Lord Lothian: The Paths of Federalism

Writings and speeches

by Claudio G. Anta (Author)
©2014 Others 193 Pages
Series: Federalism, Volume 3


Lord Lothian (Philip Kerr, 1882-1940) was one of the leading exponents of British federalism between the Two World Wars. His federalism was linked to the tradition of Kantian and Hamiltonian thought while simultaneously going beyond this tradition. In the aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles, which saw the Old Continent divided into nation-states as holders of absolute sovereignty, he identified the value of peace in the model of the federal State. This was not, as in the case of the Americans, the pragmatic scheme of constitutionalists imposed upon by their historical circumstances, but the general principle of a State organisation geared towards lasting peace in international relations, first in Europe and then worldwide. At the first signs of crisis within the British Empire, Lothian also consistently advocates the political unity of the English-speaking peoples as the nucleus of a world federation able to institutionalise inter-state conflicts and overcome them through legal means.
The anthology contained in this essay includes twenty writings and speeches by Lothian and is divided into two sections. The first traces his original political-ideological path: from his long collaboration with the magazine «The Round Table», which has its roots in his initial South African experience within the «Kindergarten», to his speeches held at Chatham House in London in November 1928 and at the Institut für Auswärtige Politik of Hamburg in October 1929; it also covers the years he spent as Private Secretary to the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. The second section focuses on his best-known writings, dating back to the second half of the 1930s – namely Pacifism is not Enough, National Sovereignty and Peace and The Demonic Influence of National Sovereignty – ending with some addresses he delivered as British Ambassador to Washington. In addition there are some significant letters that are part of the extensive correspondence Lothian had with statesmen and federalist intellectuals (Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Lionel Curtis and Anthony Eden), which enrich the entire collection.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Part One
  • Chapter 1. The Evolution of Federalism in Great Britain (1860-1940)
  • 1. Towards a New European Order after the Treaty of Versailles
  • 2. The Tradition of Federalist Ideas Beyond the English Channel
  • 3. The British Proposals Between the Two World Wars
  • Chapter 2. Lord Lothian: A Far-sighted Cosmopolitan
  • 1. From the Kindergarten to Editor of ‘The Round Table’
  • 2. Private Secretary to the Prime Minister David Lloyd George
  • 3. Against Absolute National Sovereignty as a Lecturer and Ambassador
  • 4. In the Sign of Hamiltonian Federalism and Active Pacifism
  • Part Two An Anthology of Lord Lothian’s Writings and Speeches
  • Chapter 1. The Fragile Balance of the First Post-war Period
  • 1.1 The End of War September 1915
  • 1.2 Letter to Lloyd George March 3rd, 1919
  • 1.3 America and the League of Nations November 14th, 1919
  • 1.4 Letter to Lloyd George September 2nd, 1920
  • 1.5 Letter to Winston Churchill February 28th, 1921
  • 1.6 The British Commonwealth, the Protocol and the League December 1924
  • 1.7 Letter to Lionel Curtis January 20th, 1925
  • 1.8 The Outlawry of War November 13th, 1928
  • 1.9 Democracy, Nationality, and International Unity October 30th, 1929
  • 1.10 Where Are You Going? March 1930
  • 1.11 Towards Peace or War? June 1930
  • Chapter 2. Building an Enduring Peace
  • 2.1 Pacifism is not Enough, nor Patriotism Either 28th May, 1935
  • 2.2 Letter to Antony Eden June 3rd, 1936
  • 2.3 National Sovereignty and Peace March 1938
  • 2.4 The Demonic Influence of National Sovereignty May 1938
  • 2.5 Letter to Lionel Curtis April 6th, 1939
  • 2.6 The Ending of Armageddon June 1939
  • 2.7 Speech to the House of Delegates and Senate of Virginia February 17th, 1940
  • 2.8 Address to the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce April 19th, 1940
  • 2.9 Speech at the Annual Columbia University Alumni Luncheon June 4th, 1940
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index


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The Evolution of Federalism in Great Britain (1860-1940)

