Month: <span>July 2021</span>

Nansen Passport Rapprochement of Cultures.

The First Nansen Passport: The League of Nations and…

With the need to increase legal protection for the increasing number of refugees in the world; it is useful to recall the first Nansen Passport created by Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930).

The Leader of a Nordic-North Pole Exploration.

Fridtjof Nansen was thought of as a Norwegian; although he was born before the creation in 1905 of an independent State of Norway.  His family had historically been living in Copenhagen, Denmark; before his grandfather moved to Norway; then a part of the Kingdom of Denmark.  His family were traditionally lawyers; often involved in diplomacy. 

Fridtjof, however, as a young man; was not interested in law; but rather in the “great outdoors” and the natural sciences.  From 1893 to 1896; he was the leader of a Nordic-North Pole exploration. His account of the North Pole became a “best seller”  and gained for him international recognition.

Fridtjof Nansen is a model for Erik Werenskiold’s bust of him in the artist’s studio. Half figure. By National Library of Norway, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

An Independent Norway.

         Although he was never interested in participating in electoral politics; he was a strong supporter of an independent Norway separate from the Kingdom of Sweden; an independence which was granted in 1905. In 1906; he was appointed as Ambassador of Norway to London to negotiate a treaty of guarantees for the independence of Norway; thus setting out on a path of diplomacy which he never left; although in the public mind he was always the North Pole explorer.

         The First World War −1914-1918 − saw the disappearance of two major multi-ethnic empires: the Ottoman Empire and the Austria-Hungarian Empire; leaving millions of people “Stateless” − their States having disappeared.  They were usually unwelcome minorities in the States created  by the break up of the two empires. 

In addition; there was the 1917 Russian Revolution; which led to civil wars which lasted at least until 1922. There was also an issue of prisoners of war from the First World War stranded in Russia unable to be repatriated; and at least a million refugees from Russia scattered all over Europe. 

The Origins of Totalitarianism.

The break up of the Ottoman Empire led to war between the newly created Turkey and Greece in 1922; with a massive exchange of populations. There was also some 300,000 Armenians displaced by the 1915 genocide.  As Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism:

“Once the refugees had left their homeland, they remained homeless, once they had left their State they became Stateless, once they were deprived of their human rights, they were rightless.”

         The League of Nations Secretariat; encouraged by the International Committee of the Red Cross; turned to Fridtjof Nansen in 1921 and said “Do something”; giving him the title of High Commissioner for Refugees; but very little money to “do something”.  Nansen depended heavily on the funds and expertise of private voluntary organizations.  In 1922; he set up an Advisory Committee consisting of 16 private organizations; which helped draw up a number of plans to solve  the refugee issues and to encourage non-governmental action.

The Nansen Passport.

         Due to the lack of legal protection which negatively affected most refugees from Russia, in July 1922, Nansen created a special certificate of identity for Russian refugees, commonly called the “Nansen Passport.” The document, valid for one year, certified that its holder was a Russian national by origin. 

It contained no general definition of a refugee and no specification of the motivation for flight.  It served as a form of “certification” that provided the refugee with enough legal status to enable its holder to travel to countries where he or she would be more likely to find work.

A proofprint of the «Nansen Passport» published in France. The passport was issued to Russians, and later on to other refugees who were unable to get ordinary passports. The Nansen Passport was issued on the initiative of F. Nansen in 1922, and was honored by the governments in 52 countries. By National Library of Norway, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The individual refugee and the Nansen Certificate.

In 1924; the Nansen passport was made to cover Armenian refugees as well; and then in 1928 to Assyrian refugees from the former Ottoman Empire.  As the US journalist Dorothy Thompson wrote in her book Refugees :

There is no doubt that by and large, the Nansen certificate is the greatest thing that has happened for the individual refugee. It returned his lost identity.  The refugee could never be sure whether he would get a labor permit by means of the Nansen certificate, but he could be sure that without the Nansen certificate he would never get it.”

The Nansen Office.

         Nansen died in 1930. The title of High Commissioner for Refugees was abolished.  However; the work continued under the title of the Nansen Office. It operated until 1938 and the effective end of the League of Nations.  The title of High Commissioner  for Refugees was re-established in 1951; when it became clear that refugees would continue on the world scene.

         Nansen’s outstanding personality and his strong and creative leadership have left a lasting impression on world refugee policies; as well as a foundation for cosmopolitan thought. 

Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

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Civil Society Appeals

A Vibrant World Civil Society

Featured Image by  Kelly Lacy in Pexels.

The Term  Civil Society.

The term “Civil Society” came into extensive use;  especially in Europe in the mid -1970s;  as efforts to bridge the East-West divide and prevent the dangers of war in Europe. As Mary Kaldor writes “A group of us launched the European Nuclear Disarmament (END) Appeal for a nuclear-free Europe.

The Appeal attracted thousands of signatures;  from all over Europe and beyond and was one of the mobilizing documents of the new peace movement;  which sprang up in Western Europe in the early 1980s. The Appeal called for nuclear disarmament through unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral means;  but it was also an appeal to end the Cold War. It accorded responsibility in the Cold War to both the United States and the Soviet Union;  and insisted on the link between disarmament and democracy.” (1)

Mary Kaldor

Mary Kaldor. The World Transformed 2018 in Liverpool. By Kevin Walsh from Preston Brook, England, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.


The Idea of Institutional and Ideological Pluralism.

The END  Appeal looked to positive action from “Civil Society”  within the Soviet block;  which was starting to be vocal outside of the government-controlled peace organizations;  which largely reflected Soviet government policy in their interaction with Western peace-disarmament non-governmental organizations.

As Ernest Gallner writes “Civil Society is the idea of institutional and ideological pluralism;  which prevents the established monopoly of power and truth and counterbalances those central institutions;  which though necessary, might otherwise acquire such monopoly. The actual practice of Marxism had led;  wherever it came to be implemented to what might be called Caesaro-Papism-Mannonism to the near total fusion of the political, ideological, and economic hierarchies.

The state, the church-party, and the economic managers were all parts of one single nomenclatura… Civil Society is that set of diverse non-governmental institutions;  which is strong enough to counterbalance the state and; while not preventing the state from fulfilling its role as keeper of the peace and arbitrator between major interests;  can nevertheless prevent it from dominating and atomizing the rest of society.” (2)


The Importance Of The Spirit.

Vaclav Havel, athough he later became president of a State;  was a valuable symbol of the efforts to develop a civil society. “We emphasizd many times that the struggle we had taken on had little in common with what is traditionally understood by the expression “politics.”

We discussed such concepts as non-political politics;  and stressed that we were interested in certain values and principles and not in power and position. We emphasized the importance of the spirit;  the importance of truth and said that even spirit and truth embody a certain kind of power.” (3)


Václav Havel

Václav Havel during his speech at the Freedom and its adversaries conference held in Prague on 14th of November 2009. By Ondřej Sláma, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Today  more than in the recent past;  we are faced with a revival of the Caesaro-Papism-Mannonism States,  whose interactions;  especially in the wider Middle East, could lead to armed conflicts. In addition to the Caesaro-led States;  the world society faces terrorism as movements with goals, gurus, ideologues, myths and martyrs. Thus there is a need to develop and structure a world-wide civil society.

The concept of civil society is probably the platform for future progressive action. The global civil society is a “power shift” of potentially historic dimensions with bonds of trust;  shared values and mutual obligations which cross national frontiers. With the war drums starting to beat, creative action is needed now.


