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Ludwig Quidde

Ludwig Quidde

Ludwig Quidde (March 23, 1858 - March 4, 1941) was a German pacifist who is mainly remembered today for his acerbic criticism of German Emperor Wilhelm II. Quidde's long career spanned four different eras of German history: that of Bismarck (up to 1890); the Hohenzollern Empire under Wilhelm II (1888 - 1918); the Weimar Republic (1918 - 1933); and, finally, Nazi Germany. In 1927 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Born into a wealthy bourgeois merchant family, Quidde grew up in Bremen, read history and also got involved in the activities of the Deutsche Friedensgesellschaft (German Peace Society). In his younger years he had already opposed Bismarck's policies. In 1894 Quidde published a 17-page pamphlet entitled Caligula. Eine Studie über römischen Caesarenwahnsinn (Caligula: A Study of Imperial Insanity). Containing 79 (!) footnotes, the short essay is exclusively about the Roman Empire of the 1st century AD. However, Quidde drew an implicit parallel between the Roman Emperor Caligula and Wilhelm II, de facto accusing both rulers of megalomania. The author had insisted on publishing his pamphlet under his real name, which effectively ended his academic career as a historian when, in some periodical, a short review explained the parallels which otherwise might have gone unnoticed.

After the end of the First World War, Quidde belonged to those who vehemently opposed the Treaty of Versailles. However, while German militarists mainly deplored the vast restrictions laid upon the German armed forces and the impending economic disaster that would be caused by payment of the high reparations that were decreed, German pacifists, thinking ahead and hoping that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson would win the day, pointed out that such severe conditions would already sow the seeds of a new war:

Ein gedemütigtes, zerrissenes und zu kümmerlichem wirtschaftlichen Dasein verdammtes deutsches Volk wäre ebenso eine stete Gefahr für den Weltfrieden, wie ein in seinen unveräußerlichen Rechten und Daseinsbedingungen geschütztes eine starke Stütze desselben sein würde.
Mögen jene, die heute die Macht haben, über den nächsten Tag hinaus an die Zukunft der Menschheit denken. Eine ungeheure Verantwortung liegt auf ihnen. Etwas ganz Neues kann heute zum Segen aller Völker geschaffen werden. Kurzsichtiger Missbrauch der heutigen Macht kann alles verderben.

A humiliated and torn German nation condemned to economic misery would be a constant danger to world peace, just as a protected German nation whose inalienable rights and subsistence are safeguarded would be a strong pillar of such world peace.
May those who are in power today think beyond this day and consider the future of mankind. Their responsibility is enormous. Today, an altogether new order can be created for the benefit of all peoples. Short-sighted misuse of that power can ruin everything.

("Announcement of the German Peace Society", November 15, 1918, co-authored by Quidde)

When Hitler came to power in 1933 Quidde escaped to Switzerland, finally settling down in Geneva for the rest of his days. He remained an optimist throughout his life. Aged 76, he published his essay "Landfriede und Weltfriede" (1934) at a time when militarism was again on the rise, believing that modern technology might serve as a deterrent from war:

[…] die Entwicklung der Technik, die den modernen Krieg immer mehr zu einem selbstmörderischen Wahnsinn gemacht hat, dem Kriege ein Ende setzen wird. Das hat im Grunde genommen schon Kant vorausgesehen, der die Schaffung eines "ewigen Friedens" nicht etwa von einer Hebung der Moral erwartete, sondern vom Kriege, der so unerträglich werden würde, dass die Menschheit sich genötigt sehen würde, den Frieden zu sichern.

[It is] today's technological development which has turned modern war into a suicidal nightmare and which will put an end to war. This was already predicted by Kant, who expected "perpetual peace" to be established not due to the moral perfection of man but due to modern warfare, which would be so unbearable that mankind would see itself forced to guarantee everlasting peace.

Ludwig Quidde died in his Swiss exile in 1941, aged 83.