1.  Towards a New European Order after the Treaty of Versailles

From the moment the First World War ended, the idea of a united Europe1 was no longer simply an abstract claim of principles and aspirations. Formerly only an expression of the thoughts of great intellectuals like Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon, Augustin Thierry, Giuseppe Mazzini, Carlo Cattaneo, Victor Hugo, Charles Lemonnier and John Robert Seeley, it would now become a concrete political programme, thanks to the efforts of a wide range of prestigious personalities, leading movements and élites. ← 11 | 12 → Due to the new European structure outlined by the Treaty of Versailles, the conviction became widespread that this overcoming of international anarchy represented the conditio sine qua non to reaching the “endless peace” first proposed by Immanuel Kant in 1795. Its first proposal was formulated by Richard Nikolaus Coudenhove-Kalergi, author of Pan-Europa (1923) and founder of the homonymous movement. The Austrian count defined the League of Nations as an “inorganic structure”2, since it did not group States according to their historical, economic and cultural affinities but “in a mechanical way” instead. Drawing inspiration from the doctrine set out by James Monroe in “America to Americans”, Coudenhove-Kalergi claimed with equal strength the concept of a “Europe for Europeans” – a confederal alliance extending to Portugal and Poland, clearly separated from other world powers such as communist Russia and the British Commonwealth. Using the words Föderation (Federation) and Staatenbund (League of States) as synonyms, he however did not assign to them the same meaning as in Hamilton’s federal tradition.

In the 1920s, Luigi Einaudi expressed his hopes for a “second sort of League of Nations”, in the form of a super-State that could exert direct sovereignty over its citizens, and would be entitled to fix taxes and create and maintain its own army. Einaudi – a Piedmontese statesman – made a clear distinction between the principles of ‘federation’, using the American Constitution as an example, and ‘confederation’, the expression of a consolidated European tradition. He argued that the structure conceived by Thomas W. Wilson actually referred to the latter concept, because it represented a sort of alliance or league, unsuitable for assuring everlasting peace3. In his opinion, only through the weakening of the absolute sovereignty of the European States – in the form of a federal union – would it be possible to overcome international anarchy and, then, to avoid new conflicts. Einaudi’s criticisms were not isolated either, as they were supported by both Giovanni Agnelli’s and Attilio Cabiati’s reflections. The two declared their opinion to be in favour of the model of the British Commonwealth, founded on the principles of “self-government” and “rule of law”. Furthermore, they underlined the inefficiency of the League of Nations, claiming that no international organisation, even one entrusted with peace control and keeping, would be able to impose their decisions in the absence of popular legitimisation, over another’s finances and army4. ← 12 | 13 →

On September 5th, 1929, Aristide Briand, in front of the Assembly of the League of Nations, stated his own desire for the unification of the Old Continent; the French Foreign Minister put his speech into a memorandum in which he proposed a Federal Union of Europe, inside the Genevan institution and subordinate to it, aimed at creating long-lasting political and economic relationships among nations without harming their sovereignty (a goal that itself clashed with the concept of a Federal Union). Despite the interest it aroused in the press and in public opinion, the project did not take off5: boycotted by fascist Italy and by Great Britain, it stalled definitively after the crisis and the downfall of the Weimar Republic. Instead it would be the long-running theme of communist danger that would finally give the idea of European unification its widespread success. Winston Churchill exhorted the countries of the Old Continent to unite in order to isolate the Bolshevik revolution; he claimed that Great Britain must be partner to, but not member of a federal Europe because, as he stated in his famous ‘Saturday Evening Post’ article, published in February 1930 under the title The United States of Europe: “The British Empire is a leading European power. It is a great and growing American power. It is the Australasian power. It is one of the greatest Asiatic powers. It is the leading African power. Great Britain herself […] is the centre and head of the British Commonwealth of Nations”6.

José Ortega y Gasset offered a different interpretative point of view; in his renowned essay La rebelión de las masas (1930) the Spanish intellectual ascribed the reason behind the Continental crisis to the fact that larger and larger classes of the population were forming a coalition to claim their rights, which was undermining society bases. Therefore, the post-war phase represented a period of equalisation, during which the differences among the various continents were tending to diminish. It would be possible to go beyond this situation, Ortega y Gasset specified, through the birth of the United States of Europe – the presuppositions for the realisation of which already existed in the traditions and values shared by the various countries: “French, English and Spanish souls were, are and will be different as much as you like; they have, anyway, the same basis or psychological architecture and, most of all, they are ← 13 | 14 → gaining a common content”7. In the 1930s, the thoughts of Carlo Rosselli were just as authoritative. In 1935, the founder of ‘Giustizia e Libertà’ launched two important proposals: the convocation of a Constituent Assembly entrusted with drawing up a European Constitution and the education of the masses with respect to the concept of a federation. These ideas were adopted by the European Federalist Movement, founded in 1943 in Milan; together with its French counterpart movement, they constituted the most important base federalist organisation on a continental scale in the post-war period.

