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«Die Welt war meine Gemeinde»- Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft

A Theologian for Europe between Ecumenism and Federalism


Edited By Filippo Maria Giordano and Stefano Dell'Acqua

Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft (1900–1985), Dutch pastor and theologian, was one of the most significant personalities in the Protestant Ecumenical movement. Deeply influenced by Karl Barth, and filled with a strong Ecumenical spirit, he was closely involved in the founding of the World Council of Churches, of which he was elected General Secretary. During the Second World War, many Protestants became convinced of the need for an international political system which, beside uniting the nations and peoples of Europe, would guarantee them fundamental freedoms and mutual respect for their historical, cultural and confessional traditions.
The directors of the WWC were strongly committed to federalism, partly because of the political traditions of the states from which their member churches originated (Switzerland; Great Britain and its Commonwealth; the United States), and partly because of their conviction that a simple confederation of states, based on the model of the League of Nations, would be completely incapable of containing national ambitions. In spring 1944, Visser ’t Hooft welcomed into his Geneva home the representatives of the European Resistance, who, under the leadership of Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, signed the International Federalist Declaration of the Resistance Movements. These historic transnational encounters, aimed not only at coordinating military action or seeking diplomatic contacts but at exploring ways to «build» peace and re-establish the future of the Continent on new foundations, marked a profound break with the past.
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From the Criticism of the League of Nations to the Project of a New Europe

The Crisis of Civilisation


The Debate on Overcoming National Sovereignty after the First World War


The 20th century opened in the bright light of the Belle Époque and to the frenetic rhythm of the cancan. Extraordinary technological inventions (radio, automobiles, aviation, cinema, electric lighting), medical breakthroughs and outstanding industrial development seemed to confirm the positivistic belief in continuous progress. Moreover, many decades of peace (at least in Europe) had instilled a euphoric sense of security and well-being in society. However, beneath the surface, the seeds of a crisis of civilisation were ripening. This culminated in the First World War and overwhelmed European society. The hegemony of the old continent had begun to be eroded by the Spanish-American War in 1898 and the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, which catapulted the United States and Japan into position as two of the world’s great powers. The Great War, finally brought to an end through the crucial intervention of a non-European power, made evident the economic, political and cultural crisis of Europe. The United States’ return to isolationism and the Soviet Union’s withdrawal into itself, the latter intent on consolidating the conquests of the October Revolution, granted Europe an additional twenty years of illusory world hegemony, but the decline of the Continent began to unfold uncontrollably.

In economic terms, Europe was beginning to suffer the competition of the great non-European powers. The United States and Japan had greatly benefited from the war without suffering any of the negative...

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