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Robert Cecil, 1st Viscount Cecil of Chelwood

In the end, the character and the prosperity of the nation depend on the character of the individuals that compose it...

Edgar Algernon Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 1st Viscount Cecil of Chelwood (14 September 186424 November 1958) was a lawyer, politician and diplomat. He was one of the architects of the League of Nations and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1937. Although both have been known as Lord Robert Cecil, he should not be confused with his father, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, nor with the much earlier Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury.

QuotesEdit

The League is dead; long live the United Nations!
  • The great difficulty of all schemes for leagues of nations and the like has been to find an effective sanction against nations determined to break the peace.
    I will not now discuss at length the difficulties of joint armed action, but every one who has studied the question knows they are very great. It may be, however, that a league of nations, properly furnished with machinery to enforce the financial, commercial, and economic isolation of any nation determined to force its will upon the world by mere violence, would be a real safeguard for the peace of the world. In any case that is a subject that may well be studied by those sincerely anxious to put an end to the present system of International anarchy.
    • Official statement as Minister of the Blockade (31 August 1917)
  • Let me beg my readers to do their utmost for the success of the Peace Ballot. There is no single thing which they can do of greater value for Peace. … Every vote is wanted and may contribute to prevent war and save the lives of countless thousands of our fellow citizens.
    • As quoted in The Avoidable War : Lord Cecil and the Policy of Principle, 1933-1935 (1999) by J. Kenneth Brody, Ch. 11 : Voting For Peace, p. 173
  • The Germans really conceive of their country as always under war conditions in this respect. No one expects a belligerent to tell the truth and, to the German mind, they are always belligerent. The Germans take the view that war is only intensified peace.
    • Letter to Lord Londonderry (May 1938); published in Wings of Destiny (1943) by Marquess of Londonderry, p. 211
  • But supposing there is a German guarantee, of what is its value? It is unnecessary to accuse Germany of perfidy. Not only the Nazi Government but all previous German Governments from the time of Frederick the Great downwards have made their position perfectly clear. To them an international assurance is no more than a statement of present intention. It has no absolute validity for the future.
    • Letter to The Guardian after the Munich Agreement of 1938, as quoted in Plough My Own Furrow (1965) by Martin Gilbert, pp. 416-20,
  • The truth is, I was never a very good Party man. Probably but for the War of 1914, I should have gone on fairly comfortably as a Conservative official. But those four years burnt into me the insufferable conditions of international relations which made war the acknowledged method — indeed, the only fully authorized method — of settling international disputes. Thenceforth, the effort to abolish war seemed to me, and still seems to me, the only political object worth while.
    • A Great Experiment (1941), p. 189
  • I thought you meant that religious belief involved the substitution of the ordinances for the moral law. That no doubt came to be true in a degree with certain of the pharisees, may be true in a degree with some Christians. But it is not true with the Xtianity in which I was brought up. To Xtians of that kind God's law and the moral law are and must be identical. Hence if it could be shewn that Pacifism was in accordance with the moral law I should have to hold that all war was prohibited by Xtianity. If on the other hand, it can be shewn as I think it can that there is no such prohibition by the Xtian law I cannot admit that the moral law forbids me to support my country in a just war.
    • Letter to Gilbert Murray (1943), quoted in Jean Smith and Arnold Toynbee (eds.), Gilbert Murray. An Unfinished Autobiography (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1960), pp. 179-180.
  • The League is dead; long live the United Nations!
  • Patriotism or any other version of the herd instinct seems to me an entirely inadequate basis of virtue. Christianity is from that point of view an explanation of and a support for an essential ingredient in man's nature—far the best, though necessarily imperfect.
    • Letter to Gilbert Murray (25 October 1948), quoted in Jean Smith and Arnold Toynbee (eds.), Gilbert Murray. An Unfinished Autobiography (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1960), p. 179.