Theorists and politicians of various movements all based their theories on a homogeneous conceptual framework, which can be identified as being inside three main cultural branches. Firstly, the recovery and development of Hamilton’s theory that making a clear distinction between federation and confederation would avoid any confusion between mere interstate collaboration and forms of true unification8. Secondly, Alexander Hamilton’s reflections were analysed in depth by comparing them with the German doctrine of the “power-State”, developed by Friedrich Meinecke; this is obviously a critical combination, because the assumptions of those who wanted national States to abandon their sovereignty were inevitably the complete opposite to the conservatory and authoritarian orientation of those who supported the power-State9. The third branch is represented by the English liberalist school, whose theses – above all thanks to Lionel Robbins’s reflections – enabled people to understand the problems concerning economic growth ← 14 | 15 → and social independence stemming from the industrial revolution, resulting in the need for European countries to have bigger dimensions. Hence the proposal of an over-national federal system that permitted the solving of these crises through the creation of centres for conflict control and the programming of economic priorities10.

It is for these reasons that for some thinkers, such as Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, co-authors of the Manifesto di Ventotene – written in 1941 during their political confinement in the Tyrrhenian island and published in 1944 by Eugenio Colorni – the European federation was indicated as the priority target of a political programme that aimed to meet the historical challenge of the time. In their opinion, the criterion for the division between progressive and reactionary forces was no longer identifiable with the “formal line of major or minor democracy, of the superior or inferior socialism to be established”, but, on the contrary, with the line that discriminated between “those who conceive the old goal, that is to say the conquest of the national political power, as the essential aim of the struggle […], and those who will see the creation of a solid international State as a central task”11. The federalist method found its main reference points in the English school, whose most important representatives were Lionel Robbins, Lord Lothian (Philip Henry Kerr) and Barbara Wootton, and in the Italian school headed up by Altiero Spinelli and Mario Albertini. In 1938, the Federal Union12 was created in Great ← 15 | 16 → Britain; the general idea of the movement being that the absolute sovereignty of nation-States – the main cause of international anarchy – should be replaced with a federal government, the only option for assuring peace.

So both British and Italian federalists were inspired by Alexander Hamilton’s ideas in The Federalist13. They implicitly compared the two American Constitutions of 1781 and 1787 and underlined the superiority of the federal model over the confederal one, highlighting the failure of the former and the success of the latter. In this context, the European Federation could be considered a model to legalise the relationships between national States.

2.  The Tradition of Federalist Ideas Beyond the English Channel

By the end of the 19th century a significant amount of literature on federalism had developed in Great Britain. Compared to the other States of the Old Continent, the British now found themselves in an ideal position to fully understand the authors of The Federalist. It was not only a matter of language, culture and tradition; in fact Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay drew their political inspiration mainly from John Locke and Charles-Louis de Secondat de Montesquieu. From the English philosopher they took the idea of individual freedom as the main purpose of a civil government; and at the same time they applied the Montesquiean concept of separation of powers among the institutions of central government and between the central institutions and their constituent States. For the founding fathers of the Constitution of the United States, L’Esprit des lois was “a sort of Bible of political philosophy”, which they mentioned in The Federalist “much as the Schoolmen cite Aristotle”14.

Between the 1860s and the First World War World, federalism became a subject of study and commitment for several thinkers and academics. In 1861, John Stuart Mill published Considerations on Representative Government15 in which he underlined the direct relationship between a federal government and its citizens, as well as the clear division of powers between federal and State governments. With reference to its capacity to maintain peace, Mill pointed out that a federation would put an end to ← 16 | 17 → wars, diplomatic disputes and trade restrictions between the several States which composed it; and that increasing its military power could only benefit its external defence16.

