Klas Pontus Arnoldson

Nobel Lecture


Nobel Lecture*, December 10, 1908

World Referendum

Like many such legends in many nations, an old Nordic saga tells of a time when the streets were paved with gold without tempting anyone to sin, a time when human beings were good and their customs and laws mild, inspired by the spirit of wisdom. The whole world lived a life of happiness. This paradise was buried in a mire of conflict and degraded values. However, the hope of finding it again is not yet lost. The nature of man provides a guarantee of this. Man’s nature is fundamentally good, or perhaps it is neither good nor evil. In any case, man is something to work on. We must hold fast to this fact – man is something to work on.

The age of our race can perhaps be reckoned in millions of years. So it is probably true that the human brain has now reached a state of high development and that after an immeasurable process of evolution it is now biologically and physiologically similar in all peoples and races.

Accepting this as a scientific fact, one necessarily comes to the conclusion that every normal human being must be as susceptible to the light of knowledge as he is to the light of the sun. It is in his nature to want peace rather than war. Education is the only certain road to the final goal of peace. And there is no higher goal.

“In truth,” someone replies, “the rule of law is higher; and so are personal freedom and national independence.” But for these, as for all the other good things of life, peace is perforce a prerequisite.

This idea confuses those who lack understanding. “Surely”, they say, “one has to defend oneself.” And they add: “National defense can be likened to fire insurance” or “Nobody wants his house to stand open to thieves and murderers” or “Nobody wants to walk unarmed in the woods, surrounded by robbers and brigands.” And so on. Seductive phrases! For civilized peoples are not gangs of brigands, and their rulers not robber barons.

Of course, it is not a question of giving up one’s national independence. We hold on to that which is dear to our hearts, but we must see things in their true perspective. Without peace there is no freedom, individual or national. War and hostilities are a form of slavery. Under such conditions, the laws are silent. Without peace there is nothing truly human. Peace is harmony. And harmony is the highest ideal of life.

For a long time this fact has been clear to seekers of the lost paradise, those thorn-crowned servants of humanity. Unnoticed by the world, their work has persevered through the ages, just as, slowly and quietly in a dark crevice of the earth, the forming of a brilliant diamond goes on for thousands and thousands of years. No sound rises from the silent depths while atom fuses with atom and the crystal slowly grows, finally to gleam and glitter in a royal crown.

Thus the concept of peace, mankind’s most brilliant treasure, has at last been disclosed to the eyes of us all. No one now denies its beauty; all extol its worth. But these tributes have all too often taken the form of words alone, seldom that of actions as well.

At last, however, it has dawned on many people in all countries that militarism lies like a heavy curse over the land. Perhaps, though, the reason for this does not lie entirely in the unutterable woe of war – woe which defies description. Unfortunately we have not yet reached the stage where militarism is condemned on these grounds.

We do not yet consider it beneath ourselves to invent and develop tools of destruction. We have not yet been seized with a holy wrath against evil, against militarism’s coarsening influence on our inner selves, an influence which darkens our view of life and nurtures that frightened and insidious distrust which beguiles us into inflicting on each other so much suffering, so much wrong and sorrow.

Rather, it is with the economic weight of the militaristic systems that many people are concerned. It is estimated that for each minute of the nineteenth century, 1,350 Swedish kroner were spent on armaments in Europe. The burden of armaments on the great powers between the first and second conferences at The Hague – that is to say, in the eight years 1899-1907 – increased by sixty-nine million pounds sterling. And the increase is still continuing. As far as the smaller states were concerned, in Sweden for example, the annual military expenditure increased from 27.7 million Swedish kroner to 84.3 million over the years 1888-1908; in other words, it more than trebled in two decades. Ample evidence of this increase may be obtained; for instance, from the International Peace Bureau in Bern or the Nobel Institute in Oslo.