The Future of Civilization (1938)Edit

Nobel Lecture (1 June 1938)


  • I was brought up from my earliest youth to believe in the enormous importance of peace. I have often heard my father, the late Lord Salisbury, say that, though he did not see how it was possible under the then existing circumstances to avoid wars altogether, yet he had never been able to satisfy himself that they were in principle morally defensible.
    Indeed, particularly in the latter part of his life, he made more than one speech in which he expressed the hope that, by some international combination, wars could in the future be prevented. He did not hesitate to express his belief that some such organization as we have since then attempted and erected in the League of Nations might furnish the solution of what he conceived to be the terrific evil of war.
  • During the earlier years of the League we were fortunate in having many statesmen of outstanding ability who were convinced supporters of international cooperation under the League Covenant. … It is enough to say that under the leadership of those great men the first ten years of the League of Nations was a period of almost unbroken prosperity. The League moved from strength to strength. It established its organization and its Secretariat — a very remarkable achievement which has worked extremely well. Then, too, came the Permanent Court of International Justice, which has also been a very marked success and which, I trust, will establish ultimately the rule of law in all international affairs.
  • In 1932 when the Disarmament Conference, after many years of preparation, at last assembled, it really looked as if we were approaching something like stabilized conditions in the world. I am still convinced that with a little more courage and foresight, particularly among those who were directing the policy of the so-called Great Powers, we might have achieved a limitation of international armaments, with all the enormously beneficial consequences which that would have given us. … No doubt the work has not succeeded; but I like to believe that it has not been altogether lost. We have laid a foundation on which, ultimately, we may build something in the nature of reform. And I am perfectly satisfied that the attempt to limit and reduce armaments by international action must be resumed and the sooner the better, if the world is to be saved from a fresh and bloody disaster.
When one comes to try and analyse why the League succeeded so well in its first ten years of existence, no doubt the chief reason must be found in the immense horror which the War of 1914 had created amongst the human race.
  • When one comes to try and analyse why the League succeeded so well in its first ten years of existence, no doubt the chief reason must be found in the immense horror which the War of 1914 had created amongst the human race. Almost all those engaged in the work at Geneva had personal knowledge of the vast slaughter and destruction which the war had produced. Many had been face to face with what looked like a vivid danger of relapse into barbarism in their own countries, and there was a tremendous urge to discover some effective prevention of future wars. It was under the impulse of these feelings that we worked in those days and that we made our appeal, not in vain, for the support of the public opinion of the world.
  • In my own country, and perhaps in some others, the workers for the League of Nations are sometimes reproached with attaching too much importance to collective security and the forcible prevention of war. That only shows how short people's memories are in political affairs. As a matter of fact, during the first ten years of the League very little was said about these subjects. We dwelt on the social and humanitarian sides of the League. We urged disarmament and treaty revision. Great reliance — particularly in England — was placed not upon forcible action but upon public opinion. We preached — and, I am glad to say, preached successfully — the enormous importance of publicity in the actions of the League, so that the world might know not only what was being done but why it was being done at Geneva. We attached perhaps even too great importance to the conception that no nation would be so rash or so wicked as to set itself against the public opinion of the world.
We see the world as it is now, after these defeats of the League, and we can compare it with what it was six or seven years ago. The comparison is certainly depressing; the contrast is terrible.
  • Unfortunately, the Manchurian crisis arose at a time when those nations who might have been expected to have perceived most clearly the necessity of preventing aggression were themselves in a condition of great internal difficulties owing to the financial crisis of those days. … And perhaps it was inevitable in such circumstances that our people should take little interest in any foreign questions.
    It was partly for these reasons, no doubt, that the conquest of Manchuria and the other northern provinces of China came to be consummated, and all the ambitious statesmen of the world were given an object lesson of how, in spite of the League and in spite of the Covenant, the old military policies could be successfully carried out.
    And may I venture to emphasize at this point a lesson which must never be forgotten: how much one problem in international affairs affects the whole conduct of those affairs. It was no doubt the failure of the League to check aggression in the Far East which first struck a blow at the whole system which we were trying to establish and which facilitated even greater attacks on international security.