After the conclusion of the American Civil War in 1865, in which the secessionist forces were defeated, federalism acquired a new meaning in Great Britain. It was now seen as an effective strategy to prevent the disintegration of the British Empire, whose colonies were claiming ever greater independence and with the Irish question evoking similar proposals. One of the intellectuals who best demonstrated this renewed interest17 was John Robert Seeley, the then Professor of Modern History at Cambridge; in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war he held a lecture on behalf of the Peace Society, which subsequently appeared in ‘Macmillan’s Magazine’ under the title United States of Europe18. In it, Seeley defended the federalist idea as a valid strategy for abolishing war in the Old Continent; he advocated the establishment of a federal court, a legislative and executive federal power and a standing army under the direct control of the government, capable of suppressing any possible resistance and with the power to undermine internal or external security. He accepted that European States would have more difficulties than the USA in realising what was a similar project, but despite this he had high hopes for a “new Federation arising like a majestic temple over the tomb of war”19.

Following the rise of America and Russia as great world powers, Seeley formulated new ideas; in his opinion, Britain would have to federate with its colonies – Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – and maintain its relationship with India because of this change of balance. Seeley expounded this view in the early 1880s in his Cambridge lectures, published in 1883 as The Expansion of England20. In them he emphasised that the federal organisation of the United States had allowed a solid and lasting union of vast territories without undermining the political freedom of its citizens through representative institutions; in this way the Americans had avoided the centrifugal tendency that had weakened the British Empire. This view was also shared by the Imperial Federation League, founded in London in 1884 with the objective of achieving a ← 17 | 18 → closer union between Great Britain and its colonies; the American paradigm was conceived by the new organisation as a method to protect the unity of the empire. A further fundamental work was the monumental The America Commonwealth (1888) by James Bryce21; according to the famous English jurist – who was Regius Professor of Civil Law at Oxford and a Liberal MP – it was necessary to imitate the federal model of the United States to build up the future order of the British Empire, because it had secured pacific relations among different races and culture in the North American country for nearly one hundred years.

But American federalism was not only considered an institutional system capable of saving the empire, but also the right system for building a united and peaceful Europe. On this matter, Henry Sidgwick – Professor of Moral Philosophy at Cambridge’s Trinity College – published two important essays: The Element of Politics22 and The Development of European Polity23. In them Sidgwick argued that a federal system could better ensure respect for freedom, economic welfare and security from external attacks; the English philosopher believed that a West European federation would be the “most probable prophecy”24, following the political model of the United States of America. A similar argument was proposed by the liberal intellectual William Thomas Stead, editor of ‘The Pall Mall Gazette’ from 1883 to 1890, in his The United States of Europe on the Eve of the Parliament of Peace (1899). Stead was a supporter of arbitration, the advocacy of which he believed would strengthen the sentiment in favour of the ‘United States of Europe’ – a system with its own financial resources and in which its law is enforceable on individuals. In his opinion, the successful example of the USA made it “at least thinkable”25; in this perspective he considered the Federation of Europe an “embryo in the latter stages of gestation”26.

Unlike Bryce, Sidgwick, and Stead, Albert Venn Dicey – at the time a Professor of English Law at Oxford – was not an advocate of the federal idea, as evidenced in his Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution, first published in 1885. In it he tried to demonstrate the superiority of a centralised government and parliamentary sovereignty; nevertheless he pointed out that in his opinion, the notion of federalism ← 18 | 19 → contained the “solution of every constitutional problem that perplexes British statesmanship”27. Equally significant were Lord Acton’s reflections; in his History of Freedom and Other Essays, appearing posthumously in 1907, the liberal politician considered federalism to be capable of unlimited extension, “the only way of avoiding war”, allowing different nationalities, religions and cultures to “exist in harmony side by side”28. By contrast, he deplored the excesses of democratic centralisation arising from the ideas of the French Revolution.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (April)
British federalism British Commonwealth diplomatic relations national sovereignty South Africa
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 193 pp.

Biographical notes

Claudio G. Anta (Author)

Claudio Giulio Anta is a researcher specialising in the history of political thought and political institutions. He collaborates with the Department of Political and Social Studies at Pavia University. His books include Il rilancio dell’Europa. Il progetto di Jacques Delors (2004); Padri dell’Europa. Sette brevi ritratti (2005, the French translation was published by P.I.E. Peter Lang in 2007); Winston Churchill e l’idea dell’Europa unita (2007); The Europeanism of Winston Churchill (2009); and Guerra alla guerra. La lezione di Coenobium (2010, the French translation was published by P.I.E Peter Lang in 2012).


Title: Lord Lothian: The Paths of Federalism
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