1) Mary Kaldor (Ed.) Europe from Below (London: Verso, 1991)
2) Ernest Gallner. Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and its Rivals(London: Penguin Books, 1996)
3) Vaclav Havel in Mary Kalder (Ed.) Europe from Below

Rene Wadlow, President  Association of World Citizens.


Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

The Uprooted.

Increasing numbers of people in countries around the world, have been forced from their homes, by armed conflicts and systematic violations of human rights. Those who cross internationally recognized borders…

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Religious Appeals

Religious Liberty: Continuing Efforts by NGOs Needed.

Image By S. Hermann & F. Richter in Pixabay

by Rene Wadlow.

22 August has been set by the United Nations General Assembly as the

“International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief”.

Due to Nazi and Japanese militarist persecution of religious groups during the Second World War;   freedom of religion and belief was on the U.N. agenda from the start of the organization. The issue is at the heart of article 18  of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;  proclaimed in 1948.

Religious non-governmental organizations (NGOs);  were active during the San Francisco conference;  at which the drafting of the U.N. Charter was completed. It was due in part to their active efforts  that an article creating a consultative status for NGOs;  was included into the U.N. Charter. NGOs in consultative status with the U.N;  can make U.N. bodies aware of issues by providing timely;  factual information. Often NGOs will address matters to U.N. agencies;  when governmental delegations keep silence. The duty of NGOs is not to speak against States;  but for the interests of humanity and human rights.

Spiritual But not Religious.

Although religious NGOs have had a wide range of interests to stress at U.N;  meetings and conferences;  such as the status of women, ecology, food policies;  liberty of religion and belief;  has always been a concern. The concern of religious liberty is not limited to religious NGOs;  but is also championed by secular NGOs;  such as Amnesty International and the Association of World Citizens.

Over time;  there has developed a fairly large number of people;  who consider themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” There has been the development of a growing number of associations devoted to practices;  which have their roots in religious traditions;  but can also be independent such as yoga, meditation, Chi Quong. Such associations often fall outside the usual governmental protection of religions – their tax status or other facilities concerning their buildings and properties.

Amnesty International
Amnesty International at the Bologna Pride 2012, in Bologna, Italy. Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, June 9 2012. By G.dallorto, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The U.N. holds that the religious liberty provisions of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration;  are not limited in their applications to traditional religions;  or to religions and beliefs;  with institutional characteristics or practices  similar to those of traditional religions. Thus;  newly established movements and religious minorities should be protected.

Article 18 of the Univesal Declaration of Human Rights is developed in detail by the: 

“Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance nd Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief”.

Adopted by the General Assembly on 25 November 1981. The Declaration recognizes that every individual has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, expression, and religion. The importance of inter-religious dilogue; is stresssed as is the need for intensified efforts to protect the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief and to eliminate all forms of hatred, intolerance and discrimination;  based on religion or belief.

There is a hope that tolerance and pluralism will strengthen democracy;  facilitate the full enjoyment of all human rights; and thereby constitute a sound foundation for civil society;  social harmony and peace. Yet we are fully aware that forces of aggressive nationalism;  absence of religious tolerance;  religious and ethnic extremism continue to produce fresh challenges.

the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Eleanor Roosevelt holding poster of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (in English), Lake Success, New York. November 1949. By FDR Presidential Library & Museum, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Islamic State (ISIS).

A tragic current example of victims of acts of violence based on religion or belief;  is that of the Yazidis of Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State (ISIS). The Yazidi world view is Zoroastrian;  a faith born in Persia proclaiming that two great cosmic forces;  that of light and good;  and that of darkness and evil are in constant battle. Humans are called upon to help light overcome evil.

However;  the strict dualistic thinking of Zoroastrianism was modified by another Persian prophet: Mani of Ctesiphon in the third century CE.  Mani tried to create a synthesis of religious;  teachings that were increasingly coming into contact through travel and trade:  Buddhim and Hinduism from India;  Jewish and Christian thought;  Helenistic Gnostic philosophy from Egypt and Greece as well as many smaller;  traditional and “animist” beliefs.

Islamic State

Variant of the jihadist black flag. This particular version is used by the “Islamic State of Iraq” and by al-Shabaab in Somalia. By Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Demon Worshipers.

He kept the Zoroastrian dualism as the most easily understood intellectual framework though;  giving it a somewhat more Taoist (yin-yang) flexibility. Mani had  lived in China. He developed the idea of the progression of the soul;  by individual effort through separate lives through reincarnation – a main feature of Indian thought. He combined the idea of spiritual progress through different lives;  with ethical insights of Gnostic and Christian thought. Unfortunately;  only the dualistic Zoroastrian framework is still attached to Mani’s nme: Manichaeism. This is somewhat ironic as it was the Zoroastrian Magi;  who had Mani put to death as a dangerous rival.

Within the Mani-Zoroastrian framework;  the Yazidi added the presence of angels;  who are to help humans in the constant battle for light and good. The Yazidi place great emphasis on Melek Tauis;  the peacock angel. Although there are angels in Islam;  angels that one does not know could well be demons;  and so the Yazidis are regularly accused of being “demon worshipers”.

Collateral Damage.

There are probably some 500,000 Kurdish-speaking Yazidis in Iraq. Iraq demographic statistics are not fully reliable. Yazidi leaders may give larger estimates by counting Kurds;  who had been Yazidis;  but had been converted to Islam. There had been some 200,000 Yazidis among the Kurds of Turkey;  but now nearly all have migrated to Western Europe, Australia and Canada. There are smaller groups of Yazidis in Syria, Armenia and Georgia. (1)

The Yazidis have often been persecuted for their beliefs;  and as part of the Kurdish-speaking community. This was true during the period of the Ottoman Empire;  as well as during the Arab Ba’th Socialist Party rule of Iraq. However;  the most recent and dramatic form of persecution came at the hands of the Islamic State (ISIS).

The Association of World Citizens stressed that the policy of the ISIS leadership was genocide – the destruction in whole or in part of a group. The killing of the Yazidis is a policy and not “collateral damage” from fighting. While ISIS has lost much of the territory in Iraq and Syria that it once held;  the trauma  continues. The Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief call upon NGOs for continued speedy and effective action.


1) See Nelida Fuccaro. The Other Kurds in Colonial Iraq (London: I.B. Tauris, 1999)


Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

The Uprooted.

Increasing numbers of people in countries around the world, have been forced from their homes, by armed conflicts and systematic violations of human rights. Those who cross internationally recognized borders…

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Religious Liberty Rapprochement of Cultures.

Assault on Religious Liberty : 20 July 1937.

view to western wall Jerusalem and dome of rock. By Photo by Anton Mislawsky on Unsplash.

The Nazi Government of Germany had first moved against the Jews; considered as both a racial and a religious group. The Jews had long been a target of the Nazi movement; and the attack on them came as no surprise.

However;  the 20 July 1937 banning of the theosophical movement and of others « Theosophically Related »;  in the Nazi ideology was a turning point in Nazi repression.

On 20 July 1937;  the Theosophical Society and the related Anthroposophical Society;  which had been founded by Rudolf Steiner;  who had been president of the German section of the Theosophical Society;  were banned. The banning order was signed by the Reichfuhrer SS Heydrich;  who warned that:

« The continuation and new foundation of this as well as the foundation of disguised succession organizations is prohibited. Simultaneously I herewith state because of the law about confiscation of property hostile to people and state that the property of the above mentioned organizations was used or intended for the promotion of intentions hostile to people and state. » 

Thus all offices and buildings were confiscated.

