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Alfred Zimmern’s Brave New World

Kenneth O. Morgan

Monday 12 March, 2012


‘The tents have been struck and the great caravan of humanity is once more on the move.’ ‘We are making the world safe for democracy.’ Thus General Smuts and President Woodrow Wilson on the new post-war outlook in 1919.1

There was an apocalyptic mood, symbolised by the creation of the Woodrow Wilson chair of International Politics in the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, in 1919, the first such university chair anywhere in the world. It shows vividly how the optimism and brave new world idealism of the immediate post-war period focussed on the creation of the new League of Nations at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. The naming of the chair after Wilson reflected the fact that the idea of a League of Nations was in practice very much an Anglo-American one. Wilson had developed the idea during the war – the League provided the climax of his famous Fourteen Points. He regarded it as the pivotal aspect of the Peace Treaty signed at Versailles, and got his close friend and confidant, Colonel House, to work out a detailed scheme.2 At the peace conference at Paris that spring and summer, it was widely noted that Wilson seemed prepared to make concessions on other matters – the composition of Czechoslovakia and Poland, even German reparations – in order that his cherished idea of the League could come about.

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