Christian Lange

Nobel Lecture


Nobel Lecture*, December 13, 1921




In accordance with the Statutes of the Nobel Foundation, every prizewinner is supposed to deliver a public lecture on the work which earned him the prize. It has seemed natural for me, when fulfilling this obligation today, to try to give an account of the theoretical basis of the work which is being done for international peace and law, work of which my efforts form a part. It is probably superfluous to mention that this account is not original in any of its details; it must take its material from many fields in which I am only a layman. At best it can claim to be original only in the manner in which the material is assembled and in the spirit in which it is given.

I shall discuss Internationalism, and not “Pacifism”. The latter word has never appealed to me – it is a linguistic hybrid, directing one-sided attention to the negative aspect of the peace movement, the struggle against war; “antimilitarism” is a better word for this aspect of our efforts. Not that I stand aside from pacifism or antimilitarism; they constitute a necessary part of our work. But I endow these words with the special connotation (not universally accepted) of a moral theory; by pacifism I understand a moral protest against the use of violence and war in international relations. A pacifist will often – at least nowadays – be an internationalist and vice versa. But history shows us that a pacifist need not think internationally. Jesus of Nazareth was a pacifist; but all his utterances, insofar as they have survived, show that internationalism was quite foreign to him, for the very reason that he did not think politically at all; he was apolitical. If we were to place him in one of our present-day categories, we should have to call him an antimilitarist and an individualistic anarchist.

Internationalism is a social and political theory, a certain concept of how human society ought to be organized, and in particular a concept of how the nations ought to organize their mutual relations.

The two theories, nationalism and internationalism, stand in opposition to each other because they emphasize different aspects of this question. Thus, they often oppose each other on the use of principles in everyday politics, which for the most part involve decisions on individual cases. But there is nothing to hinder their final synthesis in a higher union – one might say in accordance with Hegel’s dialectic1. On the contrary. Internationalism also recognizes, by its very name, that nations do exist. It simply limits their scope more than one-sided nationalism does.

On the other hand, there is an absolute conflict between nationalism and cosmopolitanism. The latter looks away from and wants to remove national conflicts and differences, even in those fields where internationalism accepts, and even supports, the fact that nations should develop their own ways of life.




Like all social theories, internationalism must seek its basis in the economic and technical fields; here are to be found the most profound and the most decisive factors in the development of society. Other factors can play a role – for example, religious beliefs, which have often influenced the shaping of societies, or intellectual movements – but they are all of subsidiary importance, and sometimes of a derivative, secondary nature. The most important factors in the development of society are, economically, the possibility of a division of labor, and technically, the means of exchanging goods and ideas within the distribution system – in other words the degree of development reached by transport and communications at any particular time.

From ethnography and history we can discern three stages in the development of social groups, limited by the possibilities provided through economic and technical development: the nomadic horde whose members live from hand to mouth; the rural community (county) or city-state where the scope of the division of labor is restricted; the territorial state and the more or less extensive kingdom in which the division of labor and the exchange of goods reach larger proportions. Every time economic and technical development takes a step forward, forces emerge which attempt to create political forms for what, on the economic-technical plane, has already more or less become reality. This never comes about without a struggle. The past dies hard because the contemporary political organizations or holders of power seldom bend themselves willingly to the needs of the new age, and because past glories and traditions generally become transformed into poetic or religious symbols, emotional images, which must be repudiated by the practical and prosaic demands of the new age. Within each such social group, a feeling of solidarity prevails, a compelling need to work together and a joy in doing so that represent a high moral value. This feeling is often strengthened by the ruling religion, which is generally a mythical and mystical expression of the group feeling. War within the group is a crime, war against other groups a holy duty.

Today we stand on a bridge leading from the territorial state to the world community. Politically, we are still governed by the concept of the territorial state; economically and technically, we live under the auspices of worldwide communications and worldwide markets.

