Elihu Root

Nobel Lecture

Nobel Lecture*

Towards making peace permanent

The humanitarian purpose of Alfred Nobel in establishing the peace prize which bears his name was doubtless not merely to reward those who should promote peace among nations, but to stimulate thought upon the means and methods best adapted, under the changing conditions of future years, to approach and ultimately attain the end he so much desired.

The apparent simplicity of the subject is misleading. Recognition of the horrors of war and the blessings of peace, acceptance of the dogma “War is wrong and to keep the peace a duty”, are so universal that upon the surface it seems only necessary to state a few incontrovertible truths and to press them upon the attention of mankind, in order to have war end and peace reign perpetually.

Yet the continual recurrence of war and the universally increasing preparations for war based upon expectation of it among nations all of whom declare themselves in favor of peace, indicate that intellectual acceptance of peace doctrine is not sufficient to control conduct, and that a general feeling in favor of peace, however sincere, does not furnish a strong enough motive to withstand the passions which lead to war when a cause of quarrel has arisen. The methods of peace propaganda which aim at establishing peace doctrine by argument and by creating a feeling favorable to peace in general seem to fall short of reaching the springs of human action and of dealing with the causes of the conduct which they seek to modify. It is much like treating the symptoms of disease instead of ascertaining and dealing with the cause of the symptoms. The mere assemblage of peace loving people to interchange convincing reasons for their common faith, mere exhortation and argument to the public in favor of peace in general fall short of the mark.

They are useful, they serve to strengthen the faith of the participants, they tend very gradually to create a new standard of conduct, just as exhortations to be good and demonstrations that honesty is the best policy have a certain utility by way of suggestion. But they do not, as a rule, reach or extirpate or modify the causes of war.

Occasionally some man with exceptional power of statement or of feeling and possessed by the true missionary spirit, will deliver a message to the world, putting old truths in such a way as to bite into the consciousness of civilized peoples and move mankind forward a little, with a gain never to be altogether lost. But the mere repetition of the obvious by good people of average intelligence, while not without utility and not by any means to be despised as an agency for peace, nevertheless is subject to the drawback that the unregenerate world grows weary of iteration and reacts in the wrong direction. The limitation upon this mode of promoting peace lies in the fact that it consists in an appeal to the civilized side of man, while war is the product of forces proceeding from man’s original savage nature. To deal with the true causes of war one must begin by recognizing as of prime relevancy to the solution of the problem the familiar fact that civilization is a partial, incomplete, and, to a great extent, superficial modification of barbarism. The point of departure of the process to which we wish to contribute is the fact that war is the natural reaction of human nature in the savage state, while peace is the result of acquired characteristics. War was forced upon mankind in his original civil and social condition. The law of the survival of the fittest led inevitably to the survival and predominance of the men who were effective in war and who loved it because they were effective. War was the avenue to all that mankind desired. Food, wives, a place in the sun, freedom from restraint and oppression, wealth of comfort, wealth of luxury, respect, honor, power, control over others, were sought and attained by fighting. Nobody knows through how many thousands of years fighting men have made a place for themselves while the weak and peaceable have gone to the wall. Love of fighting was bred in the blood of the race because those who did not love fighting were not suited to their environment and perished. Grotius himself sets war first in the title of his great work, De jure belli ac pacis1, as if, in his mind, war was the general and usual condition with which he was to deal, and peace the occasional and incidental field of international relations. And indeed the work itself deals chiefly with war and only incidentally with peaceful relations.

In attempting to bring mankind to a condition of permanent peace in which war will be regarded as criminal conduct, just as civilized communities have been brought to a condition of permanent order, broken only by criminals who war against society, we have to deal with innate ideas, impulses, and habits, which became a part of the caveman’s nature by necessity from the conditions under which he lived; and these ideas and impulses still survive more or less dormant under the veneer of civilization, ready to be excited to action by events often of the most trifling character. As Lord Bacon says, “Nature is often hidden, sometimes overcome, seldom extinguished.”2 To eradicate or modify or curb the tendencies which thus survive among civilized men is not a matter of intellectual conviction or training. It is a matter primarily of development of character and the shifting of standards of conduct – a long, slow process in which advance is to be measured, not by days and years, but by generations and centuries in the life of nations.

