When Utopia Looked Real

Creating a League of Nations looked like a fool's errand until the American president had his say.

Arthur Balfour, representing England, addresses the League of Nations Council at St. James's Palace in London in early 1920. (Corbis)

When the League of Nations was a new phrase, those persons who welcomed it enthusiastically heard themselves dubbed fools by those who were known as skeptics and as wise men.

At that time the skeptics were, as they are always and everywhere, in the majority; for faith is a rare quality, whereas doubt is the most eminently judicious attitude—the attitude in which one runs the least risk of compromising one’s self.

“A League of Nations!—Tell me, do you believe in it?” said a French statesman … To him, the idea was a Utopia—nothing more …

One day there arrived in France a message sent by a man who had labored alone and had reflected profoundly in his White House, on the other side of the ocean: it was the noble message of President Wilson concerning the League of Nations.

From that moment the idea began to make headway. The fools have become so numerous that they are now regarded as sensible folk. Now that the heads of the governments of the United States and Great Britain have pronounced in its favor, and the principle has been accepted from the tribune of the French Chamber, … no one would venture to call the League of Nations a Utopia.

Originally titled "The League of Nations"