The relation between the pressures of militarism and the deterioration of social conditions becomes more and more apparent. Vast resources are absorbed by militarism, without benefit to anyone. If these were set free, we could double the harvests of the nourishing earth, harness the power of roaring rivers for mills and factories, and open up undreamt of opportunities to challenge the finest talents possessed by man.

That something must be done to eliminate this evil now seems clear even to those in power in the world.

The Czar of Russia issued a Peace Manifesto1 which led to the creation of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, and the President of the United States is encouraging the nations to use it2. The aged ruler of Austria-Hungary3 is often called the “Emperor of Peace” on account of his character. The young Italian monarch4 has created an International Agricultural Institute which he maintains with his own private means, and has also offered to pay for the marble for the Palace of Peace at The Hague. The British head of state5 is at the forefront of an entente policy which seeks to anticipate complications leading to hostility. King Edward greeted the World Peace Congress in London6 with words to the effect that the heads of state could not aim at any goal higher than that of fostering a common spirit of understanding and warm friendship between nations, such being the surest means of realizing the highest ideal of humanity; and he further promised that “to achieve this goal would be [his] perpetual endeavor”. Kaiser Wilhelm7, in a telegram to the Interparliamentary Conference in Berlin8, said that he took the blessings of peace very much to heart, and the Crown Prince echoed these words, stating on behalf of his father, that the latter’s greatest concern was the maintenance of peace, “which is, and shall ever be the foundation of all true cultural progress”. The president of the French Republic9 finds it natural to continue to advocate world peace, and the Japanese sovereign10 neglects no opportunity to convince the world of his love of peace.

At every suitable opportunity, the heads of smaller states express themselves in the same spirit to the world press, as also do the responsible ministers in parliament when accompanying their heads of state to the more and more frequent peace conferences.

An ever increasing volume of intercourse is occurring between the various nations through their representatives in science and art, health care and education, communications, trade and industry, and all other cultural fields. The human feeling of spiritual affinity is the fundamental motivation of all these international congresses and conferences. This idealistic impulse shared by all peoples is leading to real agreements and to laws which are incompatible with war and militarism.

Now, at last, active pacifists from all classes of society are receiving considerable assistance from the modern labor movement, which participates in the effort to forestall war by advocating arbitration and disarmament. At the Stuttgart Congress in the spring of 1908, 900 representatives of ten million organized workers from all the states of the world unanimously accepted a resolution to try to abolish all militaristic systems and to prevent all international acts of force. Furthermore, at the meeting of the International Socialist Bureau in Brussels last autumn, it was unanimously declared that one of the main tasks of the labor organizations would be to try to avert the danger of war.

It is thus obvious that in such matters the interests of the governments and of the governed are identical. This fact receives constant confirmation at the international meetings of sovereigns and peoples. The persistence of a state of suspense and anxiety in the world must therefore be imputed to other interests, which achieve this result through rumors of war which appear now and then. It would be much wiser to try to expose the meaning of such rumors than to let ourselves be taken in by them.

Nowadays it is probable that no subject of international disagreement would lead to war if it were first submitted to examination by experts. This procedure is as a rule adopted by the responsible governments of states in the case of vital international questions. Of course, Europe in particular is still divided into certain power groups, but when anything vital is at stake, there is immediate cooperation, as seen in Morocco, the Balkans, Crete, etc.11 Then too the new Scandinavian treaties are peaceably and tranquilly succeeding in providing greater security12. Such an approach is also likely to be applicable to colonial policy, despite what the “know-it-alls” say about trade wars and the like.

America poses no threat. She is gathering her strength. Washington recently saw the laying of the cornerstone of a palace for the Pan-American Bureau, which will be a shrine to the idea of a peace uniting the whole of the western hemisphere13. Nor is there any threat from Japan, which is now reducing her annual military expenditure by 360 million Swedish kroner. Warlike adventures do not suit the peaceful nature of the Chinese. The “Yellow Peril” is probably not all that perilous! The Sultanate of Turkey is developing into a great civilized state, a powerful center of peace for all of the Moslem world. In addition, South Africa constitutes a new peaceful confederation within the British Empire14.