The attractive idea that we can now have a parliament of man with authority to control the conduct of nations by legislation or an international police force with power to enforce national conformity to rules of right conduct is a counsel of perfection. The world is not ready for any such thing, and it cannot be made ready except by the practical surrender of the independence of nations, which lies at the basis of the present social organization of the civilized world. Such a system would mean that each nation was liable to be lawfully controlled and coerced by a majority of alien powers. That majority alone could determine when and for what causes and to what ends the control and coercion should be exercised. Human nature must have come much nearer perfection than it is now, or will be in many generations, to exclude from such a control prejudice, selfishness, ambition, and injustice. An attempt to prevent war in this way would breed war, for it would destroy local self-government and drive nations to war for liberty. There is no nation in the world which would seriously consider a proposal so shocking to the national pride and patriotism of its people.

To help in the most practical and efficient way towards making peace permanent, it is needful to inquire with some analysis what are the specific motives and impulses, the proximate causes which, under the present conditions of the civilized world, urge nations to the point where the war passion seizes upon them. And then we should inquire what are the influences which naturally tend or may be made to tend towards checking the impulse, destroying the motive, preventing the proximate cause, before passion has become supreme and it is too late.

It is to be observed that every case of war averted is a gain in general, for it helps to form a habit of peace, and community habits long continued become standards of conduct. The life of the community conforms to an expectation of their continuance, and there comes to be an instinctive opposition to any departure from them.

The first and most obvious cause for international controversy which suggests itself is in the field of international rights and obligations. Claims of right and insistence upon obligations may depend upon treaty stipulations, or upon the rules of international law, or upon the sense of natural justice applied to the circumstances of a particular case, or upon disputed facts. Upon all these there are continually arising controversies as to what are the true facts; what is the rule of international law applicable to the case; what is the true interpretation of the treaty; what is just and fair under the circumstances. This category does not by any means cover the entire field out of which causes of war arise, but no one should underestimate its importance. Small differences often grow into great quarrels, and honest differences of opinion frequently produce controversies in which national amour propre is involved and national honor, dignity, and prestige are supposed to be at stake. Rival claimants to an almost worthless strip of land along a disputed boundary, a few poor fishermen contesting each others’ rights to set nets in disputed waters, may break into violence which will set whole nations aflame with partisanship upon either side. Reparation demanded for injury to a citizen or an insult to a flag in foreign territory may symbolize in the feeling of a great people their national right to independence, to respect, and to an equal place in the community of nations. The people of a country, wholly mistaken as to their national rights, honestly ignorant of their international obligations, may become possessed of a real sense of injustice, of deep resentment, and of a sincere belief that the supreme sacrifice of war is demanded by love of country, its liberty and independence, when in fact their belief has no just foundation whatever.

In this field the greatest advance is being made towards reducing and preventing in a practical and effective way the causes of war, and this advance is proceeding along several different lines. First, by providing for the peaceable settlement of such controversies by submission to an impartial tribunal. Up to this time that provision has taken the form of arbitration, with which we are all familiar. There have been occasional international arbitrations from very early times, but arbitration as a system, a recognized and customary method of diplomatic procedure rather than an exceptional expedient, had its origin in the Hague Conference of 1899. It is interesting to recall the rather contemptuous reception accorded to the Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes concluded at that conference, and to the Permanent Court at The Hague which it created3. The convention was not obligatory. No power was bound to comply with it. The cynicism with which the practical diplomatist naturally regards the idealist pronounced it a dead letter. But the convention expressed, and, by expressing, established a new standard of international conduct which practical idealism had long been gradually approaching, for which thoughtful men and women in all civilized lands had been vaguely groping, which the more advanced nations welcomed and the more backward nations were ashamed to reject. Let me quote the recitals with which the delegates prefaced their work:

“Animated by a strong desire to concert for the maintenance of the general peace;

Resolved to second by their best efforts the friendly settlement of international disputes;

Recognizing the solidarity which unites the members of the society of civilized nations;

Desirous of extending the empire of law, and of strengthening the appreciation of international justice;

Convinced that the permanent institution of a Court of Arbitration, accessible to all, in the midst of the independent Powers, will contribute effectively to this result;

Having regard to the advantages attending the general and regular organization of arbitral procedure;

Sharing the opinion of the august initiator of the International Conference that it is expedient to record in an international agreement the principles of equity and right, on which are based the security of states and the welfare of peoples…”4

These declarations, although enforced by no binding stipulation, nevertheless have become principles of action in international affairs because, through the progress of civilization and the influence of many generations of devoted spirits in the cause of humanity, the world had become ready for the setting up of the standard. The convention would have been a dead letter if the world had not been made ready for it, and, because the world was ready, conformity to the standard year by year has become more universal and complete. Since this convention, which was binding upon no state, 113 obligatory general treaties of arbitration have been made between powers who have taken part in the Hague Conferences, and sixteen international controversies have been heard and decided, or are pending before that tribunal according to the last report of the Administrative Council of the Court.

