December 20, 2012
On Dec. 10, 1927, Ferdinand Édouard Buisson, a Frenchman, and Ludwig Quidde, a German, were presented the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in reforming education.
In his presentation speech, Fredrik Stang, said, “A constant and real threat of war also lies in the mentality of men, in the psychology of the masses. Therefore the great organized work for peace must be preceded by the education of the people, by a campaign to turn mass thinking away from war as a recognized means of settling disputes, and to substitute another and much higher ideal: peaceful cooperation between nations…
“It is in the task of reorienting public opinion that Buisson and Quidde have played such prominent roles. They have guided this work in two countries where it has been particularly difficult to accomplish, but where the need for it has been commensurately great.”
Buisson, who was born on Dec. 20, 1841, in Paris, was the driving force in the massive re-making of French education in the late 1800s. He trained to be a teacher, but in 1866 refused to swear allegiance to the Emperor and was denied teaching positions. He was forced to leave for Switzerland, where he taught in Neuchâtel. He also wrote regularly on educational issues, including “Abolishing War through Education,” and “Liberal Christianity,” which advocated personal faith over organized religion.
In 1870, he returned to France after the defeat of Napoleon III and became more engaged in educational administration, pedagogy, and reform. He pushed the creation of secular schools and the separation of the church from France’s educational system. His writings and speeches cost him his position in Paris, and the National Assembly accused him of disrespecting the Bible.
He did not stay out of favor long. In 1878, he was named director of primary education, a position he held for 17 years. And he implemented a system of free, compulsory, secular schools across France.
In 1898, he founded the League of the Rights of Man, and in 1902 he was elected to the National Assembly, where he continued his support for secular education, supported social welfare legislation and universal suffrage. He opposed the Treaty of Versailles as too onerous (the terms bankrupted Germany and were instrumental in the rise of Fascism), but supported France’s participation in the ill-fated League of Nations.
He devoted significant time to speaking for détente between France and Germany, traveling through both countries to encourage reconciliation and cooperation. He also donated his Nobel Prize money to various pacifist organizations.
He was known as “the world’s most persistent pacifist,” spanning more than 60 years of spreading his liberal Christian philosophy that personal faith and education could lead man away from war.
He died on Feb. 16, 1932.