Rudolf Steiner

 Rudolf Steiner By Pausoak2018, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler

Left to right: Janowska concentration camp commandant Friedrich Warzok, SS-Gruppenfuhrer Fritz Katzmann, Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler during official visit at a place of extermination of Polish Jews from the Lwow Ghetto.
By Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

At the time;  there was little organized protest. The League of Nations;  while upholding tolerance and freedom of thought in general;  had no specific declaration on freedom of religion; and no institutional structures to deal with protests. Now;  the United Nations has a specific Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief of 25 November 1981;  which builds upon Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;  which states that:

« Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion : this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship or observance. » 

As with all U.N. Instruments relating to freedom of religion;  Article 18 represents a compromise. One of its achievements was the inclusion of the terms « thought » and « conscience »; which quietly embraced atheists and non-believers. The most divisive phrase; however, was :

« freedom to change one’s religion. »

The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief;  took nearly 20 years of difficult negotiations to draft. Preparations for the Declaration had begun in 1962. One of the most difficult areas in drafting the Declaration; concerned the rights of the child to have: 

« access to education in the matter of religion or belief in accordance with the wishes of his parents and shall not be compelled to receive teaching on religion or belief against the wishes of his parents or legal guardians, the best interests of the child being the guiding principle. »

The Declaration goes on to state that: 

« The child shall be protected from any form of discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. He shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace and universal brotherhood, respect for freedom of religion or belief of others, and in full consciousness that his energy and talents should be devoted to the services of his fellow men. »

The Declaration highlights that there can be no doubt that freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief and the elimination of intolerance and discrimination based on religion;  or belief are of a fundamental character;  and derive from the inherent dignity and worth of the human person.

The gradual evolution of U.N. norms;  on the issue of religious liberty has been a complex process;  and is often a reflection of bi-lateral relations among Member States. This was especially true during the 1980s – the last decade of the U.S.-USSR Cold War. However;  the end of the Cold War did not end religious tensions as an important factor in internal and international conflicts.

The 1981 Declaration cannot be implemented by U.N. Bodies alone. Effective implementation also requires efforts by non-governmental organizations (NGO). NGOs play a vital role in the development of the right to freedom of religion or belief;  especially by advancing the cause of those still struggling to achieve this right.

Thus;  the Association of World Citizens had been active in the late 1970s;  when the U.N. Commission on Human Rights moved from New York to Geneva;  on the formulation of the 1981 Declaration. Since then;  the Association has worked closely with the Special Rapporteurs on Religious Liberty of the Commission; (now become the Human Rights Council). The Association has also raised publicly in the Commission certain specific situations and violations. The Association stresses the need for sound research and careful analysis. Citizens of the World have an important rôle to play in bringing spiritual and ethical insights; to promote reconciliation and healing in many parts of the world.


Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.

Religious Liberty

“Religious Liberty” was commissioned by B’nai B’rith and dedicated in 1876 to “the people of the United States” as an expression of support for the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. Created by Moses Jacob Ezekiel, the first American Jewish sculptor to gain international prominence, the 25-foot marble monument was carved in Italy and shipped to Fairmount Park in Philadelphia for the nation’s Centennial Exposition. It was later moved to Independence Mall and now stands in front of the National Museum of American Jewish History. By Beyond My Ken, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

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Teilhard de Chardin Portraits of World Citizens.

Teilhard de Chardin: The Noosphere and Evolution Toward World…

Featured Image: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1947). By Unknown authorUnknown author; CC BY-SA 3.0 <>; via Wikimedia Commons.

Why do we hesitate to open our hearts to the call of the world within us; to the sense of the earth. By  ‘sense of the earth’;  we mean here the passionate sense of common destiny that draws the thinking fraction of life ever forward… Men suffer and vegetate in their isolation; they need the intervention of a higher impulse;  to force them beyond the dead point at which they are halted and propel them into the region of their deep affinity.  The sense of the earth is the irresistible pressure; which comes at a given moment to unite them in a common enthusiasm…The age of nations has passed. Now; unless we wish to perish; we must shake off our old prejudices and build the earth.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881 -1955).

Activation of Energy.

Pierrre Teihard de Chardin, the French paleontologist;  after a lifetime of study of the evolution of the human species;  concluded that humanity was entering a new age; with a higher peaceful and more responsible sense of the unity of the world community.

He wrote in  Activation of Energy :

“It is an amazing thing that in less than a million years the human species has succeeded in covering the earth.  On this surface that is now completely encircled; mankind has completed the construction of a close network of planetary links, so successfully that a special envelope now stretches over the old biosphere. 

Every day this new integration grows in strength. It may be clearly recognized and distinguished in every quarter. It is provided with its own system of internal connections and communication, and for this I have for a long time proposed the name noosphere.” (1)

    Noosphere comes from the Greek word for mind, noos. The proposition that there is a sphere which goes beyond the biosphere; and which in a unique way accommodates the relationships between humans and Nature; was first put forward by the Russian scientist-philosopher Vladimir I. Vernadsky in 1894. 

Vladimir I. Vernadsky

Vladimir Vernadsky, 1934. By АН СССР, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Teilhard de Chardin and Vernadsky were together in a seminar in Paris of the French philosopher Henri Bergson; and it was in that seminar that the term “noosphere” was proposed for the first time. Teilhard and Verndsky continued to stay in touch through letters; Teilhard being in China and Vernadsky in the USSR;  where he died in 1945.

Creative Evolution.

For Henri Bergson, (1859-1941);  whose best known book is Creative Evolution (1907);  the motor of evolution is an energy;  which he calls “force vital”. For Teilhard;  that energy is called “love”. As he wrote: 

Some day;  after mastering winds, waves, tides and gravity,  we shall harness for God the energies of love and then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

For Teilhard; love was not an emotion or a sentiment;  but the basic primal and universal psychic energy.  This is a concept drawn from Chinese culture. Teilhard lived in China from 1923 to 1946;  and was interested in Chinese thought. (2) The Chinese word jen; a term translated as love, benevolence or affection; is not only an emotional-moral term; but it is also a cosmic force − a compassionate quality that is the very structure of the earth.

Henri Bergson (1927). By Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Optimism and evolution are the two themes that Teilhard de Chardin leaves with us. He insisted at looking at the human population as one global family; developing a network of mutual support − recognizing the need of global solidarity. His thinking provides a framework for much of the approach of the Association of World Citizens.


(1) P. Teilhard de Chardin Activation of Energy (New York, 1970)

(2) See Ursula King Towards a New Mysticism: Teilhard de Chardin and Eastern Religions (London, 1980)

Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

1 2 21

Leopold Sendar Senghor. Rapprochement of Cultures.

Leopold Sendar Senghor.

Featured Image: President of Venezuela Rafael Caldera receiving the President of Senegal, Leopold Senghor-Original at the FAO World Summit on Agrarian Reform in Rome (1979). By Prensa Rafael Caldera, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Leopold Sendar Senghor was a poet, a cultural bridge-builder between Africa and Europe, an active world citizen and world federalist.

Who will teach rhythm to the world laid low by machines and cannons,
Who will shout with joy to wake up the dead and the orphans at the dawn?
Say, who will give back the memory of life to the man with eviscerated hopes?…
We are the men of the dance, whose feet regain force by drumming on the hard earth.
Senghor “Prayer to the Masks”

The first President of Independent Senegal.

Leopold Sendar Senghor  was the first President of independent Senegal although he had first wanted to create a West African Federation.