  • We see the world as it is now, after these defeats of the League, and we can compare it with what it was six or seven years ago. The comparison is certainly depressing; the contrast is terrible. And we have not yet reached a time when we can estimate the full material losses and human suffering which have been the direct result of the ambitions of one set of powers and the weakness of the others. Nor is there any purpose in attempting to do so. Let us, rather, examine where we now stand and what steps we ought to take in order to strengthen the international system and thrust back again the forces of reaction.
    In the first place, let us admit that the first ten years of the League were in a sense unnatural. The horror of war to which I have already alluded was necessarily far more vivid than it can be expected long to remain. That tremendous argument for peace, the horror of war, was a diminishing asset. Most of us, at that time, were, I think, quite well aware that unless we could get the international system into solidly effective working order in the first ten years, we were likely to have great difficulties in the succeeding period, and so it has proved.
People became callous. They thought war had been so often avoided that it would continue to be avoided...
  • Don't think that I underrate the very great debt we owe to the old diplomacy. Before the new system came into existence, diplomacy was the only protection we had against war; and its achievements were of the utmost importance and value to the human race. But perhaps it is natural that, with rare exceptions, the whole strength of this very powerful organization has been against the new ideas and new principles at Geneva. The old diplomat liked to move with deliberation, in secret, following well-established traditions and working through what he loved to describe as "the usual channels". To him, the open debate carried on, not by professional diplomats, but by politicians and statesmen having little regard for the use of the technical phraseology of diplomacy and intent merely on reaching results which would make diplomacy unnecessary, was offensive to all his instincts.
  • Professional opinion is almost inevitably against changes. It has been the operation of these and similar influences which has brought about, as I fear, a return to the old conception of what is called power diplomacy. To these conceptions, it is not too much to say, the idea of the complete opposition of war and peace was really foreign.
  • During all the period before 1914, Europe and, in a degree, the whole world lived under the perpetual shadow of war, as we are doing, I am afraid, at the present time. No doubt after it had been going on for a certain time, people became callous. They thought war had been so often avoided that it would continue to be avoided. But nevertheless, all international policy was carried on on the basis that sooner or later war might and probably would have to be faced. This has again become true, and it casts its shadow over every form of human activity. The civil life of every nation is deformed and weakened and obstructed by this threat of war. We are wasting gigantic sums, sums far greater than we have ever wasted before, on preparations for war, because war has again become a very present possibility and, at the same time, its horrors and dangers are enormously greater than they were before 1914.
The world is spending some three or four thousand million pounds sterling every year on preparations for what we all know will be, if it comes to pass, a tremendous danger to the whole of our civilization, whoever wins and whoever loses...
  • The world is spending some three or four thousand million pounds sterling every year on preparations for what we all know will be, if it comes to pass, a tremendous danger to the whole of our civilization, whoever wins and whoever loses. And again we see rising up as the active principle of policy the idea that might is right; that the only thing that counts in international affairs is force; that the virtues of truth and mercy and tolerance are really not virtues at all, but symptoms of the softness and feebleness of human nature; and that the old conception of blood and iron is the only thing that is really true and can really be trusted. Accompanied by and causing this kind of revival of reaction, we see the revival of that extreme form of nationalism which believes not only that your own nation is superior to other nations but that all other nations are degenerate and inferior, and that the only function of the government of each country is to provide for the safety and welfare of that country, without regard to what may happen to other countries, adopting the ancient, pernicious, and devilish text: "Everyone for himself and the devil take the hindmost."
    At present these doctrines have not been accepted by the great majority of the peoples of the world. And even in those countries where they have most acceptance, they are put forward with a certain hesitation and coupled with the advocacy of peace — but, alas, peace based on the triumph of nationalistic ideas.
Do not let us underrate the danger. It threatens everything we care for. For if it does succeed, it will not only bring us back to 1914 — in itself bad enough — but to something far worse even than that...
