John R. Mott

Nobel Lecture

Nobel Lecture*, December 13, 1946

The Leadership Demanded in This Momentous Time

There is an irresistible demand to strengthen the leadership of the constructive forces of the world at the present momentous time. This is true because of stupendous, almost unbelievable changes which have taken place in recent years on every continent. Extreme nationalism and Bolshevism have broken up the old world, a new world is in the making. It is literally true that old things are passing away; all things may become new, granted we have wise, unselfish, and determined guides.

The summons has come to wage a better planned, more aggressive, and more triumphant warfare against the age-long enemies of mankind – ignorance, poverty, disease, strife, and sin. Such distinctively qualitative leadership is essential in order that the builders of the new civilization may possess the necessary background, outlook, insight, and grasp to cope successfully with the forces which oppose and disintegrate. How subtle, powerful, and ominous these are in both Orient and Occident!

Such highly qualitative leadership is demanded especially in the realm of the fostering of right international relations. Here the demand is simply irresistible. In a sense the present generation is the first generation which could be truly international and it finds itself poorly prepared. Many, subtle, and baffling are the maladjustments, misunderstandings, with resultant strife and working at cross-purposes. We have nothing less to do than to get inside of whole peoples and change their motives and dispositions.

Moreover, we have come out into an age in which in every land the economic facts and forces are matters of primary and grave concern. It finds us with twentieth-century machinery but with antiquated and inadequate political, social, and religious conceptions and programs. As a result literally millions of men are unemployed, discontented, and embittered.

An insistent demand has come to augment the leadership of the forces of righteousness and unselfishness in order to meet constructively the startling development of divisive influences on every hand. Obviously these alarming manifestations are in evidence in the economic realm. Here we have in mind not simply the obvious – the age-long conflict between the rich and the poor, between the employed and the unemployed – yes, something more alarming, something suggested by the phrases economic imperialism, commercial exploitation, and the unjust use of the natural resources and so-called open spaces of the world. Other of these alarming divisive forces have been in evidence in the international realm and have been accomplishing their deadly work on an overwhelmingly extensive scale in recent years in two world wars. Still other of these divisive manifestations have been in the sphere of race relations. In some respects this has become most serious because most neglected.

Above all, such strengthened leadership is essential and imperatively demanded if the constructive forces of the world are to be ushered into a triumphant stage. Irresistible is the demand on every hand and in every land for men to restudy, rethink, restate, revise and, where necessary, revolutionize programs and plans, and then, at all costs, to put the new and longer programs into effect.

What should today and tomorrow across the breadth of the world characterize the leadership of the forces of righteousness and unselfishness?

It should be a comprehending leadership. It should reveal a vivid awareness of the present expansive, urgent, and dangerous world situation. The leaders must understand its antecedents and background. They must know the real battleground, therefore the forces and factors that oppose, and those that are with us. They must indeed know our world, our time, and our destiny. In discovering the leaders of tomorrow we must become acquainted with the unanswered questions of ambitious youth and the possibilities of human nature. Above all, we must rely upon the superhuman resources.

The leadership so imperatively needed just now must be truly creative. The demand is for thinkers and not mechanical workers. Bishop Gore1, one of the most discerning leaders of his day, summed up our need in an aphorism as apt today as yesterday: “We do not think and we do not pray”; that is, we do not use the principal power at our disposal – the power of thought – and we do not avail ourselves of incomparably our greatest power – the superhuman power of prayer. Well may we heed the injunction of St. Peter to “gird up the loins of your mind”. How essential it is that those who tomorrow are to lead the constructive forces should give diligent heed that the discipline of their lives, the culture of their souls, and the thoroughness of their processes of spiritual discovery and appropriations be such as will enable them to meet the demands of a most exacting age.

The leadership must be statesmanlike. And here let us remind ourselves of the traits of the true statesman – the genuinely Christian statesman. He simply must be a man of vision. He sees what the crowd does not see. He takes in a wider sweep, and he sees before others see. How true it is that where there is no vision the people perish.

The most trustworthy leader is one who adopts and applies guiding principles. He trusts them like the North Star. He follows his principles no matter how many oppose him and no matter how few go with him. This has been the real secret of the wonderful leadership of Mahatma Gandhi2. In the midst of most bewildering conditions he has followed, cost what it might, the guiding principles of non-violence, religious unity, removal of untouchability, and economic independence.