His efforts at the rapprochement of cultures; and their mutual enrichment are very much in the spirit of world citizens’ cultural policies;  at a time when the dialogue among civilizations as well as a possible clash among civilizations is on the world political agenda;  it is helpful to look at the lasting contribution  Senghor as a cultural thinker.

While his intellectual convictions were rather constant, his intellectual life falls into four rather separate segments:

  1. 1930s: His studies in France against the social background of unrest linked to the Depression.
  2. 1940s: The War years and the social and economic reconstruction in France.
  3. 1950s: Participation in French politics and the lead up to the independence of Senegal.
  4. 1960-1980: The years as President of Senegal.

Leopold Sendar Senghor  was born in 1906 in the small village of Joal; on the Senegalese coast; about 75 miles south of the capital Dakar. His parents were relatively well-to-do farmers; both of the Serer ethnic group.

Family tradition held that the father came from what had been a royal family; but the Serer had lost most of their power to other ethnic groups; and there were no powerful chiefs left. Both of Senghor’s parents were Roman Catholics; and his father in particular saw education as the chief road to advancement.

Thus at seven years old; Leopold Sendar  Senghor was put in a Catholic boarding school and later in the Lycee at Dakar. He developed nostalgia for his childhood and the innocence of village life;  which he expressed in his poems but little knew in reality. He was a good student and was chosen to continue university education in Paris in 1928.

Leopold Sendar Senghor

President Leopold Senigor of Senegal, middle, and members of his party are welcomed upon their arrival in the United States for a visit (1980). By Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Popular Front of Socialists and Communists.

The French colonial administration, unlike that of England; did not create universities in Africa until very late. The first;  the University of Dakar, began in 1957: the second;  the University of Abidjan, in 1963.

 Senghor went to the leading French university;  the Sorbonne, and graduated in 1934; having majored in French language and literature. Paris in the 1930s was a center for literary and political thought.

The world-wide economic depression had hit France in the early 1930s;  leading to strong social and political movements. February 1934; saw a far-Right effort to bring down the government with a march on the Parliament; and May 1936; saw the first Left government;  The Popular Front of Socialists and Communists.

Students and others were active in considering alternative structures for a new society.

Influenced by the Catholic “Spiritualists”

Senghor was influenced by the Catholic “spiritualists ” – writers who were Roman Catholics; but not very “orthodox”. The poet and social critic Charles Peguy;  who had been killed during the First World War; was a strong influence on many Catholic youth;  and there are echoes of Peguy in Senghor’s poems.

Peguy was an unorthodox socialist;  who thought that the French peasants; and not the industrial workers were the revolutionary force of the 20th century.

 Senghor;  with more reason for Senegal;  also saw the rural population as the core social base. As Senghor wrote: 

“I have chosen my toiling black people, my peasant people, the peasant race throughout the world.”

Charles Péguy

French writer Charles Péguy (1873 – 1914) Painted by Jean-Pierre Laurens (1875-1932).

Identity of traditional African society.

Senghor proposed that the communal identity of traditional African society;  which he saw as classless and non-exploitive could serve as the base for a new society – ideas that he later developed; when President of Senegal as ‘the road to African Socialism’.

He was part of the student milieu around the journal Esprit; edited by Emmanuel Mounier;  which was trying to find a path other than capitalism, communism or fascism – a path called “personalism”. Espirit was also a home for people influenced by the French;  “utopian-socialist” and federalist Proudhon.


Picture of the 1930s: Emmanuel Mounier (1905–1950) was a French philosopher. By Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The World Federalist Movement.

Senghor was always strongly federalist in his approach to the structure of the state;  and later was an active participant in the world federalist movement. Jacques Maritain and his wife; were also active among intellectual Catholic youth of Paris.

Maritain was an adult convert from Protestantism to Catholicism;  and a powerful voice in defense of democracy; in a broader Catholic milieu largely anti-democratic;  with a strong pro-Royalist far-Right current.

Jacques Maritain

Jacques Maritain, French philosopher and writer. By Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

“Civilizing Mission”

Paris in the 1930s; was also home to African students from countries other than Senegal;  so that a Pan-African spirit developed. In the 1930s;  in a France where all the political parties;  Right and Left;  supported the colonial system as part of the “civilizing mission” of France;  the idea that African culture had anything to contribute to European political and economic thought;  was met with scepticism.

Therefore;  Senghor and his friends put their emphasis on the idea that African civilization was equal to that of Europe;  and could make contributions as an equal.

Stressing equality;  was also a way of denying legitimacy to the prevailing ideological charters of colonialism. As there were also students; from the French-speaking West Indies and Haiti and Guyana;  a “Pan-Black” movement grew up for which Senghor coined the term Negritude.

The Black Student.

Negritude;  Senghor wrote is: 

“The sum total of the cultural values of the black world.”

Aime Cesaire and Leon Damas, along with Senghor were the intellectual leaders of the movement;  and founded a journal L’Etudiant Noir (The Black Student).

Into this group came American Black writers;  who were living in Paris such as Countree Cullen and Langston Hughes. There were mutual intellectual exchanges;  related to the Americans discovering Africa and the Africans discovering Black literary efforts in the USA.

Public debate on the ways to transform the economic and political structure of France; was weakened by the start of the Second World War and the German occupation of France; although discussions in smaller circles continued; both around the “National Revolution” of the Vichy government of Marechal Petain; and in the different resistance movements.


Portrait of American writer and activist Langston Hughes (1943). By Gordon Parks, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Prisoner of War.

Senghor spent 1940-1942;  in a German prisoner-of-war camp where group discussions were prohibited. Thus;  Senghor concentrated in the camp on writing poetry;  which he started publishing in 1945 as France came out of the war.

In 1945;  when France was restructuring itself after the war; everything seemed possible. There was a widely felt need to transform the society. The old society had led to war and defeat. A new society was needed, more just, more peaceful and with new political faces.

Constituent Assembly.

Senghor was chosen to represent Senegal in the Constituent Assembly;  that was to write a new constitution for France. As the colonial administration in Senegal during the war had been pro-Vichy;  and the older Senegalese political leaders had been compromised by association with the colonial government; new representatives from Senegal needed to be chosen quickly. Senghor was already living in Paris and had been a member of the anti-Nazi resistance.

Although he had been living in France since 1928;  and had spent only a few summer vacations in Senegal; he became a forceful voice for Africa in French politics;  and started to think of a political future rather than a literary one.

The French political system had developed so that the colonies had representatives in the French Parliament. A good number of the first leaders of the independent African states had been members of the French Parliament;  where they had played important roles in French politics.

Since the African representatives had no political base in France;  they could be chosen as ministers as relatively neutral figures in the often-changing French governments of the Fourth Republic (1945-1959).

The government of Edgar Faure.

Senghor was elected to the French Parliament from Senegal in 1951;  and served as minister in 1955 in the government of Edgar Faure; one of the most intellectual of the French political leaders;  who appreciated Senghor as a “fellow intellectual”.

The French withdrawal from Indochina in 1954;  and the start of the war for independence in Algeria in November of the same year;  highlighted that the colonial system was coming to an end.

Senghor came to see that his future was not in politics in France as “the voice of Africa” in French politics but in Africa itself. Thus;  he started building a political base in Africa.


President of the French Council Edgar Faure attending the Big Four Conference. Geneva, 18th July 1955. By Mario De Biasi (Mondadori Publishers), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The French West African States.