Quite apart from the statistics of cases actually heard or pending, it is impossible to estimate the effect produced by the existence of this court, for the fact that there is a court to which appeal may be made always leads to the settlement of far more controversies than are brought to judgment. Nor can we estimate the value of having this system a part of the common stock of knowledge of civilized men, so that, when an international controversy arises, the first reaction is not to consider war but to consider peaceful litigation.

Plainly, the next advance to be urged along this line is to pass on from an arbitral tribunal, the members of which are specifically selected from the general list of the court for each case, and whose service is but an incident in the career of a diplomatist or a publicist, to a permanent court composed of judges who devote their entire time to the performance of judicial duties and proceed in accordance with a sense of judicial obligation, not to adjust or compromise differences, but to decide upon rights in accordance with the facts and the law.

Long steps in this direction were made in the Second Hague Conference by the convention for the establishment of a permanent international prize court and by the formulation and adoption of a draft convention relative to the creation of a general judicial arbitration court. This draft convention lacked nothing of completion except an agreement upon the method by which the judges were to be selected. Towards the creation of such a court the best efforts of those who wish to promote peace should be directed.

The second line of advance in this same field of international controversy is in pressing forward the development of international law and the agreement of nations upon its rules. Lord Mansfield5 described the law of nations as “founded upon justice, equity, convenience, the reason of the thing, and confirmed by long usage”. There are multitudes of events liable to occur frequently in the intercourse of nations, regarding which there has never been any agreement as to what is just, equitable, or convenient, and, as to many of the classes of controversy, different views are held by different nations, so that in a large part of the field with which an arbitral tribunal or international court should deal there is really no law to be applied. Where there is no law, a submission to arbitration or to judicial decision is an appeal, not to the rule of law, but to the unknown opinions or predilections of the men who happen to be selected to decide. The development of the peaceable settlement of international disputes by the decision of impartial tribunals waits therefore upon the further development of international law by a more complete establishment of known and accepted rules for the government of international conduct.

In this direction also great progress has been made within recent years. The ordinary process of reaching rules of international law through the universal assent of nations, expressed as particular cases arise from time to time in the ordinary course of international affairs, is so slow that, instead of making progress towards a comprehensive law of nations by such a method, the progress of the law has been outstripped by the changes of condition in international affairs, so that the law has been growing less and less adequate to settle the questions continually arising. The Declaration of Paris, in 1856, by a few simple rules6 a, dealing not with particular cases but looking to the future through an agreement of the powers signing the convention, was a new departure in the method of forming international law. That method has developed into the action of the two Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907, which were really lawmaking bodies, establishing, by the unanimous vote of the powers, rules of conduct7 for the future, covering extensive portions of the field of international conduct. The action of the Hague Conferences would have been impossible if it had not been for the long continued and devoted labors of the Institut de droit international8, which, in its annual meetings for forty years, has brought together the leaders of thought in the science of the law of nations in all the countries of the civilized world to discuss unofficially, with a free and full expression of personal opinion, the unsettled problems as to what the law is and ought to be. The conclusions of that body furnished to the successive Hague Conferences the matured results of years of well-directed labor and bore the same relation to the deliberations of the conferences as the report of a committee of a legislative body in furnishing the basis for deliberation and action. Their work should be encouraged and their example should be followed.

Further Hague Conferences should be insisted upon. They should be made to recur at regular periods without requiring the special initiative of any country. The process of formulating and securing agreement upon rules of international law should be pressed forward in every direction.