The territorial state is such an ancient form of society – here in Europe it dates back thousands of years – that it is now protected by the sanctity of age and the glory of tradition. A strong religious feeling mingles with the respect and the devotion to the fatherland.

The territorial state today is always ready to don its “national” costume: it sees in national feeling its ideal foundation. Historically, at least in the case of the older states, nationalism, the fatherland feeling, is a product of state feeling. Only recently, during the nineteenth century, and then only in Europe, do we meet forms of the state which have been created by a deliberate national feeling. In particular, the efforts to reestablish peace after the World War have been directed toward the formation of states and the regulation of their frontiers according to a consciously national program.

It is characteristic that this should take place just when it is becoming more and more clear to all who think about the matter, that technically and economically we have left the territorial state behind us. Modern techniques have torn down state frontiers, both economical and intellectual. The growth of means of transport has created a world market and an opportunity for division of labor embracing all the developed and most of the undeveloped states. Thus there has arisen a “mutual dependence” between the world’s different peoples, which is the most striking feature of present-day economic life. Just as characteristic, perhaps, is the intellectual interdependence created through the development of the modern media of communication: post, telegraph, telephone, and popular press. The simultaneous reactions elicited all over the world by the reading of newspaper dispatches about the same events create, as it were, a common mental pulse beat for the whole of civilized mankind. From San Francisco to Yokohama, from Hammerfest to Melbourne, people read at the same time about the famine in Russia, about the conference in Washington, about Roald Amundsen’s trip to the North Pole2. They may react differently, but they still react simultaneously.

The free trade movement in the middle of the last century represents the first conscious recognition of these new circumstances and of the necessity to adapt to them. Some years before the war, Norman Angell coined the word “interdependence”3 to denote the situation that stamps the economic and spiritual culture of our time, and laid down a program for internationalism on the political level.

Inherent in the very idea of politics is the notion that it must always “come after”. Its task is to find external organizational forms for what has already been developed as a living reality in the economic, technical, and intellectual fields. In his telegram to the Nobel Committee recently, Hjalmar Branting4 formulated the task of internationalism in exactly the right words when he described it as “working toward a higher form of development for world civilization”.

The World War showed how very necessary it is that this work be brought to a victorious conclusion. It is a matter of nothing less than our civilization’s “to be or not to be”. Europe cannot survive another world war.

Moreover, if the territorial state is to continue as the last word in the development of society, then war is inevitable. For the state by its nature claims sovereignty, the right to an unlimited development of power, determined only by self-interest. It is by nature anarchistic. The theoretically unrestricted right to develop power, to wage war against other states, is antisocial and is doubly dangerous, because the state as a mass entity represents a low moral and intellectual level. It is an accepted commonplace in psychology that the spiritual level of people acting as a crowd is far lower than the mean of each individual’s intelligence or morality. Therefore, all hope of a better future for mankind rests on the promotion of “a higher form of development for world civilization”, an all-embracing human community. Are we right in adopting a teleological viewpoint, a belief that a radiant and beneficent purpose guides the fate of men and of nations and will lead us forward to that higher stage of social development? In propaganda work we must necessarily build upon such an optimistic assumption. Propaganda must appeal to mankind’s better judgment and to the necessary belief in a better future. For this belief, the valley of the shadow of death is but a war station on the road to the blessed summit.

But teleological considerations can lead no further than to a belief and a hope. They do not give certainty. History shows us that other highly developed forms of civilization have collapsed. Who knows whether the same fate does not await our own?




Is there any real scientific basis for the concept of internationalism apart from the strictly sociological approach?

