Hjalmar Branting

Nobel Lecture



Nobel Lecture*, June 19, 1922


Fraternity among Nations

In the fundamental clauses of the Nobel testament concerning the Peace Prize, it is stated that it should be awarded to the men or women who have sought to work for “fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.

“Fraternity among nations” is placed first. It sets forth the great goal itself. The other points cover some of the prerequisites and methods of attaining this end, expressed in the light of the striving and longing which prevailed at the time the testament was drawn up. The formulation itself mirrors a particular epoch in history. Fraternity among nations, however, touches the deepest desire of human nature. It has stood as an ideal for some of the most highly developed minds for a millennium; yet in spite of all the progress of civilization, nobody can step forward today and claim with any certainty that this goal will be reached in the near future. However unnoticed before, the clefts and gulfs lying between nations were fully exposed and deepened even further by the World War1. And the courageous work of bridging these gaps across the broken world has scarcely been begun.

No matter how far off this high goal may appear to be, no matter how violently shattered may be the illusion entertained at times by many of us that any future war between highly civilized nations is as inconceivable as one between the Scandinavian brothers, we may be certain of one thing: that for those who cherish humanity, even after its relapse into barbarism these past years, the only road to follow is that of the imperishable ideal of the fraternity of nations.

I am sure that I do not, in this connection, have to deal in any detail with the subject of nationalism and internationalism. The sort of internationalism which rejects the sovereignty of a nation within its own borders and which aims ultimately at its complete obliteration in favor of a cosmopolitan unity, has never been other than a caricature of the true international spirit. Even when supported by quotations out of context – for example, by the well-known words of the Communist Manifesto2, “The worker has no fatherlands, or by those of Gustave Hervé who, before becoming violently nationalistic during the war, exhorted French workers to plant the French flag on a dunghill3 – even then, such ideas have found no real roots in the spirit of people anywhere.

The kind of support encouraged by such modes of expression has always arisen basically from confusing the fatherland itself with the social conditions which happened to prevail in it. How often, recalls Jaurès4 in his book The New Host [L’Armée nouvelle], have the socially and politically privileged believed or pretended to believe that their own interests coincided with those of the fatherland: “The customs, traditions, and the primitive instinct of solidarity which contribute to the formation of the concept of patriotism, and perhaps constitute its physiological basis, often appear as reactionary forces. The revolutionaries, the innovators, the men who represent a higher law have to liberate a new and superior nation from the grip of the old… When the workers curse their native country, they are, in reality, cursing the social maladjustments which plague it, and this apparent condemnation is only an expression of the yearning for the new nation.”

Who can now deny, after the experiences of the World War, that this view was correct! The contradiction between nationalism and internationalism, which appears so stark when seen in the light of a warped and one-sided exposition of the duties and significance of each,. is in reality non-existent. “The same workers,” wrote this great man, “who now misuse paradoxical phrases and hurl their hatred against the very concept of a fatherland, will rise up to a man the day their national independence is in danger.” Prophetic words, confirmed on both sides of the battlefront; yet, it had actually been supposed, before any issue was at stake, that the countries on both sides could be invaded with impunity.

It is precisely this deeply rooted feeling for the importance of the nation that later becomes the basis and starting point for true internationalism, for a humanity built not of stateless atoms but of sovereign nations in a free union.

As a result of the World War and of a peace whose imperfections and risks are no longer denied by anyone, are we not even further away from the great aspirations and hopes for peace and fraternity than we were one or two decades ago?

I have already mentioned that recent years have brought with them much disillusionment concerning what has so far been achieved by humanity. But it is possible that, in the days ahead, these years we have lived through may eventually be thought of simply as a period of disturbance and regression.

The signs of renewal are far too numerous and promising to allow of despair. Never since the dawn of history, with its perpetual wars between wild tribes, never up to the present day throughout the unfolding of the ages, during which wars and devastation have occurred with such frequency and with interruptions for only such short periods of peace and recovery, never has our race experienced such a concentrated period of disturbance or such devastation of a large part of the world as that which began in 1914.

Yet in spite of the unique extent of the devastation, we should not forget that this hard labor constituted the birthpangs of a new Europe. Three great military monarchies based essentially on a feudal order have collapsed5 and been replaced by states whose constitutions assert more strongly than ever before the principles of nationality and of a people’s right to self-determination. We must remember that the people for whom this change represents a first taste of freedom and a new and brighter future did not allow their resolution to falter, no matter how great the suffering by which they bought this independence. On our own eastern frontiers where we have witnessed with joy the birth of a free Finland6; down along the Baltic coast with its three new Baltic states7; throughout the newly risen Poland, land of martyrs of freedom8; in Czechoslovakia, the fatherland of John Huss and Comenius9; and in all of southeast Europe’s more or less reconstituted states – in all of these, we have rich additions, for each of them will now enjoy a great opportunity to develop nationally, to the ultimate benefit of all that part of the world which we can call our own!