Many of these far-flung nations are graphically united by an “arbitration” map drawn by the French Foreign Ministry, on which a red line joins the capitals of those thirty-five, or rather thirty-two, states15 which voted for a complete plan of compulsory arbitration of international disputes at the second conference of governments at The Hague in 1907. No less does the following resolution16, which was passed at the same conference, correspond to this ideal: “The Second Peace Conference confirms the resolution adopted by the Conference of 1899 in regard to the limitation of military expenditure; and inasmuch as military expenditure has considerably increased in almost every country since that time, the conference declares that it is eminently desirable that the governments should resume the serious examination of this question.”

If the whole of humanity is now weary of the burdens of war, something more effective than a mere “serious examination” is required if we are to lighten these burdens and perhaps finally eradicate them. If this is regarded as impossible, it is not so much because of certain technical difficulties as it is because we lack strong moral fiber.

We demand too much of others and too little of ourselves. No one wishes to be the first to take the straight and narrow path. In addition, there is a tendency to overrate our own goodwill and underestimate that of others. “Of course we want to live in peace”, we say. “But our neighbor and the others!” If only we would worry a little less about others and a little more about ourselves, ask a little less of others and more of ourselves!

This applies to all nations. It also applies first and last to individuals, especially in the context of their citizenship. They should each of them carry the responsibility for the welfare of their country and for the whole of mankind. This, then, is the original idea which I have very much at heart, and now is the time and opportunity to proclaim it to the world.

If a present-day prophet were to exhort the peoples to peace and common sense, he would speak as one human being to others. With the power of the law and the gentleness of the Gospel, he would speak thus: “Patriotism is a noble feeling, insofar as it approaches that which is purely human, but the very reverse the further it is removed therefrom. No interests, however great, are higher than those common to the whole of mankind. Among them, the foremost is the old commandment, as old as the oldest documents of any nation: Thou shalt not kill! You are all of one blood. Love one another. People can. Nations can. All this is eminently possible because love is as natural as national hatred is the most unnatural of all human feelings.”

Inspired by such a spirit, I wish to suggest that the peoples of the earth should be exhorted to unite in a common aim.

In all countries an appeal should be issued for every adult man and woman to sign the following declaration: “If all other nations will abolish their armed forces and be content with a joint police force for the whole world, then I, the undersigned, wish my own nation to do the same.”17

This appeal would probably be answered by the well-informed elite in all countries, perhaps to a larger extent than anyone can now imagine. If this were to happen, a new great power would emerge – the united will of the peoples. Then, at their next peace conference, the governments would receive moral support powerful enough to enable them to agree to an effective commencement of general disarmament.

Much work would be necessary. At first, a genuine effort would have to be made to interest as many men and women as possible in helping to publicize the plan throughout the nations and in many languages, even at a considerable cost in time and money.

It might be unnecessary to wait for a resolution to be passed by one of the international peace organizations – by an institute, a directorate, a congress, or a conference. This might make a simple matter too complicated and irksome. It would insure a minimum of delay in beginning the task if a well-known man of peace, able to unite belief in the cause with financial resources, having no authority other than his own as a member of the human race, were to send out a referendum accompanied by petition forms for signatures, together with administrative directions for their distribution.

The more simply this could be done, the better. The petition forms for signatures should consist of only one sheet, bearing a declaration on the front, together with columns for names, titles, and addresses, and on the reverse side a short and extremely simple explanation of its purpose.18

The lists should be distributed in many ways, not the least being as newspaper supplements, and should be returned as soon as possible, with the greatest possible number of signatures, to the peace association committees of the individual countries, through whom the returns could systematically be communicated to the International Peace Bureau in Bern, as well as to the respective governments at their next peace conference.

Once the principle of this measure is clearly grasped and strongly adhered to, incidentals would look after themselves. Everyone would answer for himself and hold to his word; that is the principle of this worldwide referendum.

