Born in 1933
Max Habicht, born with the century (1899) and who died in 1986, devoted his life to international law, international arbitration and federalism applied to the world level. He served as a legal advisor to most of the world federalist-world citizen organizations and as a link between the world federalists-world citizens and the Soviet-led World Peace Council.
He had studied law in Switzerland, Germany and the USA and had received Doctor of Law degrees from the Universities of Zurich and Harvard in the USA. He had begun his legal career with the League of Nations in 1928 and served the League until the start of the Second World War. During the war, he was a legal advisor to the Swiss embassy in Washington and was in charge of the respect of international humanitarian law - the Geneva Red Cross conventions. He was particularly charged with the inspection of prisoner-of-war camps for German and Italian soldiers disseminated in some 38 US states. He learned from this experience how to work with Americans and kept a lasting interest in the respect of the Geneva Conventions.
As a former League of Nations legal officer, he was asked to work for the United Nations in its preparatory phase. After 1946, he was active in private international law practice with an office in Geneva and New York. He was chairman of the organizing committee of the 1947 Montreux Congress at which both the World Federalists and the European Federalists became international non-governmental organizations. Habicht remained active in a wide range of world federalist-world citizen activities. As a lawyer who could work equally well in German, French and English, he was often asked to be the rapporteur of meetings, and the final conference statements often reflected his drafting skills.
I had first met Max Habicht in 1959 in Berne for a meeting of the World Association of Parliamentarians for World Government led by the former British Prime Minister Clement Attlee. I later worked with Max Habicht in many meetings and in his efforts in 1978 on federalist structures for South West Africa on the eve of becoming the state of Namibia.
Habicht's main belief was that "enduring peace is only possible within a properly organized State and that lasting world peace requires the creation of a World Federal State. No political organization, whether it be a small town or a great nation, can ensure peace to its inhabitants without the means of deciding what justice is in a given conflict, and without imposing its own conception of justice by physical force. Such a Federal State would have a World Parliament to enact world law in order to secure and maintain permanent peace, an Executive to administer these world laws, an International Court of Justice with compulsory jurisdiction in all matters of dispute concerning world laws, a World Police Force to enforce world laws against those who commit, or threaten to commit a breach of those world laws. Peace can only be realized when important aspects of national sovereignty are given up and transferred to a common central government. What remains should be called autonomy, and a federally organized world state would permit national autonomy and autonomy of provinces, cantons and local communities."
Habicht had lived through and was deeply marked by the decline of the League of Nations. He had known Clarence Streit in Geneva who had reported on the League of Nations for the New York Times and who was marked by the same events. Streit wrote Union Now published in 1939 which set out proposals for a union of the democracies to face Hitler and the Axis. Both Habicht and Streit saw little hope in the evolution of the United Nations whose Charter contained the same weaknesses as the League. In the post-war period, Streit continued to call for a union of democracies against Soviet power, while Habicht supported plans for a world constitution and analysed proposals for such a constitution. He was an active participant in a discussion-by-mail forum on world federalist proposals which led to a book which I helped to edit: Everett L. Millard Freedom in a Federal World (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana, 1966, 253pp).
The second of Max Habicht's interests, closely related to the need for a World State, was the obligatory use of judicial organs to settle conflicts through third-party decisions. He saw clearly that the renunciation of warfare must be supplemented by the willingness to arbitrate - to submit disputes to the binding decisions of a third party. Therefore Habicht stressed the need for compulsory adjudication of legal disputes by a permanent equity tribunal. It was especially in this latter field of an equity tribunal that Habicht developed original ideas. As an international lawyer, he was often involved in international arbitration cases for international business firms. He contributed to the Swiss government proposals for European dispute settlement in the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Habicht's third area of activity was in establishing lines of communication with the Soviet Peace Committee and the related World Peace Council. In the 1950s and 1960s there was nearly no constructive discussion with Soviet and Eastern European organizations. By the end of the 1970s such contacts became frequent and institutionalized, but in the earlier years such contacts were infrequent and uneasy. Westerns who attended World Peace Council meetings were considered Communist "dupes". Soviet and Eastern Europeans at Western peace meetings would only read prepared and predictable speeches. A small number of people slowly began to change this pattern. Max Habicht was among the first. It was an important contribution to the peace-making process. As Habicht was conservative in Swiss national politics, he could not be considered as sympathetic to Marxist positions. However, he felt that it was important to discuss with everyone. He always gave out his texts on the need for world law, especially to the Soviets.
He often lectured during the summer sessions of l'Institut d'Etudes Mondialistes, held at the home of the world citizens Guy and Renee Marchand at the Chateau de la Lambertie, and he had spent 1963 teaching international law at the International Christian University in Tokyo. He was working on pulling together his major world federalist-world citizen articles when he died in 1986. They have been published by the World Citizens in France in English:
Max Habicht The Abolition of War (Paris: Citoyens du Monde, 15 rue Victor-Duruy, 75015 Paris, 1987, 369pp.)
About the Site