Republican Party. She returned to Georgetown University to teach, write, and speak. Kirkpatrick became a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group in Washington, D.C. In 1993, she cofounded Empower America, a conservative public policy organization. Heads of state and foreign ministers continued to seek her advice on world affairs. In 2003, President George W. Bush (1946–; served 2001–) appointed Kirkpatrick to the Human Rights Commission of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

For More Information


Finger, Seymour Maxwell. American Ambassadors at the UN: People, Politics, and Bureaucracy in Making Foreign Policy. New York: UNITAR, 1990.

Gerson, Allan. The Kirkpatrick Mission: Diplomacy without Apology: America at the United Nations, 1981–1985. New York: The Free Press, 1991.

Kirkpatrick, Jeane J. Dictatorships and Double Standards: Rationalism and Reason in Politics. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.

LeVeness, Frank P., and Jane P. Sweeney, eds. Women Leaders in Contemporary U.S. Politics. Boulder, CO: L. Rienner, 1987.

Shultz, George P. Turmoil and Triumph: Diplomacy, Power, and the Victory of the American Ideal. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1993.

Winik, Jay. On the Brink: The Dramatic, Behind-the-Scenes Saga of the Reagan Era and the Men and Women Who Won the Cold War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.

Web Sites

"Dr. Jeane Kirkpatrick." Harry Walker Agency. (accessed on September 10, 2003).

"Jeane Kirkpatrick to speak at KU." The University of Kansas: Office of University Relations. (accessed on September 10, 2003).

Books and Honors of Jeane Kirkpatrick


Jeane Kirkpatrick has been awarded medals by President Václav Havel (1936–) of the Czech Republic, for promoting democracy, human rights, and the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a peacetime alliance of the United States and eleven other nations, and a key factor in the attempt to contain communism; and President H. E. Arpad Goncz (1922–) of Hungary, for contributions to NATO enlargement and a democratic Europe. She twice received the Fiftieth Anniversary Friend of Zion Award from the prime minister of Israel and the Casey Medal of Honor from the Center for Security Studies. She also received America's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1985).


Leader and Vanguard in Mass Society (1971)

Political Woman (1974)

The New Presidential Elite (1976)

The Withering Away of the Totalitarian State (1990)

Good Intentions (1996)

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