  • Do not let us underrate the danger. It threatens everything we care for. For if it does succeed, it will not only bring us back to 1914 — in itself bad enough — but to something far worse even than that. For instance, it is now apparently part of the normal doctrine of those who advocate this system that no distinction can be made between combatants and non-combatants, and that a perfectly legitimate and indeed necessary method of warfare will be the wholesale destruction of unfortified cities and their inhabitants. No doubt there will be countervailing efforts to prevent such things happening; but there is, at any rate, one section of military thought which believes that the only way to stop the bombardment of the cities belonging to one belligerent will be the bombardment of the cities belonging to the other.
The vast majority of the peoples of the world are against war and against aggression. If they make their wishes known and effective, war can be stopped.
  • The vast majority of the peoples of the world are against war and against aggression. If they make their wishes known and effective, war can be stopped. It all depends on whether they are willing to make the effort necessary for the purpose. For, that it will require an effort, no one who considers the history of the world on these subjects can doubt.
  • Collective effort can produce collective security and that if such effort is not made, it is because the will and the courage to make it are not there. It is therefore still more important than it ever was to realize that the real choice before us in this matter is: are we going to permit uncontrolled nationalism to dominate civilized Europe, or are we going to say that the European countries (I don't deal with the whole world, but it applies to that, too) are really part of one community with a common interest in international peace?
The acceptance of the principle of international cooperation is of immense importance for all states. Even the states which are most tempted to believe that they can stand by themselves have very much to gain by such cooperation. And for the smaller states — the weaker states — it is vital to all their hopes of liberty and justice.
  • No doubt there is a good deal that is attractive about the nationalist idea. It has a great history and it has a great deal of appeal to sentiment in itself admirable. But if we examine what it leads to, I do not doubt that we shall all agree that it must be rejected as a guiding principle of the nations of the world. For it necessarily leads to an exaggeration of the authority and dignity of the state to an extent which practically destroys individual action and individual responsibility. Nationalism leads to totalitarianism, and totalitarianism leads to idolatry. It becomes not a principle of politics but a new religion and, let me add, a false religion. It depends partly on a pseudoscientific doctrine of race which leads inevitably to the antithesis of all that we value in Christian morality.
    On the other hand, if we accept the view that all nations are interdependent, as individuals in any society are, we get precisely the opposite result. Such a principle leads to friendliness and good neighbourhood and, indeed, it is not too much to say that it leads to everything that we have hitherto understood as progress and civilization.
  • The acceptance of the principle of international cooperation is of immense importance for all states. Even the states which are most tempted to believe that they can stand by themselves have very much to gain by such cooperation. And for the smaller states — the weaker states — it is vital to all their hopes of liberty and justice.
    It is necessary, when we say all this, to remind ourselves that the difference between uncontrolled nationalism and international cooperation does not necessarily depend on the form of government prevailing in the different states. It depends on the spirit in which those governments operate. There have been autocracies which have shown themselves liberal and just, even to other countries. There have been democracies which have been inspired, apparently, by feelings of bitter hatred for all foreigners.
  • In some states of society it may even be that a form of dictatorship is necessary. No doubt in the hands of an able man it may possibly be more efficient than a democratic form of administration. But in the end, I am confident that a free government is best for free people. The old phrase, "Government of the people, by the people, for the people"*, represents a true ideal. It is best for the people as a whole. It is even more clearly the best for the development of the individual man and woman. And since in the end, the character and the prosperity of the nation depend on the character of the individuals that compose it, the form of government which best promotes individual development is the best for the people as a whole.
  • We have gained very much from foreign sources and even from foreign immigration. The modern conception of keeping out all alien immigrants may be an economic necessity, but I am satisfied it is a psychological evil. The democratic principle is just as important in international as in national affairs.
  • That these ideas will ultimately triumph, I have no doubt. Nor is it open to question that by the combined efforts of the peace-loving peoples they can be made to triumph now, before Europe has been again plunged into a fresh bloodbath.
    May Heaven grant that the statesmen of the world may realize this before it is too late and, by the exertion of the needed courage and prudence, restore again to the position of authority which it had only a few years ago, that great institution for the maintenance of peace on which the future of civilization so largely depends. I mean, of course, the League of Nations.

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