The great statesmen observe relationships – a governing consideration imperatively demanded on the part of leaders in the present bewildering age.

A most highly multiplying trait in point of far-reaching influences is that of ability to discover and use strong men. This trait stands out impressively in Rothschild’s Lincoln, Master of Men3.

Curzon4, one of the eminent administrators of his day, said we rule by the heart. Possibly no trait is more needed in the present time of so much misunderstanding, friction, and strife.

Foresight has been a distinguishing characteristic of all truly great political, religious, and social betterment leaders. Theodore Roosevelt5 had the one motto hanging on his office wall which truly illustrated his life practice: “Nine tenths of wisdom is being wise in time.” You will recall that it was said of Cecil Rhodes, the great African administrators6, that he was always planning what he would do year after next.

Of front line importance among the most contagious and enduring traits of the leaders of nations and of all callings is that of spotless character. How this stands out in the chapter on “Aristides the Just” in Plutarch7. And how the opposite stands out in Lorenzo de’ Medici8 of whom it was said that “he was cultured yet corrupt, wise yet cruel, spending the morning writing a verse in praise of virtue and spending the night in vice”.

Among the qualities most needed among those who aspire to true leadership in the fostering of peace and goodwill among the nations and in overcoming racial and religious antagonism is the cooperative spirit and objective. Elihu Root9 who ever illustrated this trait, emphasized the fact that you can measure the future greatness and influence of a nation by its ability to cooperate with other nations.

As I speak of leadership in these fateful years across the breadth of the world, I would pay a tribute to leaders of Norway. In this connection I would find it difficult to exaggerate my sense of the part borne with such marked courage and wisdom by His Majesty The King10 before, during, and following the momentous days of the war. In common with Christians the world over, I would gratefully acknowledge the heroic and truly Christian guidance and backing afforded by Bishop Berggrav11 and other leaders of the church. Moreover, as I think of the contribution made by Hambro12 and other representatives of Norway in their marked guidance on baffling international questions in other countries, I am vividly reminded of the great international service he rendered during and at the end of the First World War. I would also recognize the splendid service being rendered day by day by your representative Mr. Lie13, with whom I had fellowship only last week, in his indispensable guidance of the vast and complicated activities of the United Nations Organization. Among the contributions of Norway to the insuring of right international relations in the present century, the part taken by the Nobel Peace Committee has been one of unique distinction.

In closing, let me emphasize the all-important point that Jesus Christ summed up the outstanding, unfailing, and abiding secret of all truly great and enduring leadership in the Word: “He who would be greatest among you shall be the servant of all14.” He Himself embodied this truth and became “the Prince Leader of the Faith”, that is, the leader of the leaders.

* Mr. Mott delivered this lecture in the Auditorium of the University of Oslo. The text is taken from Les Prix Nobel en 1946.

1. Charles Gore (1853-1932), Anglican prelate, successively bishop of Worcester, Birmingham, and Oxford.

2. Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948), Indian philosopher and political leader.

3. Alonzo Rothschild, Lincoln, Master of Men: A Study in Character (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1906).

4. George Nathaniel Curzon (1859-1925), British statesman; viceroy of India (1899-1905), foreign minister (1919-1924).

5. Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1906.

6. Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), British statesman, prime minister of Cape Colony (1890-1896); financier who made a fortune in Kimberley diamond production.

7. Plutarch, Parallel Lives; Aristides ( B.C.), Athenian statesman and general.

8. Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449-1492), the “Magnificent”, Florentine ruler and patron of the arts.

9. Elihu Root (1845-1937), recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1912.

10. Haakon VII (1872-1957), king of Norway (1905-1957).

11. Eivind Berggrav (1884-1959), successively bishop of Halogalaand and Oslo.

12. Carl Joachim Hambro (1885-1964), Norwegian statesman, president of the Parliament (1926-1940), president of the League of Nations Assembly (1939-1940); member of the Nobel Committee (1939-1963).

13. Trygve Lie (1896-1968), Norwegian statesman, first secretary-general of the U. N. (1946-1953).

14. Matthew 23:II.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1926-1950, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1946

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