I do not overlook the fact that the appearance of these new, free nations in the European political community not only celebrates the return of the prodigal son but also creates new sources of friction here and there. There is all the more reason, therefore, to concentrate on the other great benefit which has resulted from the past years of darkness: the beginning development of a League of Nations in which disputes between members are to be solved by legal methods and not by the military superiority of the stronger.

It is a commonplace that the League of Nations is not yet-what its most enthusiastic protagonists intended it to be. The absence of President Wilson’s own country10 and of the great, though vanquished, nations, Germany and Russia11, so obviously circumscribes its ability to fulfill its task that when its critics speak of the League as a League of the Victorious Powers, they do so with some justification. Even with its faults, which can and must be remedied if our civilization is to survive, the League of Nations is succeeding – for the first time after a huge military catastrophe – in opening perspectives of a durable peace and of justice between the free and independent nations of the world, both large and small.

It is remarkable to see how Alfred Nobel’s fundamental ideas reappear in the Covenant of the League of Nations. I have already quoted from his testament, with reference to the road leading toward fraternity among nations; namely, reduction in armaments and promotion of peace congresses. The reduction of armaments is positively enjoined throughout Article 8, although in cautious terms. And the annual meetings of the League’s Assembly are in effect official peace congresses binding on the participating states to an extent that most statesmen a quarter of a century ago would have regarded as utopian. But the similarities in their respective lines of thought go even further. In her lecture here in Oslo in 1906, Bertha von Suttner quoted12 from a private communication addressed to her by Alfred Nobel: “It could and should soon come to pass that all states pledge themselves collectively to attack an aggressor. That would make war impossible and would force even the most brutal and unreasonable Power to appeal to a court of arbitration, or else keep quiet. If the Triple Alliance included every state instead of only three, then peace would be assured for centuries.”

Here we encounter the idea of sanctions in an acutely sharp form. Article 16 of the Covenant fortunately contains a considerably toned down version of it. Last year, the Assembly of the League, as a result of the initiative taken by the Scandinavian nations, further limited and clarified all the provisions of the clause prescribing the duty of states to participate in sanctions. But Nobel’s basic idea has been realized. The whole collective force of the League is to be turned against the aggressor, with more or less pressure according to the need. Without envisaging any supranational organization, for which the time is not yet ripe, the present approach is as analogous as circumstances permit to that of an earlier age when the state first exercised authority over individual leaders unaccustomed to recognizing any curbs on their own wills.

These last observations about a League comprising all states instead of only a few, should encourage us even today to remain firm in the demand which we small, so-called neutral countries should make at Geneva and everywhere: the demand that the League of Nations become universal in order truly to fulfill its task.

No nation is so great as to be able to afford, in the long run, to remain outside an increasingly universal League of Nations. However, in the nature of things, the smaller states have a special reason for doing all they can to promote its existence and development.

The equality among all members of the League, which is provided in the statutes giving each state only one vote, cannot of course abolish the actual material inequality of the powers concerned. The great powers which, from various motives, direct the development of the world toward good or evil, either forging the links of a higher concept of humanity or pandering to the greed of the few, will always exert an influence far greater than their individual votes, regardless of any permanent support they may or may not receive from the votes of dependent states. A formally recognized equality does, however, accord the smaller nations a position which they should be able to use increasingly in the interest of humanity as a whole and in the service of the ideal. The prerequisite is merely that they try as far as possible to act in unison.

We here in the North have for many years had a natural tendency to feel that when our representatives come together at an international meeting, we embark on the quest of mutual understanding and support. In this quest, there has truly been no desire on the part of any one of us to encroach upon the freedom of the others to use their own ways of thinking in arriving at the opinions they wish to hold. No one who has shared this experience, however, has failed to sense that considerable strength arose out of our coalition. It has, moreover, fortunately been the rule, at any rate recently, that the views of the spokesmen for our three peoples have essentially coincided.

Furthermore, the nature of European problems has not infrequently extended our agreement beyond the confines of the North. Other nations, not involved in the World War, have held very similar views on the measures to be taken to ensure better times. This identity of views has of itself led to the creation of a considerable coalition of powers who were neutral during the war. At Geneva, the neutral states were often in agreement concerning the preliminaries for Genoa, and Genoa itself was marked by a quite natural mutual exchange of ideas13. This unity of approach to the problem confronting us had become so much a matter of course in other conferences of powers, that the “neutrals”, as we were still called, were specially represented in the most important subcommittee.