There is a third line of progress, little, if any, less important than the two already mentioned, and that is the instruction of students and of the great bodies of the people of civilized countries in the knowledge of international law. Under the modern development of constitutional governments, with varying degrees of extension of suffrage, more and more the people who cast the ballots determine the issues of peace and war. No government now embarks in war without the assurance of popular support. It is not uncommon in modern times to see governments straining every nerve to keep the peace, and the people whom they represent, with patriotic enthusiasm and resentment over real or fancied wrongs, urging them forward to war. Nothing is more important in the preservation of peace than to secure among the great mass of the people living under constitutional government a just conception of the rights which their nation has against others and of the duties their nation owes to others. The popular tendency is to listen approvingly to the most extreme statements and claims of politicians and orators who seek popularity by declaring their own country right in everything and other countries wrong in everything. Honest people, mistakenly believing in the justice of their cause, are led to support injustice. To meet this tendency there should be not merely definite standards of law to be applied to international relations, but there should be general public understanding of what those standards are. Of course it is not possible that all the people of any country can become familiar with international law, but there may be such knowledge and leadership of opinion in every country on the part of the most intelligent and best educated men that in every community mistaken conceptions can be corrected and a true view of rights and obligations inculcated. To attain this end much has been done and much is in contemplation. Societies of international law have been formed in many countries for the discussion of international questions and the publication and distribution of the results. Many journals of international law have been established and are rapidly increasing their circulation and influence. More and more colleges and universities are establishing chairs and giving instruction in international law to their students. A further step is about to be taken at The Hague by the establishment there of an international school of international law9 to which scholars from all over the civilized world will come and in which the great masters of the science have undertaken to give instruction. There can be no better augury for the success of the new institution than the fact that it found its origin in the general enthusiasm of Ludwig von Bar of Göttingen, of Otfried Nippold of Frankfort, of Demetrius Sturdza of Roumania, and of T.M.C. Asser of Holland; and that it has for its president Louis Renault of France10. The distinctive feature of this new departure is that it will bring together teachers and students from many countries so that their intercourse and instruction will tend towards the unification of rules and the establishment of a general standard of law, instead of perpetuating the differing and often antagonistic conceptions which obtain within the limits of different nations.

Along all these lines of practical effort for peace in the development of arbitration and judicial decision in the development of a definite system of law, determining the rights and obligations of nations, and in the enlightenment of the civilized nations as to what their rights and obligations are, the present generation has rendered a service in the cause of peace surpassing that of many centuries gone before, and in further development along these same lines the present generation has before it a golden opportunity for further service.

There is, however, another class of substantive causes of war which the agencies I have described do not reach directly. This comprises acts done or demanded in pursuance of national policy, and ordinarily either for the enlargement or protection of territory or for trade or industrial advantage. The conduct of a nation under such a policy is often regarded by other nations as unwarranted aggression or as threatening their safety or their rights. Illustrations of this kind of question are to be found in the protean forms of the Eastern question and of the balance of power in Europe, in the assertion of the Monroe Doctrine by the United States; in the position of Germany regarding the settlement of Morocco before the Conference of Algeciras; in the attitude of Great Britain regarding Agadir after that conference. It is plain that, under the present organization of civilization in independent nationalities, questions of public policy supposed to be vital cannot be submitted to arbitration because that would be an abdication of independence and the placing of government pro tanto in the hands of others. The independence of a state involves that state’s right to determine its own domestic policy and to decide what is essential to its own safety.