For thousands of years, prophets and thinkers have pointed to the unity of mankind as constituting such a basis. The idea was developed in theory by the Greek philosophers, especially by the Stoics, and from them early Christianity took it up as a moral-religious principle, preaching the doctrine of God as the universal father, and that of the brotherhood of man. The idea was revived as a confirmed maxim at the beginning of more recent times by a number of writers – among them, the heretical Sebastian Franck5, the Jesuit Suárez, one of the founders of modern international law6, and Amos Comenius, the last bishop of the Moravian Brethren and the father of modern teaching. With Comenius, the concept actually acquires a physiological tinge when he writes: “Thus we human beings are like a body which retains its individuality throughout all its limbs.”7 Thereafter, the idea was kept alive in Western cultures. It dominated the leading minds during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, from William Penn and Leibnitz to Wergeland and Emerson8.

In recent times, biology has found a totally rational and genuinely scientific basis for the concept. The unity of mankind is a physiological fact. It was the German Weismann’s9 study of jellyfish (1883) that opened the approach to such an understanding. Other scholars went on to prove that the law which Weismann had applied to jellyfish applied equally to all species of animals, including man. It is called the law of “continuity of the germ plasm”.

Upon the union of the male germ cell with the female egg cell, a new cell is created which almost immediately splits into two parts. One of these grows rapidly, creating the human body of the individual with all its organs, and dies only with the individual. The other part remains as living germ plasm in the male body and as ova in the female. In this way there live in each one of us actual, tangible, traceable cells which come from our parents and from their parents and ancestors before them, and which – through conception – can in turn become our children and our children’s children. Each of us is, literally and physiologically, a link in the big chain that makes up mankind.

All analogies break down at some point. And yet it seems to me appropriate to look upon mankind as a mighty tree, with branches and twigs to which individuals are attached as leaves, flowers, and fruit. They live their individual, semi-independent lives; they

Wake, grow and live,
Change, age and die.10

The tree, however, remains and continues, with its branches and twigs and shoots, and with constantly renewed leaves, flowers, and fruit. The latter have their small, short, personal lives. There are leaves that wither and fall unnoticed to the ground; there are flowers which gladden with their scent and color; there are fruits which can give nourishment and growth. Leaves, flowers, and fruit come and go in countless numbers; they establish connections with each other so that a net, with innumerable intersections, embraces the whole tree. It is at this point that our analogy breaks down – but the tree is one, and mankind is one single organism.

During the World War, two natural scientists, independently but with the same purpose in mind, developed and clarified the significance for internationalism of this biological conception11. Their work, especially the second author’s application of the theory, with which many natural scientists disagree, need not concern us here. Of sole use to us is the fact on which it is based. I wish only to draw a single conclusion: if mankind is a physiological entity, then war-international war no less than civil war – is suicide, a degradation of mankind. Hence, internationalism acquires an even stronger support and a firmer foundation to build on than that which purely social considerations can give.




The consequences and applications of the theory of internationalism, as it is here defined and supported, are not difficult to establish. They appear in the economic and political fields. But their fundamental importance in the purely spiritual fields is limited.

Economically, the consequences of internationalism are obvious and have already been hinted at. The main concept is that of an international solidarity expressed in practice through worldwide division of labor: free trade is the principal point in the program of internationalism. This also agrees with the latest ideas and theories in the field of natural science. Concord, solidarity, and mutual help are the most important means of enabling animal species to survive. All species capable of grasping this fact manage better in the struggle for existence than those which rely upon their own strength alone: the wolf, which hunts in a pack, has a greater chance of survival than the lion, which hunts alone. Kropotkin12 has fully illustrated this idea with examples from animal life and has also applied it to the social field in his book Mutual Aid (1902).

It is necessary to linger in a little more detail over the political consequences of internationalism. Here the task is to devise patterns of organization for the concept of world unity and cooperation between the nations. That, in a word, is the great and dominating political task of our time.

Earlier ages fortified themselves behind the sovereign state, behind protectionism and militarism. They were subject to what Norman Angell called the “optical illusion” that a human being increased his stature by an inch if the state of which he was a citizen annexed a few more square miles to rule over, and that it was beneficial for a state to be economically self-supporting, in the sense that it required as few goods as possible from abroad. This national protectionism was originally formulated by the American Alexander Hamilton13, one of the fathers of the United States Constitution; it was then transplanted by the German Friedrich Lists14 from American to European soil where it was converted to use in the protectionist agitation in all the European countries.

