Article Note: D. Gorman, “Ecumenical Internationalism: Willoughby Dickinson, the League of Nations and the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches”

ACCH Quarterly Vol. 17, No. 2, June 2011

Article Note: D. Gorman, “Ecumenical Internationalism: Willoughby Dickinson, the League of Nations and the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches,” Journal of Contemporary History 45 no. 1 (March 2010): 51-73.

By John S. Conway, University of British Columbia

The League of Nations was the twentieth century’s most idealistic project in international politics. It failed because of the entrenched nationalism of Europe’s leaders, particularly Germany. Consequently the reputation of its supporters suffered in the history books. Amongst them was the upper-class Englishman Willoughby Dickinson (1859-1943), whose life was devoted to moral uplift and public service. His contributions have now been excellently described in this fine article by Daniel Gorman, who teaches at Waterloo University, Ontario.

Dickinson’s career began with his service on the newly-created London County Council in the 1890s, where he campaigned eagerly for progressive causes. It was a natural step-up for him to become an M.P. in the Liberal landslide of 1906. His vision was enhanced by his sincere devotion to his Anglican faith, refuting the calumny that the Church of England was ”the Conservative Party at prayer”. Likewise he was drawn to the Quaker ideal of world peace, and already before 1914 was active in promoting this cause. In 1919 he became very involved with an international body of church laymen called the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches. This group sought to mobilize the churches on an ecumenical basis for the prevention of any future war. They deliberately avoided any kind of denominational or theological controversy, but instead concentrated on the world’s need for a new political order to replace the militarism and jingoism which they believed had caused the catastrophe of the Great War.

In the 1920s the World Alliance spread rapidly throughout Europe and North America. Dickinson gave much of his time and wealth in organising high-minded meetings to propagate this programme of international peace. A parallel endeavour, with the same aims of promoting peace, cooperation, disarmament and world order, led Dickinson to become a vocal supporter of the League of Nations, and of its public education activities through the League of Nations Societies established in each member state. In the 1920s Dickinson worked hard to bring about the international collaboration of these volunteer groups, and eventually became President of the International Federation of League of Nations Societies (IFLNS).

In 1930 the Labour Government gave him a peerage,but he found increasing opposition to his ideals for genuine peace and international friendship. His final years before and during the Second World War were a period of bitter disillusionment. Nevertheless his example deserves to be better known. His campaign for what he called ecumenical internationalism, designed to ameliorate world conditions through public education and leadership, combined religious motivation with political planning.

Gorman’s article is a valuable contribution by throwing light on this ardent crusader for peace and the institutions he helped to build in order to bring about this ideal at a most unpropitious period of the world’s history.