It does not follow, however, that we are without opportunity to promote and strengthen specific influences tending to diminish or prevent causes of war of this description. In the first place, when there is a policy of intentional aggression, inspired by a desire to get possession of the territory or the trade of another country, right or wrong, a pretext is always sought. No nation now sets forth to despoil another upon the avowed ground that it desires the spoils. Some ground of justification is always alleged. The wolf always charges the lamb with muddying the stream. The frank and simple days of the Roman proconsul and of the robber baron have passed, and three things have happened: first, there has come to be a public opinion of the world; second, that opinion has set up a new standard of national conduct which condemns unjustified aggression; and third, the public opinion of the world punishes the violation of its standard. It has not been very long since the people of each country were concerned almost exclusively with their own affairs, and, with but few individual exceptions, neither knew nor cared what was going on outside their own boundaries. All that has changed. The spread of popular education; the enormous increase in the production and circulation of newspapers and periodicals and cheap books; the competition of the press, which ranges the world for news; the telegraph, which carries instantly knowledge of all important events everywhere to all parts of the world; the new mobility of mankind, which, availing itself of the new means of travel by steamship and railroad, with its new freedom under the recently recognized right of expatriation and the recently established right of free travel, moves to and fro by the million across the boundaries of the nations; the vast extension of international commerce; the recognition of interdependence of the peoples of different nations engendered by this commerce and this intercourse; their dependence upon each other for the supply of their needs and for the profitable disposal of their products, for the preservation of health, for the promotion of morals and for the increase of knowledge and the advance of thought – all these are creating an international community of knowledge and interest, of thought and feeling. In the hundreds of international associations reported by Senator La Fontaine’s L’Office central at Brussels11, men of all nations are learning to think internationally about science and morals and hygiene and religion and society and business. Gradually, everything that happens in the world is coming to be of interest everywhere in the world, and, gradually, thoughtful men and women everywhere are sitting in judgment upon the conduct of all nations. Some very crass and indefensible things have been done by nations within the past few years, but no one can read the discussions about those national acts without seeing that the general judgment of mankind has sunk deep into the hearts of the people of the countries responsible; that a great new force is at work in international affairs; that the desire for approval and the fear of condemnation by the contemporary opinion of the civilized world is becoming a powerful influence to control national conduct. True, we are but at the beginning, but it is the beginning of a great new era in which the public opinion of mankind renders judgment, not upon peace and war, for a vast majority of mankind is in favor of war when that is necessary for the preservation of liberty and justice, but upon the just and unjust conduct of nations, as the public opinion of each community passes upon the just and unjust conduct of its individual members. The chief force which makes for peace and order in the community of individuals is not the police officer, with his club, but it is the praise and blame, the honor and shame, which follow observance or violation of the community’s standards of right conduct. In the new era that is dawning of the world’s public opinion we need not wait for the international policeman, with his artillery, for, when any people feels that its government has done a shameful thing and has brought them into disgrace in the opinion of the world, theirs will be the vengeance and they will inflict the punishment.

Two conclusions from all these considerations are quite obvious. First, that the development and understanding of international law and the habit of submitting international controversies to judicial decision will continually tend to hinder wanton aggression because it will tend to make it more difficult to find pretexts, excuses, or justification. Second, that quite apart from argument and exhortation concerning war and peace, there is a specific line of effort along which those who seek to promote peace may most usefully proceed: by insisting upon a willingness to do justice among nations, and this, not justice according to the possibly excited and warped opinion of the particular nation, but according to the general public judgment of the civilized world; by condemning injustice on the part of nations as we condemn injustice on the part of individuals; by pressing upon the peoples of the earth a consciousness that if they are arrogant and grasping and overbearing and use their power to oppress and despoil the weak, they will be disgraced in the estimation of mankind. Such an effort is not a denial of the innate impulses of the race but is an appeal to them. It accords with the line of historic development. The taboo of savage tribes is nothing else. The social penalties of civilized communities are the same thing. The theoretical postulate of all diplomatic discussion between nations is the assumed willingness of every nation to do justice. The line of least resistance in the progress of civilization is to make that theoretical postulate real by the continually increasing force of the world’s public opinion.

Yet there are other influences tending in the same direction which may be usefully promoted. The self-interest which so often prompts nations to unjust aggression can no longer safely assume that its apparent profit is real; for a nation which has been built up by the industry and enterprise of its people, which depends upon its products and the marketing of them, upon its commerce and the peaceful intercourse of commerce for its prosperity, the prize of aggression must be rich indeed to counterbalance the injury sustained by the interference of war with both production and commerce. At the same time, freedom of trade regardless of political control is diminishing the comparative value of extension of territory. The old system of exploitation of colonies and the monopolization of their trade for the benefit of the mother country has practically disappeared. The best informed men are coming to understand that, under modern conditions, the prosperity of each nation is enhanced by the prosperity of all other nations; and that the government which acquires political control over new territory may gratify pride and minister to ambition but can have only a slight effect to advance the welfare of its people.

The support of these statements rests upon the facts of economic science. If they are true, as I am sure we all believe them to be, they should be forced upon the attention of the peoples, not by mere assertion, which avails but little, but by proof drawn from the rich stores of evidence to be found in the history of mankind. For the accomplishment of this purpose a meeting of eminent economists and publicists was held three years ago at Bern. They came from Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Great Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria-Hungary, the United States, and Japan. For some weeks they devoted themselves to the preparation of a program for systematic, scientific investigation into the historical and economic causes and effects of war. For the three years which have ensued they have been engaged, with ample and competent assistance, in pursuing their investigations. The first installments of their work are ready for publication, and they reconvened last month to review what has been done and to lay down the lines of further work. The results of their labors, when made available, should be eagerly sought by every lover of peace who is competent by tongue or pen to be a teacher of his fellowmen, for we may be confident they will show that while the sacrifice of war may be demanded for justice, for liberty, for national life, yet war is always a sacrifice, and never is a rational mode of promoting material prosperity.

