Portraits of World Citizens.

F.S.C. Northrop (1893-1992): The Meeting of East and West

Filmer Stuart Cuckow Northrop (who for understandable reasons only used his F.S.C. initials), the Sterling Professor of Philosophy and Law at Yale University was concerned with the issues of bringing together divergent philosophies and cultural views in an all-embracing world society. As he wrote “What must be said with all the emphasis at one’s disposal is that our very existence as human beings depends upon whether during the next ten or fifteen years we can learn to understand each other and resolve the ideological conflicts which divide us internationally.”

He developed this theme in books and lectures: The Meeting of East and West, Ideological Differences and World Order, The Taming of Nations, and in a final summing up Philosophical Anthropology and Practical Politics. “To watch and to know ideals is at once both the highest idealism and the most down to earth realism.” (1)

He was active in a 10-year major UNESCO programme started in 1956 of “increasing among the peoples and nations of the Orient and the Occident a mutual appreciation of their respective cultural values”.

He served on the Advisory Board of the United World Federalists and of the World Association of World Federalists and often wrote for The Saturday Review of Literature edited by Norman Cousins.

Northrop wrote at the start of the Cold War when ideological differences between the Soviet Union and the United States had taken on a nearly religious intensity. China, where Northrop had worked with the Y.M.C.A. as a young man had come under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, and it was unclear how the Chinese would blend western Marxism with Chinese Taoist-Buddhist thought. As he wrote in Ideological Differences and World Order “Once it is realized that ideas are relevant to social and cultural institutions and events and that the ideas of men can be altered by men themselves, then the way is opened for placing the fate of men and their cultural institutions and values, in significant part at least, back in their own hands.” For Northrop ideology was not propaganda but refers to “ideas held in common by men in ordering their social institutions providing normative guidance.”

In The Taming of Nations Northrop reaffirms his faith in world law as the remedy for ideological differences and sees the United Nations as the forum in which agreed-upon laws can develop. “The spiritual resources necessary to give peace to this troubled world are at hand provided that leaders of the United Nations and of each nation within the United Nations will but make use of them. The time is here to drink of the life-giving waters.”

Likewise at the same time, Jawarhalal Nehru had said in 1950 “The major fact of the age is the emergence of this new Asia where minds are in movement, changing and shaking.”

Northrop was not writing for a “popular audience” and there are many times when real effort must be taken to understand the points he is making. Nevertheless, his contributions to the ways of approaching different world cultures are real. He asks important questions in an ongoing effort to establish world law understandable in different cultural contexts.


(1) The Meeting of East and West (New York: Macmillan, 1946)
Ideological Differences and World Order (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1949)
The Taming of the Nations (New York: Macmillan, 1952)
Philosophical Antropology and Practical Politics (New York, Macmillan, 1960)


Rene Wadlow