He hoped that a federal structure could keep the French West African states together – the start of a “United States of Africa”. However, the richer states;  in particular the Ivory Coast; were not prepared to pay for the poorer states, and in 1960; each colony became an independent state; although the colonies did not correspond to the pre-colonial West African societies.

Senghor had contributed to the restoration and reform of French society. In 1960; he would have to answer “Present” to his greatest challenge as President of now independent Senegal. Senghor faced two major challenges.

As President he was chief of a large administration; and he had never been an administrator. Some French colonial civil servants stayed on;  but the politically sensitive posts had to be held by Senegalese. Senghor had stressed in political debates in France;  that the African farmers were a “revolutionary force” and the building block of a new society.

Senegalese Reality.

Now he confronted a Senegalese reality;  where the most productive agriculture (peanut production largely for export);  was in the hands of conservative Islamic religious orders called the Mouride;  who ran a system of work in exchange for salvation, little short of serfdom.

The second major challenge was in developing a common ideology;  that would mobilize the efforts of the ethnically-divided Senegalese population.

Negritude as an ideology had been largely addressed to Europeans; in order to stress the worth and dignity of Africans. Now Senghor had to address Africans; and it could not be in the same terms.

Moreover; many Senegalese had thought that with the end of colonialism wealth;  which had been going to France would now stay in Africa. However;  Senegal had always been a poor country with few resources for export; other than peanut oil and some cotton. Wealth was not going to come automatically.

Society of Senghor’s Negritude.

The classless and non-exploitive African society of Senghor’s Negritude; was in reality one of deep divisions on ethnic and urban/rural lines; and exploitation of the weaker was not a European monopoly.

True to his convictions; Senghor stressed the creation of cooperatives and credit unions in the rural areas and developed village-level training programs based on local leadership.

He asked Louis-Joseph Lebret; a French Dominican monk to carry out the studies; which led to Senegal’s first five-year development plan.

Lebret was one of the Catholic intellectuals that Senghor had known in France; and who had been the leader of humanist economic; planning first in France and after the Second World War in Brazil, Lebanon, South Vietnam as well as in Senegal.

Louis-Joseph Lebret

Louis-Joseph Lebret en Colombie, 1958. By Unknown authorUnknown author, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Spirit of a New World.

A book by Lebret Mystique d’un Monde Nouveau (The Spirit of a New World published in 1940);  had stressed the idea of “the common good” or “the common welfare” and had had a deep impact on Catholics in the resistance movements and in the MRP – the liberal Catholic Party created at the end of the war.

Although Negritude remained the ideology; with which Senghor is most associated and which he continued to uphold in organizing Pan-African conferences of artists and thinkers; after 1955 he focused his thinking on the “civilization of the Universal”;  and the application in Africa of the philosophy of the French Jesuit palaeontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Senghor was introduced to the thought of Teilhard de Chardin in the mid-1950s by Theodore Monod; the director of IFAN located in Dakar; the leading West African research institute in both the natural and the social sciences.

Monod was a biologist with wide interests. He was a Protestant; his father and uncles having been leading liberal Protestant clergy. Monod had already quoted Teilhard in an article in Presence Africaine in 1950. In the early 1950s; Teilhard de Chardin was living in New York City; more-or-less in Church-imposed exile.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1955). By Unknown authorUnknown author, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

His working life in China.

He had spent most of his working life in China doing research on the remains of pre-historic man – best remembered for his work on “Pekin Man”. Teilhard’s view of a Cosmic Christ; of a new evolutionary stage on human consciousness; of the earth as a single organism brought fear to the dogmatists of his day.

The Jesuit Order prohibited him from publishing or teaching. Since he spoke little English; the Jesuit authorities felt he would be harmless in New York; and Teilhard lived there in relative obscurity until his death. Direct obedience to the Pope and discipline are characteristics of the Jesuit order; and he accepted the ban on publishing his writings.

However; his unpublished manuscripts circulated in a relatively small circle; especially among Protestant such as Theodore Monod; who had no interest in reporting Teilhard to Catholic Church authorities.

Copies of all Teilhard de Chardin’s manuscripts were given to a Dutch Protestant; who had been the Netherlands Ambassador to China during World War II.

Teilhard believed that obedience ended with death. Thus after his death on Easter Sunday 1955; his manuscripts started to be published in France. Teilhard was unable to explain or defend his writings; but his influence has grown steadily.

Synthesis of the Christian Concept.

In Teilhard de Chardin; Senghor found a way to develop a synthesis of the Christian concept of God; who is both the source and the aim of life with the African concept of a universal vital force in all creation.

This vital force is the base for the essential oneness of all life; life coming from a common source; evolving through a multitude of different shapes and forms; but called upon to become aware of its oneness through a planetary consciousness.

Teilhard de Chardin also provided a framework for a way to understand the contribution of African society and culture to world civilization. “All that rises, converges” is a key concept in Theilhard’s thought. Senghor has been described as the poet and theorist of synthesis against apartness.

It is not clear what Senghor’s philosophical approach has had on current Senegalese political thinking; however, the seeds have been sown. For the majority of the Senegalese; Senghor was the man who knew when to step aside – one of the few West African leaders not to have been overthrown by a military coup.

In 1980; after 20 years of presidency; Senghor left a multi-party democracy in place with Senegal; playing an important role in African and UN efforts. Other Senegalese leaders now face the challenges of development; and the search for common welfare.


Professor Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.


For a good selection of Senghor’s writings translated into English see: John Reed and Clive Wake (Eds.) Senghor: Prose and Poetry (London: Oxford University Press, 1965).

For Senghor’s political thinking on the eve of becoming President of Senegal see Nationhood and the African Road to Socialism (Paris, Presence Africaine, 1962).

For his appreciation and application of the thought of Teilhard de Chardin, see L.S.Senghor Pierre Teilhard de Chardin et la Politique Africiane (Paris : Le Seuil, 1962).


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Aimé Césaire Portraits of World Citizens.

Rapprochement of Cultures -Aimé Césaire.

Philippe Mouillon en compagnie d’Aimé Césaire, en 2003. By Jean Baptiste Devaux, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Association of World Citizens participates actively in the UNESCO-led International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022).  The rapprochement of cultures requires dialogue at many levels.  We are at a time of major change in history.  The accelerating pace of change in the political, social, economic and cultural areas has created new opportunities for dialogue; as the world is inexorably being transformed into a global society.

It is true that to an unprecedented degree people are meeting together in congresses, conferences, schools and universities all over the globe.  However;  in itself such meetings are not dialogues.  There is a need to reach deeper  levels.  One approach is to look at writers;  who in their work drew on more than one culture;  and provided a bridge for meaningful dialogue and the rapprochement of cultures.

One such writer is Aimé Césaire (1913 -2008) A Black Orpheus.

Aimé Césaire’s contribution to the rapprochement of cultures is due to his poetry and his plays – all with political implications; but heavily influenced by images from the subconscious. Thus it was André Breton (1896-1966) writer and ideologue of the Surrelists;  who saw  Césaire as a kindred spirit.  Breton often projected his own ideas on to African culture;  seeing it as spontaneous and mystical when much African art is, in fact, conventional and material.

Nevertheless, Breton;  who spent some of the Second World War years in Martinique;  was able to interest many French writers and painters in African culture. It was Breton; who encouraged Jean Paul Sartre to do an early anthology of African and West Indian poetry –Black Orpheus- and to write an important introduction stressing the revolutionary character of the poems.