Hand in hand with nationalist economic isolationism, militarism struggles to maintain the sovereign state against the forward march of internationalism. No state is free from militarism, which is inherent in the very concept of the sovereign state. There are merely differences of degree in the militarism of states. A state is more militaristic the more it allows itself to be guided by considerations of military strategy in its external and internal policies. The classic example here is the Prussian-German kaiser-state before, and especially during, the World War. Militarism is basically a way of thinking, a certain interpretation of the function of the state; this manner of thinking is, moreover, revealed by its outer forms: by armaments and state organization.

It is against this concept of the sovereign state, a state isolated by protectionism and militarism, that internationalism must now engage in decisive battle. The sovereign state has in our times become a lethal danger to human civilization because technical developments enable it to employ an infinite number and variety of means of destruction. Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master. The independent state’s armaments, built up in a militaristic spirit, with unlimited access to modern methods of destruction, are a danger to the state and to others. From this point of view we can see how important work for disarmament is; it is not only a task of economic importance, which will save unproductive expenditure, but also a link in the efforts to demilitarize – or we might say, to civilize – the states, to remove from them the temptation to adopt an arbitrary anarchical policy, to which their armaments subject them.

If the sovereign state were supported only by the narrow, self-serving ideas embodied in economic isolationism and militarism, it would not be able to count on a secure existence, for internationalism could wage a fairly effective fight against it. But the sovereign state is also sustained by a spiritual principle: it claims to be “national”, to represent the people’s individuality as a distinct section of mankind.

It has already been said that in most states the “nation” is a product of the state, not the basis for the creation of the state. And when it is asserted that these “nations” have anthropological character of their own, a “racial” character, the answer must be that the state which is inhabited by an anthropologically pure race is yet to be found. Scientific investigations prove that there is in all countries an endless crossbreeding between the various constituents of the population. A “pure race” does not exist at all. Furthermore, although various external anthropological distinctions – the shape of the head, the hair, the color of skin – are exact enough in themselves, we cannot prove that any intellectual or spiritual traits are associated with them.

And “nationality” is nothing if not a spiritual phenomenon. Renan has given the valid definition: “A nation is a part of mankind which expresses the will to be a nation; a nation’s existence is a continuous, daily plebiscite – un plébiscite de tous les jours.”15 The first clause is a circular definition. It is both sharply delimited and totally exhaustive because it puts the emphasis on the will to be a nation. The concept of nationality thus moves into the realm of the spiritual. There it belongs, and there it should stay.

Internationalism will not eradicate these spiritual distinctions. On the contrary, it will develop national characteristics, protect their existence, and free their development. Internationalism differs in this from cosmopolitanism. The latter wants to wipe out or at least to minimize all national characteristics, even in the spiritual field. Internationalism on the other hand admits that spiritual achievements have their roots deep in national life; from this national consciousness art and literature derive their character and strength and on it even many of the humanistic sciences are firmly based.

Diversity in national intellectual development, distinctive character in local self-government – both of these are wholly compatible with inter-nationalism, which indeed is really a prerequisite for a rich and varied development.

It is the political authority over common interests that internationalism wants to transfer to a common management. Thus, a world federation, in which individual nations linked in groups can participate as members, is the political ideal of internationalism. Before the war, a first groping step was taken in this direction with the work at The Hague16. The League of Nations marks the first serious and conscious attempt to approach that goal.




A definition of internationalism along the lines which have here been discussed could take the following form:

Internationalism is a community theory of society which is founded on economic, spiritual, and biological facts. It maintains that respect for a healthy development of human society and of world civilization requires that mankind be organized internationally. Nationalities should form the constitutive links in a great world alliance, and must be guaranteed an independent life in the realm of the spiritual and for locally delimited tasks, while economic and political objectives must be guided internationally in a spirit of peaceful cooperation for the promotion of mankind’s common interests.