As long as the problem of world reconstruction remains the center of interest for all nations, blocs having similar attitudes will form and operate even within the League itself. There is no reason why agreement on particular points should not be both possible and advantageous to the so-called neutrals and to one or more of the blocs, either existing or in the process of formation, within the League of Nations. With Finland and with the Baltic states we in the North have strong cultural affinities; the states of the Little Entente14 often advance views that differ from the unilateral ones of the great powers; and the representatives of the South American nations are likewise evincing a strong tendency to act together. All in all, the League of Nations is not inevitably bound, as some maintain from time to time, to degenerate into an impotent appendage of first one, then another of the competing great powers. If we all do our best to work for that real peace and reconciliation between peoples which it is our first duty to promote within the League of Nations, then the power to command attention will be available to us, even though, as small nations, we are so isolated and powerless that individually we can exert little influence on the great powers in world politics.

Allow me one other observation. The League of Nations is not the only organization, albeit the most official, which has inscribed the maintenance of peace through law on its banner. Before the war there were many who were more or less ignorant of the international labor movement but who nevertheless turned to it for salvation when the threat of war arose. They hoped that the workers would never permit a war.

We now know that this hope was futile. The World War broke out with such elemental violence, and with such resort to all means for leading or misleading public opinion, that no time was available for reflection and consideration. But after all those horrors, does it follow that the present sentiment of the workers against war, now more widely held, will exhibit the same impotence in every new situation? To be sure, the political International is at present weakened by the split which Bolshevism has caused in the ranks of labor everywhere15, but the trade-union International at Amsterdam16 is stronger than ever before. Its twenty million workers are a force to be reckoned with, and their propaganda against war and the danger of war continues ceaselessly among the masses. Some years hence it may well turn out that when the question is asked, Who has in the recent past done most for the cause of peace in the spirit of Alfred Nobel? The answer may be: The Amsterdam International.

Let us return, however, to the League of Nations. To create an organization which is in a position to protect peace in this world of conflicting interests and egotistic wills is a frighteningly difficult task. But the difficulties must not hold us back. I conclude with a few lines from James Bryce17, which could be said to epitomize the testament of this venerable champion of peace and humanity:

“The obstacles are not insuperable. But whatever they may be, we must tackle them head on, for they are much less than the dangers which will continue to menace civilization if present conditions continue any longer. The world cannot be left where it is at present. If the nations do not try to annihilate war, then war will annihilate them. Some kind of common action by all states who set a value on peace is a compelling necessity, and instead of shrinking from the difficulties, we must recognize this necessity and then go forward.”

* This lecture was delivered in the Auditorium of the University of Oslo. The translation is based on the Swedish text published in Les Prix Nobel en 1921-1922. The lecture is not given a title in Les Prix Nobel; the one provided here embodies in a phrase its central theme.

1. World War I (1914-1918).

2. The basic formulation of Marxist communism written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1848).

3. Gustave Hervé (1871-1944), French journalist and founder of the socialist journal La Guerre Sociale (1908), left the Socialist Party after the outbreak of WWI, changed his journal’s name to La Victoire, supported Clemenceau’s policies.

4. Jean Léon Jaurès (1859-1914), French Socialist leader; editor of L’Humanité (1904-1914).

5. The laureate probably refers to Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia.

6. Russia recognized Finland’s independence early in 1918.

7. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

8. A Polish republic was proclaimed in 1918.

9. Czechoslovakia became an independent republic in 1918. John Huss [Jan Hus] (1369?-1415), religious reformer. John Amos Comenius [Jan Amos Komenský] (1592-1670), theologian and educational innovator.

10. Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1919. The U.S. Senate, objecting to certain articles in the League Covenant, voted against ratification, and the U.S. never joined the League.

11. Germany eventually gained admission in 1926; Russia joined in 1934.

12. Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914), recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1905. See pp. 85-86 of this volume for the quotation.

13. The international Genoa Conference, to which the laureate was a Swedish delegate. was held in the spring of 1922 to consider the economic reconstruction of Europe.

14. An alliance formed after WWI by Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Rumania.

15. In 1921 the international labor movement had been split politically into three Internationals: the Second International, revived in 1919 after WWI; the Third International (Communist), formed in 1919 in Moscow; and the so-called Vienna International, newly created in 1921 by parties which had left the Second International but were not prepared to join the Third International.

16. The International Federation of Trade Unions, founded in 1919 with headquarters at Amsterdam, replaced the old organization of the same name which had disintegrated during WWI.

17. James Bryce (1838-1922), English historian, statesman, and jurist.

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

To cite this section
MLA style: Hjalmar Branting – Nobel Lecture. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2024. Thu. 29 Feb 2024. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1921/branting/lecture/>

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