By working together, we must lay a conscious
basis for a new world society, the next step in our human evolution.
Julian Huxley was the founding Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Although he was elected for reasons of geographic balance for only a two-year term (1946-1948), he set in motion the broad intellectual and cultural framework which allowed for future development. As he wrote "The fabric of the peaceful co-operative world towards which we are working must be woven of many strands, or it will unravel under strain."
Planning for the creation of UNESCO began in Oxford in 1941 at the initiative of the Council for Education in World Citizenship. The Axis occupation of much of Europe had brought educators, scholars and scientists to England, as well as civil servants who had served in Ministries of Education. Governments-in-exile were formed, and a Conference of Allied Ministers of Education (CAME) was created at the end of 1942. A leading member of CAME was René Cassin, then serving as National Commissioner for Justice and Education of the Free French Government. Cassin, after the end of the war, became a key participant in writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many of the educators saw the benefit of war-time cooperation and hoped that such cooperation could be continued for post-war reconstruction.
Among those active in London was Henri Bonnet who had been the League of Nations Secretariat Director of l'Institut international de cooperation intellectuelle. Bonnet was in the USA in 1939 and helped in the creation in Chicago of one of the first World Citizen groups - the World Citizens Association. Bonnet brought his League of Nations experience of cooperation among leading intellectuals and served as one of the important founders of UNESCO. Bonnet as well as the British members of the Council for Education in World Citizenship insisted on the importance of the participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Later, NGOs have played an important role in the work and outreach of UNESCO.
Julian Huxley was not directly involved in this war-time planning for UNESCO, but as a frequent speaker on science, education and post-war planning on the BBC, his views were well known. Huxley's essays on post-war reconstruction and the need for cooperation among scientists were collected and published as On Living in a Revolution (London: Chatto and Windus, 1944, 196pp). Huxley wrote "We now live in a quite different world. There has been a revolution of thought, both reinforcing and reinforced by the revolution of economic and social fact From now on we need to think in terms of change. This applies to all the main aspects of life, from central planning to education. Man must become consciously evolutionary, in his individual thinking, in his collective outlook, and in his social machinery"
While Julien Huxley's writings do not have the spark of his younger brother, the novelist Aldous Huxley, the essays are well written He proposed a vision of a world society as an organic whole within which rights and duties would be balanced deliberately as they are among the cells of the body. Julian Huxley was the grandson of Thomas H. Huxley, a scientist who had been an outspoken champion of the then controversial ideas of Charles Darwin and his Origin of Species. Julian followed in the family tradition and became a zoologist, primarily a specialist on birds. He had studied in a number of countries and had married a French-speaking Swiss woman. Julian Huxley had wide-ranging intellectual interests, and through his family, had contacts with leading members of English society.
He had been asked by the government to evaluate education policy and practice in the British African colonies. He had undertaken official field trips to British East Africa in 1929 and again to British West Africa in 1944. Thus in 1945 when plans for UNESCO were largely set, discussions among the government representatives in London turned to the location of the UNESCO headquarters and who would be the first Director General.
In exchange for having UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the founding Executive Board had decided that the Director General be English-speaking. However, Henri Bonnet, who now represented France on the Board was asked if it were 'absolutely necessary' that the Director also speak French. Bonnet was understood to reply that it was 'not imperative' but it is essential. Huxley met these conditions.
"However, two conditions were attached to his nomination by the Executive Board on 6 December 1946: he must accept with the understanding that in two years he would need to return to private life, and a Deputy Director-General would be appointed with responsibility for administration, personnel and finance. It was understood that this Deputy would be an American. Huxley graciously accepted both conditions" (1). In 1948, as agreed, Huxley stepped down and was replaced by a Mexican educator, Jaime Torres Bodet, who was then serving as the Foreign Minister of Mexico and who had been a professor of French literature.
With his wide range of intellectual interests and his vision as a world citizen, Julian Huxley set the ground work for the many categories of undertakings which have been characteristic of UNESCO, with its emphasis on cooperation in education, science and culture. On leaving UNESCO, Huxley played an important role in the creation of the World Wildlife Fund, devoted to the study and preservation of the ecology. He was also a founding member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union as he felt strongly that the world society had to have some common ethical standards as guidelines.
As his grandfather had been a leading champion of Charles Darwin, Julian Huxley became a champion of the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The Jesuit Order of which Teilhard de Chardin was a member had placed a ban on the publication of Teilhard's philosophical writings which were passed around among a small group of non-Catholic scientists until the writings started to be published after his death in 1955. Huxley saw in Teilhard a fellow world citizen and one whose philosophy was based on the evolution of both matter and spirit.
I had known the son of Julian Huxley when I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Francis Huxley was an anthropologist who had just spent a good deal of time among Indians along the Amazon River and was writing up his findings. Since then, he has turned his interest to the study of the sacred, working in Haiti and on shamanism elsewhere. It is interesting to see how family traditions continue and how through several generations members make real contributions to the cultures of the world.
(1) James P. Sewell UNESCO and World Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975, p 107)