One last word.

Has this theory of internationalism any relevance to our religious needs, to the claim to eternity that irresistibly arises in the soul of every thinking and feeling person?

There are surely many of us who can only regard the belief in personal immortality as a claim which must remain unproved – a projection of the eternity concept onto the personal level.

Should we then be compelled to believe that the theory of materialism expressed in the old Arab parable of the bush whose leaves fall withered to the ground and die without leaving a trace behind, truly applies to the family of man?

It seems to me that the theory of mankind’s organic unity and eternal continuity raises the materialistic view to a higher level.

The idea of eternity lives in all of us. We thirst to live in a belief which raises our small personality to a higher coherence – a coherence which is human and yet superhuman, absolute and yet steadily growing and developing, ideal and yet real.

Can this desire ever be fulfilled? It seems to be a contradiction in terms.

And yet there is a belief which satisfies this desire and resolves the contradiction.

It is the belief in the unity of mankind.

* Dr. Lange delivered this lecture at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo. This translation is based on the Norwegian text in Les Prix Nobel en 1921-1922.

1. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), German philosopher in whose view a concept (thesis) interacts with another concept (antithesis) to form a new concept (synthesis) which in turn becomes a new thesis.

2. The Russian famine of 1921-1922, the Washington Conference on naval armaments and Far-Eastern questions (November 12, 1921-February 6, 1922), and the Arctic expedition of the Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen (1872-1928), were all in the news at the time of the laureate’s lecture.

3. Norman Angell (1872-1967), recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1933, in The Great Illusion (1910).

4. Hjalmar Branting (1860-1925), co-recipient, with Lange, of the Peace Prize for 1921.

5. Sebastian Franck [Franck von Wörd] (1499?-1543), German free thinker and religious writer who left Catholic priesthood to join the Lutheran Church but later separated from it.

6. Francisco Suárez (1548-1617), Spanish theologian and scholastic philosopher who refuted the patriarchal theory of government.

7. John Amos Comenius (1592-1670), Czech theologian and educational innovator; the quotation is from his Panegersia (1645).

8. William Penn (1644-1718), English Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania in North America. Baron Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz (1646-1716), German philosopher and mathematician. Henrik Arnold Wergeland (1808-1845), Norwegian poet, playwright, and patriot. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), American essayist, poet, and philosopher.

9. August Weismann (1834-1914), German biologist.

10. “vekkes, spirer og födes,/skifier, eldes og dödes.”

11. Chalmers Mitchell, Evolution and the War (London, 1915). G.F. Nicolai, Die Biologie des Krieges (2nd ed., Zurich, 1919; the second edition, but not the first, was supervised by the author himself).

12. Prince Peter Alexeivich Kropotkin (1842-1921), Russian geographer, social phi-losopher, and revolutionary.

13. Alexander Hamilton (1757?-1804), first U.S. secretary of the treasury (1789-1795).

14. Georg Friedrich List (1789-1846), German born economist, naturalized American citizen who returned to Germany as U.S. consul.

15. Ernest Renan (1823-1892), French philologist, historian, and philosopher; the quotation is from “Qu’est-ce que c’est qu’une nation?” (1882), a lecture delivered at the Sorbonne.

16. The Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907.

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

The Nobel Foundation's copyright has expired.

To cite this section
MLA style: Christian Lange – Nobel Lecture. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2024. Thu. 13 Jun 2024. <>

Back to top Back To Top Takes users back to the top of the page

Nobel Prizes and laureates

Eleven laureates were awarded a Nobel Prize in 2023, for achievements that have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind. Their work and discoveries range from effective mRNA vaccines and attosecond physics to fighting against the oppression of women.

See them all presented here.

Explore prizes and laureates

Look for popular awards and laureates in different fields, and discover the history of the Nobel Prize.