There yet remain certain disposing causes, which, quite apart from real substantive questions in controversy, operate upon national feeling and give injurious effect to trifling or fancied occasions for offense. There is no international controversy so serious that it cannot be settled if both parties really wish to settle it. There are few controversies so trifling that they cannot be made the occasion for war if the parties really wish to fight. Among these disposing causes which create an atmosphere of belligerency are:
(a) Race and local prejudice, breeding dislike and hatred between the peoples of different countries.
(b) Exaggerated national amour propre, which causes excessive sensitiveness and excessive resentment of foreign criticism or opposition.
(c) With these go the popular assumption, often arrogant, often ignorant, that the extreme claims of one’s country are always right and are to be rigidly insisted upon as a point of national honor. With them go intolerance of temperate discussion, of kindly consideration, and of reasonable concession.

Under these feelings, insulting words and conduct towards foreign governments and people become popular, and braggart defiance is deemed patriotic. Under them the ambitious aspirants of domestic politics seek preferment through avenues of military success.

And under them deep and real suspicions office sinister purpose of other nations readily take possession of a people, who become ready to believe that an attack by their own country is the only recourse to guard effectually against an attack upon their country by others, and that patriotism requires them to outstrip other countries in armament and preparation for war.

Prejudice and passion and suspicion are more dangerous than the incitement of self-interest or the most stubborn adherence to real differences of opinion regarding rights. In private life more quarrels arise, more implacable resentment is caused, more lives are sacrificed, because of insult than because of substantial injury. And it is so with nations.

The remedy is the same. When friends quarrel we try to dissipate their misunderstandings, to soften their mutual feelings, and to bring them together in such a way that their friendship may be renewed. Misunderstanding and prejudice and dislike are, as a rule, the fruits of isolation. There is so much of good in human nature that men grow to like each other upon better acquaintance, and this points to another way in which we may strive to promote the peace of the world. That is by international conciliation through intercourse, not the formal intercourse of the traveler or the merchant, but the intercourse of real acquaintance, of personal knowledge, of little courtesies and kindly consideration; by the exchange of professors between universities, by the exchange of students between countries; by the visits to other countries on the part of leaders of opinion, to be received in private hospitality and in public conference; by the spreading of correct information through the press; by circulating and attracting attention to expressions of praise and honor rather than the reverse; by giving public credit where credit is due and taking pains to expose and publish our good opinions of other peoples; by cooperation in the multitude of causes which are worldwide in their interest; by urging upon our countrymen the duty of international civility and kindly consideration; and by constant pressure in the right direction in a multitude of ways – a slow process, but one which counts little by little if persisted in.

Each separate act will seem of no effect, but all together they will establish and maintain a tendency towards the goal of international knowledge and broad human sympathy. There is a homely English saying, “Leg over leg the dog went to Dover.” That states the method of our true progress. We cannot arrive at our goal per saltum12. Not by invoking an immediate millennium, but by the accumulated effects of a multitude of efforts, each insignificant in itself but steadily and persistently continued, we must win our way along the road to better knowledge and kindliness among the peoples of the earth which the will of Alfred Nobel describes as “the fraternity of nations”.

There are many reasons to believe that progress toward the permanent prevalence of peace may be more rapid in the future than in the past.

Standards of conduct are changing in many ways unfavorable to war.