Aimé Césaire was a Matinique poet and political figure; a cultural bridge builder between the West Indies, Europe and Africa. A poet, teacher, and political figure, he had been mayor of the capital city, Fort-de-France for 56 years from 1945 to 2001;  and a member of the French Parliament without a break from 1945 to 1993 — the French political system allowing a person to be a member of the national parliament; and an elected local official at the same time. First elected to Parliament as a member of the Communist Party;  he had left the Party in 1956;  when he felt that the Communist Party did not put anti-colonialism at the center of its efforts.

Aimé Cesairé

Martinican poet and politician Aimé Césaire with Philippe Mouillon, artist. By Jean Baptiste Devaux, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

High Value on Education.

The Communist Party’s position was that colonialism would end by itself; once the workers had come to power. Aimé Césaire went on to form a local political party;  which existed only in Martinique and was largely his political machine for creating municipal jobs.

Aimé Césaire faced a massive rural to urban migration on the 400,000 person West Indian department of France. One answer to unemployment was to create municipal posts largely paid for from the central government budget — a ready pool of steady political supporters. Césaire also did much to develop cultural activities from his mayor’s office—encouraging theatre, music and handicrafts.

Aimé Césaire’s parents placed high value on education — his father was a civil servant;  who encouraged his children to read and to take school seriously. Thus;  Césaire ranked first in his secondary school class;  and received a scholarship in 1931; to go to France to study at l’Ecole Normale Supériéure — a university-level institution; which trains university professors and elite secondary school teachers.

The Black Student.

He was in the same class with Léopold Sédar Senghor and Leon Damas from Senegal. They;  along with Birago Diop also from Senegal;  started a publication in Paris L’étudiant noir (The Black Student);  as an expression of African culture. One of Césaire’s style in poetry was to string together every cliché;  that the French used when speaking about Africa; and turning these largely negative views into complements. Thus;  he and Senghor took the most commonly used term for Blacks ,Nègre;  which was not an insult;  but which incorporated all the clichés about Africans and West Indians;  and put a positive light upon the term.

Thus; negritude became the term for a large group of French-speaking Africans and French-speaking West Indians – including Haiti – writers. They stressed the positive aspects of African society; but also the pain and agony in the experience of Black people; especially slavery and colonialism.

Léopold Sedar Senghor

Léopold Sédar Senghor receiving a degree honoris causa from the University of Salamanca (October 2014). By Universidad de Salamanca, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Notebook of the Return to My Native Land.

In 1938; just as he finished his university studies; Aimé Césaire took a few weeks vacation on the coast of Yugoslavia. There he wrote in a burst of energy his Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Notebook of the Return to My Native Land); his best known series of poems. In 1939;  he returned to Martinique having married another teacher from Martinique;  who was also trained in Paris. Both started teaching at the major secondary school of Martinique and started being politically active.

However, by 1940;  Martinique was under the control of the Vichy government of France and political activity was firmly discouraged. Thus;  Aimé Césaire concentrated on his writing. He met André Breton;  who spent the war years in the USA. Breton encouraged an interest in the history and culture of Haiti. While Haiti is physically close to Martinique;  Haitian history and culture is often overlooked — if not looked down upon — in Martinique. Césaire wrote on the Haitian independence leader Toussaint L’Ouverture as a hero;  and later a play in 1963; La Tragédie du roi Christophe largely influenced by the early years of the dictatorship of Francois Duvalier.

A Leading Voice of African Culture. 

With the end of the Second World War; the French Communist Party had one third of the seats in the Parliament of the newly created Fourth Republic. The French Communists were looking for potential candidates from Martinique; where the Party was not particularly well structured. They turned to young; educated persons who had a local base.

Césaire; with his Paris education and as a popular teacher at the major secondary school fitted that bill. He was elected the same year both to Parliament and to the town hall. When in Paris; he took an active part in cultural life; especially with African students and young intellectuals. In 1947; along with the Senegalese Alioune Diop and Senghor; he founded the journal Présence africaine; which later became a publisher of books and a leading voice of African culture. 

In the 1960s; Césaire turned increasingly to writing plays; especially on the history of Haiti; as the earliest independent State of the West Indies.  These were voice plays as the actors’ dialogue were nearly peoems. As the French African colonies became independent in the early 1960s; he stressed that the end of colonialism was not enough; but that colonial culture had to be replaced by a new culture, a culture of the universal, a culture of renewal.

« It is a universal, rich with all that is particular, rich with all the particulars that are, the deepening of each particular, the coexistence of them all. »

Professor Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.

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W.H. Auden Portraits of World Citizens.

W.H. Auden: (1907-1973) Poet of the Age of Anxiety.

Featured Image: Plaque about W.H. Auden, Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn, New York. By Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wystan Hugh Auden, is appreciated as a bridge builder by two separate groups of poetry readers.  Each group celebrates half of his poetic life and rather tries to forget about the other half; seeing one part of his life as the perfect image of the modern poet; who then lost his way. There is the W.H. Auden (he rarely used his first names) of the 1930s; the English political poet who reported on the Spanish civil war and the start of the Sino-Japanese war in 1939.  Then; there is the poet living in the USA during the 1940s; who became a US citizen and became primarily concerned with what was called at the time “neo-orthodox Protestant” theology. 

Finally there is a third phase of his life;  the writer largely of book reviews and short literary essays living much of the time in Italy and Austria until his death in 1973 in Vienna.  The one constant aspect running through his life and coloring his more personal writings was a homosexual bonding to men that he hoped would last and never did; as reflected in his poem  It’s No Use raising a Shout:  


    It’s no use raising a shout.

No, Honey, you can cut that right out.

    I don’t want any more hugs;

    Make me some fresh tea.


In 1930; shortly after publishing his first book of poems; he went to live in Berlin.  The Berlin of Weimar Germany was more tolerant of open homosexuality than was the England of his youth.  In Berlin; he began an intensive literary and on-again-off-again sexual relationship with Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986). The two men had known each other slightly at Oxford University.  The somewhat older Isherwood was already well introduced in the English publishing and art world.  He helped Auden with introductions to editors.  It was T.S. Eliot’s publisher Faber & Faber which published Auden on Eliot’s recommendation; even if Eliot’s conservative religious and political positions were the opposite of Auden’s .

In Berlin; W.H. Auden and Isherwood became aware of social unrest and the clash between the Communists and the rising Nazi party.  W.H. Auden  became a Marxist because Marxism provided a ready-made structure to explain conflict.  All his life Auden was interested in developing frameworks to interpret social and religious categories; and the Marxist dialectic was both a philosophy of history and a structure to understand current events.  Auden, however; was never attracted to the political parties that were the manifestations of Marxist views.

W. H. Auden

Wystan Hugh Auden by John Kjellström, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The despotic rule of the educated classes.

With Isherwood; W.H. Auden wrote a number of verse plays that combined humor, irony with the issues of the day.  It was a socially-conscious art; but they never departed from a certain ironic tone and a concern with language.  Auden was always concerned with the impact of words; and his poems were usually clear and in a conversational style.  He could recognize the importance of style and the use of words of other poets such as Yeats.

In the 1930s; confronted with social unrest, William Butler Yeats moved increasingly to the Right even urging “the despotic rule of the educated classes”.  In 1933; Yeats was for a short time drawn towards General O’Duffy, leader of the Irish Fascists — the Blue Shirts.  Fortunately;  O’Duffy was a clown from whom Yeats separated quickly;  but not from some of O’Duffy’s ‘law and order’ ideas.  Thus;  although Yeats had become an opponent of Auden’s values;  Auden’s tribute to Yeats on his death in 1939 is one of the most moving and just.

