Alfred Eckhard Zimmern

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Alfred Eckhard Zimmern
Born26 January 1879
Surbiton, Surrey, U.K.
Died24 November 1957
EducationWinchester College
Alma materNew College, Oxford
Occupation(s)Classical scholar, historian

Sir Alfred Eckhard Zimmern (26 January 1879 – 24 November 1957) was an English classical scholar, historian, and political scientist writing on international relations.[1] A British policymaker during World War I and a prominent liberal thinker, Zimmern played an important role in drafting the blueprint for what would become the League of Nations.[2][3]

He was the inaugural Woodrow Wilson Chair of International Politics at Aberystwyth University.[2][3] His book The Third British Empire was among the first to apply the expression "British Commonwealth" to the British Empire.[4] He was a prominent liberal internationalist.[5] He was also credited with coining the phrase "welfare state",[6][7][8] which was made popular a few years later by William Temple.[9]

Early life and background[edit]

Zimmern was born on 26 January 1879 in Surbiton, Surrey, UK. He was raised in a cosmopolitan, upper-middle-class family.[2] He was Huguenot on one side and German-Jewish on the other.[2] His mother was Mathilde Eckhard. His father, Adolphus Hermann Christian Anton Zimmern, was a naturalised British citizen, born in Germany. Adolphus Zimmern was also the patriarch of a prominent Eurasian family in Hong Kong.[10][11] Judge Archie Zimmern and former Hong Kong Stock Exchange chairman Francis Zimmern were both his nephews.[12] The writers, translators and suffragettes Helen Zimmern and Alice Zimmern were his cousins.

Alfred was brought up a Christian and later an active participant in the World Council of Churches. Later in life he became a supporter of Zionism.[13] He was educated at Winchester College, and read classics at New College, Oxford, where he won the Stanhope essay prize in 1902.[14][2] At Berlin University, he came under the influence of Wilamowitz and Meyer.

Academic career[edit]

Zimmern was educated at New College, Oxford; he obtained a First in Classical Moderations in 1900, followed by a First in Literae Humaniores ('Greats', a combination of philosophy and ancient history) in 1902.[15] He was appointed Lecturer in Ancient History, New College, Oxford (1903), and Fellow and tutor, New College (1904–1909). He authored The Greek Commonwealth in 1911 where he characterized the rise of Athens as a positive for its neighbors and the Athenian Empire as an empire of freedom.[2]

Later he was a staff inspector at the Board of Education (1912–1915) and a member of the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office (1918–1919).

He became the inaugural Woodrow Wilson Chair of International Politics and the first Professor of International Politics (also known as International Relations) in the world, at Aberystwyth University (1919–1921).[2][3] The endowment for the Woodrow Wilson Chair was announced in 1918 and Zimmern began work in the position in April 1919.[16] After leaving Aberystwyth, he taught at Cornell University in 1922 and 1923.[17][18]

He was the inaugural Montague Burton Professor of International Relations, Oxford University (1930–1944),[2] and co-founder of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (1919). He was a member of the Round Table Group (1913–1923)[19] and later provided the insider source of information for Georgetown University professor Carroll Quigley.

Zimmern was a proponent of a British Commonwealth, arguing that it could evolve and adapt to shifting circumstances and changing perspectives among its members.[19]

Zimmern founded the League of Nations Society in 1917. In 1918, he was appointed as head of a section in the British Foreign Office to think through the establishment of an international organization for peace.[2] Zimmern drafted the blueprint of what would become the League of Nations: a regular conference system with a permanent secretariat and open to universal membership.[2] Zimmern was skeptical of Wilsonian guarantees for national self-determination, warning against fixing state boundaries too rigidly and warning against making the League responsible for protecting minority rights.[2] He argued for placing the supervision of Africa under an international commission.[2] Zimmern opposed the creation of a democratic powerful World State, arguing that it was too mechanistic, impractical, and prone to tyranny.[2] Zimmern also opposed a loose and informal concert system.[2]


Zimmern is an influential proponent of liberal internationalism.[20] By critics, Zimmern was described as a utopian and idealist thinker on international relations.[21][22] He is cited often, in this perspective, in E. H. Carr's The Twenty Years' Crisis (1939); Carr and Zimmern are characterised as being "at opposite ends of the theoretical and political spectrum".[23][24]

Zimmern contributed to the founding of the League of Nations Society and of UNESCO.[25][26] He was Deputy Director of the League's Institute for Intellectual Co-operation, in Paris, in the mid-1920s;[27][26][2] after tension with the Director, the French historian Julien Luchaire, both left.[28] He was nominated in 1947 for the Nobel Peace Prize,[29] in connection with his UNESCO work.

Zimmern joined the British Labour Party in 1924, and was Labour candidate for Carnarvon Boroughs against David Lloyd George in the general election of 1924. A close friend of Ramsay MacDonald, Zimmern followed him in 1931 when MacDonald formed the National Government. He became an active member of the National Labour Organisation and frequently wrote articles for its journal, the News-Letter. Zimmern was one of five writers who contributed to a book Towards a National Policy: Being a National Labour Contribution in April 1935.