Civilized man is becoming less cruel. Cruelty to men and to the lower animals as well, which would have passed unnoticed a century ago, now shocks the sensibilities and is regarded as wicked and degrading. The severity of punishments for minor offenses which formerly prevailed now seems to us revolting. The torture of witnesses or of criminals has become unthinkable. Human life is held in much higher esteem, and the taking of it, whether in private quarrel or by judicial procedure, is looked upon much more seriously than it was formerly. The social reaction from the theories of the individualistic economists of the last century has brought with it a very widespread sense that men have some sort of responsibility to cause affairs to be so ordered in civilized communities that their fellowmen have a chance to live. The Hague Conventions to regulate the conduct of war and the Geneva Conventions13 to ameliorate its horrors have a significance which goes beyond their professions. They mark the changing attitude of the world towards the subject to which they relate; and they introduce into the business of warfare obligatory considerations of humanity and respect for human rights which tend to destroy the spirit upon which alone the business itself can continue. No one can read those conventions closely without being struck by the similarity of the process of regulation and limitation which they exhibit with the historic process by which private war was ultimately regulated out of existence in the greater part of the civilized world. The growth of modern constitutional government compels for its successful practice the exercise of reason and considerate judgment by the individual citizens who constitute the electorate. The qualities thus evoked in the training schools of domestic affairs are the qualities which make for national self-restraint and peace in international affairs. History is being rewritten, and the progress of popular education is making men familiar with it; and as the world, which worships strength and has most applauded military glory, grows in knowledge, the great commanding figures rising far above the common mass of mere fighters, the men who win the most imperishable fame have come to be the strong, patient, greathearted ones like Washington, and Lincoln, and William the Silent, and Cavour14, whose genius, inspired by love of country and their kind, urges them to build up and not to destroy. The sweetest incense offered to the memory of the soldier is not to the brutal qualities of war but to the serene courage ennobled by sympathy and courtesy of a Bayard or a Sidney15. The hero-worshipper is gradually changing from the savage to the civilized conception of his divinities. Taken all in all, the clear and persistent tendencies of a slowly developing civilization justify cheerful hope.

We may well turn from Tripoli and Mexico and the Balkans with the apocryphal exclamation of Galilei, “And still the world moves.”


* In 1913, Mr. Root was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the year 1912, the prize having been reserved in that year. Mr. Root agreed to speak in Oslo on September 8, 1914, but was prevented from doing so by the outbreak of World War I. This text is taken from Elihu Root’s Addresses on International Subjects, edited by Robert Bacon and James B. Scott (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1916), pp. 153-174. Of this speech, the editors say: “The address prepared by Mr. Root for that occasion [acknowledging the prize in Oslo on September 8] is here printed exactly as it was prepared for delivery before the outbreak of the war, without the change of a word or syllable” (p. 154). The speech was not given a title; the title used here is a thematic phrase taken from the eighth paragraph.

1. Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), Dutch jurist; published De jure belli ac pacis (1625), the first definitive text on international law.

2. From “Of Nature in Men”, Essays (I 597) by Francis Bacon.

3. See Gobat’s Nobel lecture and Renault’s Nobel lecture, pp. 31-35; 155-158.

4. These “recitals” constitute the preamble to the Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes.

5. William Murray, first Earl of Mansfield (1705-1793), British jurist and member of Parliament.

6. The “rules” were: (1) privateering is abolished; (2) the neutral flag covers enemy goods, except for contraband; (3) neutral goods, except for contraband, are not liable to seizure when under an enemy flag; (4) a blockade to be binding must be effective in fact.

7. For a discussion of many of these rules of conduct, see the Nobel lectures given by Gobat and Renault, pp. 30-38; 143-166.

8. Founded in 1873, the Institute received the Nobel Peace Prize for 1904.

9. The Academy of International Law was established at The Hague in 1923, with an administrative council made up of members of different nations.

10. Karl Ludwig von Bar (1836-1913), German jurist and scholar of international law; Otfried Nippold (1864-1936), German jurist, pacifist, and internationalist; Demetrius Sturdza (1833-1914), premier of Roumania (1895-1896; 1897-1899; 1901-1906; 1907-1909) and writer on international issues; Tobias M.C. Asser (1838-1913), co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1911; Louis Renault (1843-1918), co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1907.

11. Henri La Fontaine (1854-1943), recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1913.

12. “by leaps”.

13. The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. The Geneva Conventions of 1864 and1906.

14. George Washington (1732-1799), first president of the U.S. (1789-1797); Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), president of the U.S. (1861-1865); William I (1533-1584), Prince of Orange, called the Silent, leader of the Dutch struggle for independence from Spanish rule; Count Camillo Cavour (1810-1861), premier of Sardinia (1852-1859; 1860-1861), leader of movement for Italian unification.

15. Possibly Pierre Terrail de Bayard (c. 1473-1524). French hero known as “Chevalier sans peur et sans reproche”, killed in battle at Sesia River in Italy. Possibly Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), brilliant English soldier, statesman, and poet; wrote Apologie for Poetrie; died from effect of a wound received at the battle of Zutphen.

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

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