“ But there is one field in which the poet is a man of action, the field of language, and it is precisely in this that the greatness of the deceased is most obviously shown.  However false or undemocratic his ideas,  his diction shows a continuous evolution toward what one might call the true democratic style.  The social virtues of real democracy are brotherhood and intelligence, and the parallel linguistic virtues are strength and clarity, virtues which appear even more clearly through successive volumes by the deceased.”

Journey to a War.

When the Spanish civil war broke out; W.H. Auden was immediately drawn to the Republican cause.  He went to Spain thinking of becoming an ambulance driver.  However; his literary talents were more needed in the information and propaganda services.  In Spain; he saw that the political realities were more ambiguous and troubling than he thought; but he saw that war was ready to expand.  He also saw the link between events in Europe and Asia.  In 1938; Auden and Isherwood went to China to cover the Sino-Japanese conflict and jointly wrote a powerful account Journey to a War.

On their way back by boat from China; Auden and Isherwood decided to stay in the USA.  Auden in New Year Letter reviews the political decade in which he had been the leading poetry voice of the Left:

Who, thinking of the last ten years

Does not hear howling in his ears

The Asiatic cry of pain

The shots of executing Spain

See stumbling through his outraged mind

The Abyssinians, blistered, blind,

The dazed uncomprehending stare

Of the Danubian despair

The Jew wrecked in the German cell,

Flat Poland frozen into hell.


Once in the USA; the Auden-Isherwood couple broke. Auden wrote:

If equal affection cannot be

Let the more loving one be me.


Isherwood moved to California and became part of the religious-mystical circle around Aldous Huxley and Gerald Heard.  Isherwood became a cultural bridge builder toward India and Indian thought. He  became a disciple of the Indian teacher Swami Prabhavananda; and cooperated in the translations of a number of Indian religious texts.  Later Isherwood’s memories of Berlin Goodbye to Berlin served as the basis of plays and films.

Christopher Isherwood and W.H. Auden

Portrait of Christopher Isherwood and W.H. Auden. 1939 by Carl Van Vechten, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Meanwhile; W.H. Auden stayed on the East Coast, first teaching at Swarthmore, a Quaker college near Philadelphia from 1942-45; he then lived in New York City in the literary fashionable St Marks Place.  He began writing for US journals; in particular The New Yorker and Vogue both of which paid well so that he could write without having to have a regular teaching job; though he was often asked to give lectures at universities.  Auden became increasingly influenced by the Protestant theologian and political analyst Reinhold Niebuhr;  who was teaching in New York City. 

Niebuhr combined a socialist-leaning politics with a Protestant theology; which stressed that humans were always limited in their ability to do good by the reality of sin; which is self-centeredness.  In the Niebuhr spirit, Auden wrote :

“ Man is not, as the romantics imagined, good by nature.  Men are equal not in their capacities and virtues but in their natural bias toward evil.  No individual or class therefore can claim an absolute right to impose its view of good upon them.  Government must be democratic, the people must have a right to make their own mistakes and to suffer for them.”


In New York; Auden entered into a long-term literary and homosexual relationship with Chester Kallman; a younger poet and writer.  The two together began writing opera libretti for the English composer Benjamin Britten; who also spent the war years in the USA.  They wrote together the words for Britten’s opera Paul Bunyan – a folk hero that Britten used to deal with his newly-discovered American themes; as well as the words for many of Britten’s song cycles.  Kallman and Auden wrote Rake’s Progress for Igor Stravinsky; who had also moved to the USA as well as an opera of Hans Henze based on The Bacchae of Euripides.

To mark the war years and the start of the Cold War; Auden wrote The Age of Anxiety which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1947.  While the book was not that widely read; the title gave its name to a whole period and sections of it were often quoted.

By 1948; Auden was again attracted to life in Europe; but largely places that were not associated in his mind with his experiences of the 1930s.  He spent part of each year in Italy and later both Italy and Austria.  He returned to Oxford University to give some lectures on poetry but post-war England held out few attractions for him.  Although he continued writing book reviews and short essays, his declining years never caught the spirit of the times as did his 1930s poems and his 1947 Age of Anxiety.  Nevertheless, he is a prime example of the cultural bridge builder, reacting to political events in societies outside his own but seeing how these political and cultural events have an impact on the wider society.



A useful biography is Humphrey Carpenter W.H. Auden: A Biography (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1981);

His plays and dramatic writings with Christopher Isherwood are presented by Edward Mendelson (Ed.) W.H.Auden and Christopher Isherwood. Plays and other dramatic writing, 1928-1938 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988).

For his religiously-inspired writings in the USA see Arthur Kirsch Auden and Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005)

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Hermann Hesse Rapprochement of Cultures.

Hermann Hesse: Revolt and Enlightenment.

Featured Picture: Gaienhofen (Baden-Württemberg). Hermann Hesse House – Portrait (1905) of Hermann Hesse by Ernst Würtenberger. By Wolfgang Sauber, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Hermann Hesse (1877-1962); whose birth anniversary we mark on 2 July; was born into a German Protestant missionary family which had worked particularly in India.  His mother was born in India; and his maternal grandfather had translated Christian scriptures into  Indian languages; and later in his life developed a German- Indian languages dictionary.  His father had also been a Protestant missionary in India; but by the time Hermann Hesse was born in 1877; had returned to Germany to the Black Forest area; where he founded a small publishing house to publish Protestant books.  Hermann’s father thought that he should follow the pattern of both sides of his family; become a Protestant minister and perhaps go and preach in Asia.

However; in a theme which he takes up in his main novels; he revolted early against family authority, and so his father sent him away to a boarding school.  In fact; he went to several different boarding schools; where he remained in revolt against school authority. He finally finished secondary school and started university. However German universities of his time were as authority-bound as were secondary schools; and he quickly dropped out.

A viper nourished at the breast of an unsuspecting audience.

Hermann Hesse first thought of becoming a painter; and then decided to be a novelist while earning his living in odd jobs; his father having cut off all financial support.  In the years prior to the First World War; he wrote a number of novels in the romantic style of the time.  Hermann Hesse started to earn money from his writing and editing.  In 1911; he went to India but not to convert Indians to Christianity, but to learn about Hinduism, Buddhism, and Chinese philosophy. Hesse’s Indian experience set the stage for his awareness that true freedom must be an inner one.

The outbreak of the First World War had a heavy negative impact on Hermann Hesse; a pacifist who believed that an avenue to peace was to build bridges between cultures.  As he was already living in Bern, Switzerland, he refused to return to Germany for war service.   He lost his earlier popularity among German readers who were, for the most part, caught up in the war spirit.  Hermann Hessse  was denounced in the press as”a viper nourished at the breast of an unsuspecting audience.”   By 1916, his marriage and family fell apart, and he was under great mental strain, his wife confined to a mental institution and his son seriously ill.

Hermann Hesse
Hermann Hesse by Unknown authorUnknown author, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Demian and Siddhartha.

Thus, in 1916-1917 he undertook a psychoanalysis supervised by C.G. Jung. Through Jungian psychoanalysis he developed the idea of a correspondence between an inner state of being and its expression in the outer world.  The war was not only raging on the battlefield but also within the spirit of a generation whose values had collapsed.  Hermann Hesse wrote Demian in 1917. His hero says:

The world wants to renew itself.  There is a smell of death in the air.  Nothing can be born without first dying”.

