Henri La Fontaine

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Henri La Fontaine was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his unparalleled contribution to the organisation of peaceful internationalism.

Henri La Fontaine
Henri La Fontaine, Photo from the Nobel Foundation archive.

Full name: Henri La Fontaine
Born: 22 April 1854, Brussels, Belgium
Died: 14 May 1943, Brussels, Belgium
Date awarded: 10 December 1913

Socialist, international law expert, parliament member

Henri La Fontaine was the first socialist to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. A scholar of international law and member of the Belgian parliament, he made his greatest contribution as an activist in the international peace movement. He established an institute that gathered documentation on international activities from around the world. In 1910 he organised a world conference for international organisations, with the purpose of creating an “intellectual parliament” for humanity. La Fontaine served as president of the International Peace Bureau from 1907 until his death. When he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1913, he was widely regarded as the leader of the European peace movement.

"There is no one who has contributed more to the organization of peaceful internationalism, and his outstanding talent for administration has been invaluable to the peace movement."

- Ragnvald Moe, Presentation Speech, 10 December 1913.

Socialism for peace

Speaking at a peace conference in Sweden in 1910, La Fontaine emphasised that he was both a socialist and peace advocate. He believed that peace would first be achieved through socialism. He was a fierce critic of the capitalist system, in which conservatives controlled the schools and press, and he saw militarism and capitalism as inextricably linked to one another. La Fontaine viewed the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague as the starting point for a pan-global organisation, an international parliament.

Henri La Fontaine at the Universal Peace Congress
Henri La Fontaine in front of the Reichstag room in Berlin, where the XXIIIrd Universal Peace Congress was held, 1924. Photo: R. Horlemann. Mundaneum. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

"Our party colleague has received the Nobel Prize. This decision must be welcomed by struggling workers throughout the world."

- Headline in the Swedish newspaper Social-Demokraten, December 1913.

Humanist and idealist

La Fontaine was a man of many pursuits. As a member of the Belgian parliament, he was deeply involved in issues of social and foreign policy. He also worked actively to promote women’s rights. In 1895 he established a library institute whose purpose was to compile documentation on international activities and organisations throughout the world. Most of his peace prize award money was invested in this institute. La Fontaine used his involvement in the Esperanto movement and the Freemasons to further promote peace and understanding. He was also passionately interested in music and mountain climbing.

Henri La Fontaine at the piano
Henri La Fontaine at the piano, 1930. Photo: Mundaneum. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

"Henry La Fontaine is the true leader of the peace movement in Europe."

- Ragnvald Moe, Presentation Speech, 10 December 1913.

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