Zimmern died in Avon, Connecticut, on 24 November 1957.

Personal life[edit]

He was married to Lucie Zimmern, who was a musician and international relations thinker. Together, they founded and ran the Geneva School of International Studies from 1923 to 1939.[30]


Further reading[edit]

  • Jeanne Morefield (2004), Covenants Without Swords: Idealist Liberalism and the Spirit of Empire, on Zimmern and Gilbert Murray.
  • Baji, Tomohito (2021). The International Thought of Alfred Zimmern: Classicism, Zionism and the Shadow of Commonwealth. Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Griffiths, Mark. 1999. "Alfred Zimmern." in Fifty Key Thinkers in International Relations. Routledge.


  1. ^ Markwell, D. J. (1986). "Sir Alfred Zimmern revisited: fifty years on". Review of International Studies. 12 (4): 279–292. doi:10.1017/S0260210500113841. ISSN 1469-9044. S2CID 143413433.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Mazower, Mark M. (2013). No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations. Princeton University Press. pp. 68–71, 79–88. ISBN 978-1-4008-3166-1.
  3. ^ a b c Cox, Michael (2019). "Nationalism, nations and the crisis of world order". International Relations. 33 (2): 247–266. doi:10.1177/0047117819842306. ISSN 0047-1178. S2CID 197707158.
  4. ^ Discussed in J. D. B. Miller, "The Commonwealth and World Order: The Zimmern Vision and After" (1979), Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 8: p. 162.
  5. ^ Baji, Tomohito (2021). The International Thought of Alfred Zimmern: Classicism, Zionism and the Shadow of Commonwealth. Springer. ISBN 978-3-030-66213-4.
  6. ^ welfare state
  7. ^ Book extract
  8. ^ Kathleen Woodroofe, "The Making of the Welfare State in England: A Summary of Its Origin and Development", Journal of Social History, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Summer, 1968), pp. 303–324.
  9. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, from 1941.
  10. ^ Eric Peter Ho, Tracing My Children's Lineage, Centre of Asian Studies, HKU, ISBN 978-962-8269-54-9, 2009
  11. ^ "Reiss Bradley (泰和洋行) – the Forgotten Hong"
  12. ^ 施炳光家族
  13. ^ Noam Pianko, "The True Liberalism of Zionism”: Horace Kallen, Jewish Nationalism, and the Limits of American Pluralism[permanent dead link], American Jewish History, 94(4), December 2008.
  14. ^ "University intelligence". The Times. No. 36770. London. 17 May 1902. p. 11.
  15. ^ Oxford University Calendar 1905: Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905: 148, 187
  16. ^ Rosenboim, Or (2019). "State, power and global order". International Relations. 33 (2): 229–245. doi:10.1177/0047117819840803. ISSN 0047-1178. S2CID 150195458.
  17. ^ Cornell University Information Database Archived 7 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ Time magazine comments.
  19. ^ a b Mazower, Mark (2013). No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations. Princeton University Press. pp. 76–77. ISBN 978-0-691-15795-5.
  20. ^ Persaud, Randolph B (2022). "Ideology, socialization and hegemony in Disciplinary International Relations". International Affairs. 98 (1): 105–123. doi:10.1093/ia/iiab200. ISSN 0020-5850.
  21. ^ In addition to Dickinson, the list of contributors to this utopian literature included Nicholas Murray Butler, James T. Shotwell, Alfred Zimmern, Norman Angell, and Gilbert Murray.[1] Archived 13 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ Idealism (or 'utopianism') and power (or 'realism') are often portrayed as mutually exclusive and contradictory philosophies or attitudes to global affairs.... When the intellectual roots of the leaders of Chatham House (Lionel Curtis, Philip Kerr, Arnold Toynbee, Alfred Zimmern) and the Council on Foreign Relations (Hamilton Fish Armstrong, Whitney Hart Shepardson, Russell Cornell Leffingwell) are examined, it is clear that each category of their thought may be interpreted as a combination of idealism and power.[2][permanent dead link]
  23. ^ 2001 edition of the Crisis, introduction by Michael Cox, note p. xciii.
  24. ^ Mazower, Mark M. (2013). No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations. Princeton University Press. p. 94. ISBN 978-1-4008-3166-1.
  25. ^ Richard Toye – |UNESCO.ORG
  26. ^ a b Mazower, Mark (2013). No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations. Princeton University Press. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-691-15795-5.
  27. ^ PDF, p. 22.
  28. ^ Duncan Wilson, Gilbert Murray, p. 357.
  29. ^ Nomination database
  30. ^ Owens, Patricia; Rietzler, Katharina (2023). "Polyphonic internationalism: The Lucie Zimmern School of International studies". The International History Review. doi:10.1080/07075332.2023.2177321. ISSN 0707-5332.

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