Demian dies on a Flanders battlefield unable to develop a new system of values.  The book was taken up by youth in the years following the end of the war when many came to wonder if the outcome was worth the sacrifices.

Rebellion against established structures, the quest for personal values and a religious impulse are all elements in Siddhartha, published in 1922, perhaps his most widely-read book.  Hesse reworks the early quest of the Buddha into a life-long process.  In the novel, Siddhartha, son of a Brahman, has been brought up a faithful observer of his father’s religion.  At 18, deciding that he cannot find true fulfillment in conventional Hinduism, he sets out in search of an even more austere religion.  Three years of asceticism brings him to the realization that extreme and exclusive concentration on the spirit cuts him off from the world of nature and thus takes him even further from the harmony he seeks.

The Glass Bead Game.

In a reversal, he devotes himself for 20 years to a life of the senses, becoming a successful merchant and finding sensual love.  However, he understands that a life of matter has brought him no closer to tranquility.  Thus he abandons his wife and his possessions. He spends 20 years as a ferryman on a river.  He listens to the whisperings of the water and in the company of a sage, he achieves a harmony of being. As Hesse writes “From that hour, Siddhartha ceased to fight against his destiny.  There shone on his face the serenity of knowledge of one who is no longer confronted with the conflict of desires, who has found salvation, who is in harmony with the stream of events, with the stream of life, full of sympathy and compassion, surrendering himself to the stream, belonging to the unity of all things.”

It is not clear that Hesse found the harmony of enlightenment in his own life.  In his last major work The Glass Bead Game (1943) he describes what might be an ideal Buddhist monastery devoted to the discovery, preservation and dissemination of knowledge.  The chief monk leaves and goes out into the world where he quickly dies.  Hesse stresses his faith in a society that treasures the traditions and culture of the past while remaining open to the future.  This is the Middle Way, the core value of the Buddhist view of Enlightenment.

Hermann Hesse

Statue of Hermann Hesse. By Michael Ney (Sensory Image), Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons.

Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.


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Antoine de Saint Exupéry Portraits of World Citizens.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry (29 Jun 1900 – 31…

Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Scanned drawing. By К.Е.Сергеев, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry was a cosmopolitan humanist in the Stoic tradition. He belonged to the rural nobility of France and could have used the title of Count but never did. His mother, however; did use the title of Countess and raised her five children in a large property in central France, near Lyon; her husband having died shortly after the birth of her fifth child.  Saint Ex as he is usually called was the middle child and the older boy. He always recalled the calm atmosphere of the property where he grew up; “spoiled” by his mother and older sisters.

The Saint Exupéry family was traditionally Roman Catholic; and his mother was very attracted to Catholic practice.  Antoine de Saint Exupéry, however; by temperament and intellectually grew early to hold views close to those of Henri Bergson; a belief in an impersonal cosmic energy that was the motor of evolution.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry

 Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in Tunis in 1935. By Unknown authorUnknown authorWhidou, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.


Therefore; some would call this cosmic energy “God” though Saint Ex rarely did.  However; out of respect for his mother; he never expressed anti-clerical ideas.  A reflective youth; he was often called “dreamy” and was most at ease in solitude. Solitary reflection in a state of harmony with Nature was his character throughout life; and in this he was close to the Greek and Roman Stoics.

In secondary school and at university; he studied science, and later in life with his experience as a pilot; he held several patents for airplane improvements. France had a system of universal military service for men, when one reached 21.  Thus; in 1921 Saint Ex was taken into the military and trained as a pilot − the importance of the military use of the air force having been shown in the 1914-1918;  First World War.  On finishing his military service and with no set career plans; he used his air force training to join the newly created postal air service between Europe and the French colonies of Africa; and later to South America.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry

A model of Saint-Exupery’s Breguet 14 at the Museo Antoine de Saint-Exupéry en Tarfaya (Marruecos). By dimitri from Millau, France, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Framework for Saint Ex’s writings.

These experiences of early flights over ocean, desert and mountain obstacles; create the framework for Saint Ex’s writings. The theme is the solitude of the individual facing nature and the solidarity among the men; who are facing these common dangers.

The Saint Exupéry family had friends in the publishing world; and Antoine was encouraged to write on his experiences. In 1928; his first book Courrier Sud is published on his experiences of flying mail to Africa; and saving his colleagues who had crashed. In 1930; he is sent to South America to create the air postal service there.  He drew from the experience to write Vol de nuit with a preface by André Gide; then at the height of his literary influence.  Saint Ex also brought back from South America a wife, Consuelo Suncin.  It was in today’s terminology a very “open marriage”. St Ex, good looking and famous, had many female adventures, but his wife had no fewer.

Solidarity and Togetherness.

In the mid-1930s; the private postal service companies were “nationalized”. Saint Ex, in personality clashes; was pushed out of what had become Air France. His fame as a writer opened the door to writing for newspapers, especially that he already knew many of the publishers. In 1935, he spent a month in Moscow and was impressed by the solidarity of the First of May celebrations. However; Saint Ex had no political or economic views and his Moscow reports are more on the solidarity of Russians among themselves.

In 1936; the civil war started in Spain and Saint Ex was sent to report on the battles. Again he had no particular views of the ideology of the Republicans and the Fascists; but he was struck by the solidarity among the soldiers on both sides. In 1937; he was sent to report on Hitler’s Germany. He had no sympathy for the Nazi cause; but was impressed by the “togetherness” of the Nazi mass ceremonies.


Le Petit Prince.

On the eve of the war in 1939; his best known book Terre des hommes was published. In English, it became Wind, Sand, and Stars and was widely read in the USA.  Although Saint Ex was against war; believing that “all men can be brothers”; once the war with Germany was declared; by a sense of duty; he joined the French army air force until the armistice was signed with Germany.  From this war experience, he wrote Pilote de guerre, translated into English as Flight to Arras, the city where was posted.

Terre des Hommes - Antoine de Saint Exupéry

Antoin de Saint-Exupéry (29 June 1900 – 31 July 1944), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As France started to be occupied by German troops, he left for North Africa and then quickly moved to New York City where his writings were well known in literary circles and where he had friends. While in New York, he published his philosophical tale  Le Petit Prince,  which became his most translated book. 

Antoine de Saint Exupéry

 Antoine de Saint-Exupéry exhibit at the French Air and Space Museum in Le Bourget, Paris. Shown are four title’s from Saint-Exupéry’s works: Le Petit Prince (lower left), The Little Prince (upper right), Pilot de  Guerre (lower right) and Lettre à un otage (upper left).By Harry Zilber, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.


When the US troops liberated North Africa and the Free French government was established there, Saint Ex returned to North Africa to rejoin the French air force. Although at 43, he was “overage” to pilot the US war plane Lightning P38, his fame was such that he could not be refused. It is with a Lightning that he carried out a number of reconnaissance missions over Italy and France. On 31 July 1944 his plane was shot down by German fire and was lost in the Mediterranean.

A book of his philosophical thoughts on which he had been working for a number of years Citadelle was published in 1948 after his death. Saint Ex’s style was influenced by Frederic Nietzche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra which he had read.

However, the spirit is much closer to Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet. There is no indication that he had read  Gibran in Saint Ex’s period in New York. It is more likely that both writers shared a common outlook on life. Saint Ex’s outlook was basically that of the Stoics: the common nature of all humans whatever the cultural differences, harmony with Nature, and calm in the face of danger.

René Wadlow, President, the Association of World Citizens.


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