People may object: “We already know that all men want to live in peace. There is no need to ascertain this fact.” If that were true, they should not be dangerous to each other. However, since militarism still flourishes, this objection must be proved. The answer has to be obtained, not from groups, but from individuals; we must not hide behind the backs of others, but bravely step forward to confirm our will with our own signature.

People may object: “This is all too easy:” But it is very easy, also, to understand the necessity of cleanliness, sunshine, and fresh air for our health. Nevertheless, it took a very, very long time before this understanding became generally accepted practice.

Thus also, the real meaning of Christianity, insofar as it departs in some measure from strict reality, creates an eternal source of contention, although in the near future it will be clear that its essential message, untrammeled by the disputes of theology, is a true religion of peace; that this natural and easily comprehensible religion is absolutely incompatible with all war and military organization; and that it is exemplified, better than by all the sermons in the world, by the statue of Christ which two South American peoples have erected on top of the mountain separating their countries, to proclaim that war between them is now a thing of the past.

We are not here concerned with a question of faith, which so often gives rise to differences and schisms, but with one of love, which equalizes and unites. Thus, individual religious and social interests must not on any condition become involved in this cooperation of all peoples.

A foreseeable objection is this: “If less than half the adult population of a country votes against military organization, this will be considered proof of its acceptance by the majority.” Such a view, however, attributes to a mass of people who lack willpower an importance which they do not possess. In a case like this it is not the inert majority that counts. Even ten percent of the population would represent a sizeable expression of opinion. Furthermore, the average man can grasp a simple idea easily enough, but if he should be dependent on authority even in such a simple matter as this, then he must be awakened by the vigilant and by those who have seen the light.

“In any case,” some may protest, “this will take a long time even in the free countries, not to mention the backward ones.” It is not, however, proposed that a campaign which concerns all civilized peoples should be concluded hurriedly. Nor is it the intention to be precipitate, though it is important to make the best use of the time available until 1914 or 1915, when the third peace conference of the governments is likely to take place19.

A further objection may arise: “In the hard struggle for the necessities of life, men in general are not conscious of things which go beyond or above their daily cares, nor do they have the time to attend to such matters. There are far too many who, in their dark and straitened circumstances, are never able to look toward bright and wide horizons.” True enough, and for a long time to come, the old, persistent lamentation about the burdens and adversities of life will not be silenced.

But if, in fact, the world is so gloomy, it is to be hoped that many of those who complain will, at least once in their lives, make a sacrifice for the establishment of a better state of affairs in this world, the sacrifice of a minute to be occupied in reading and signing a declaration which favors taking an axe to the root of the evil. Otherwise, all their laments are in vain.

The last objection may be: “My vote, being but a drop in the ocean, means nothing.” It does, however, mean everything to every responsible human being, for all those who are powerless individually gain power beyond measure when they are united. Many small rivulets make a great stream, the stream becomes a river and the river a great sea, a pacific ocean around this world of ours.

A new power is emerging from the depths and slowly spreading over land and water. It is the concept of peace of the ancient sagas, enriched by new and immense cultural progress. Those who seek after the lost paradise can see it shimmering in the sunrise of a new era, presaging the fulfillment of the Christian prayer and the heathen saga, presaging the kingdom of peace which we pray for in saying “Our Father – Thy kingdom come” and which the old inhabitants of the North sensed in the happy era of the ancient sagas – when the streets were paved with gold which remained untouched and when human beings were good, their customs and laws mild and wise.

Nowadays, to pave the streets with gold would be quite unsafe. It is certain, however, that the gold which has now been placed in my path shall not rest untouched. It gives me the opportunity of devoting more work and more time to the idea of the world referendum which I have proposed here. It also enables me to serve the cause of peace in yet other ways and with even stronger perseverance. So will I try to carry my burden of gratitude, and to discharge the mission to which I have been called.

* This lecture was delivered by Mr. Arnoldson in the auditorium of the Nobel Institute just after he had received his prize. This translation is based on the Swedish text in Les Prix Nobel en 1908.

1. The Czar’s Rescript of 1898, proposing to all governments represented at his Court an international conference on the means of insuring peace, resulted in the Hague Peace Conference of 1899 which created the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

2. Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), U.S. president (1901-1909) and a proponent of mediation and of arbitration in all its forms, took the initiative in having an American-Mexican dispute submitted to the Court in 1902; this was the tribunal’s first case.

3. Francis Joseph I (1830-1916), emperor of Austria (1848-1916), king of Hungary (1867-1916).

4. Victor Emmanuel III (1869-1947), king of Italy (1900-1946).

5. Edward VII, called the Peacemaker (1841-1910), king of Great Britain and Ireland (1901-1910), helped prepare the way for arbitration treaties with various nations and for ententes with France and with Russia.

6. Held in the summer of 1908

7. Wilhelm II (1859-1941), emperor of Germany and king of Prussia (1888-1918)

8. Held in September, 1908.

9. Clément Armand Fallières (1841-1931), president of the French Republic (1906-1913).

10. Mutsuhito (1852-1912), emperor of Japan (1867-1912).

11. The Morocco incident occurred when Germany, testing the Anglo-French Entente of 1904, demanded an international conference to consider Moroccan independence; the Conference met at Algeciras in 1906 and reaffirmed Moroccan independence. In the Balkan crisis of 1908-1909, threatened war was averted when Serbia and Russia accepted Austria’s annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina after intervention by the powers, and especially by Germany. Crete at the same time added to the crisis by breaking with the Ottoman Empire and uniting with Greece.

12. The Norwegian Integrity Treaty, November 2,1907, was effected between Norway and certain strategic powers, including Great Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and Sweden, to protect Norway’s new independence. The Baltic Treaty was signed on April 23, 1908, in St. Petersburg by Russia, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, respecting rights in the Baltic Sea. The North Sea Treaty was signed on April 23, 1908, in Berlin by Germany, Denmark, France, Great Britain, The Netherlands, and Sweden, respecting rights in the North Sea.

13. Its cornerstone laid on May 11, 1908, the Pan American Union building was a gift from the American industrialist Andrew Carnegie, with contributions from the United States and other nations, to the International Union of American Republics (name changed in 1910 to Pan American Union), which was organized 1889-1890 to promote pan-American cooperation.

14. After the Boer War (1899-1902), the Transvaal and the Orange Free State were incorporated in the British Empire, becoming part of the Union of South Africa in 1910.

15. The thirty-two nations voting in favor of a proposal for compulsory arbitration were: United States of America, Argentine Republic, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Cuba, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Spain, France, Great Britain, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, The Netherlands, Peru, Persia, Portugal, Russia, Salvador, Servia, Siam, Sweden, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Opposed were: Germany, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, Rumania, Switzerland, and Turkey. Abstaining were: Italy, Japan, and Luxembourg.

16. From the Final Act of the Hague Peace Conference of 1907.

17. Immediately following this paragraph, the text of the lecture carries a parenthetical paragraph which reads as follows: “Arnoldson later suggested the following as an alternative: I, the undersigned, desire peace on earth. I want all armed forces to be abolished. I want a joint police force to be created, to which each nation should contribute according to the size of its population. I want that force to be subject to an International Supreme Court. I want all states to be in duty bound to refer any kind of international controversy to this court, and subject themselves to the judgments of the court.”

18. At this point another parenthetical paragraph is inserted in the text: “Arnoldson suggests that the reverse side might carry, instead, an alternatively worded declaration, together with columns for names, titles, and addresses as on the front page. The referendum would thus be designed to cover, on the one hand, those whose desire, that something be done, is in some way conditional, and on the other, those for whom this desire is unqualified and who demand the drawing up of a definite program.”

I9. Preparations to hold this conference had been started but were cancelled with the outbreak of World War I in August, 1914.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1901-1925, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972

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