Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks to the Delegates to the Conference on World Peace Through Law.

September 16, 1965

Mr. Rhyne, Chief Justice Warren, Mr. Thompson, Attorney General Katzenbach, delegates, my fellow Americans:

I need not here reaffirm my Nation's continuing dedication to the rule of law. We will work to extend it to the relations between countries. For we believe that is the surest road to a fruitful and a secure peace.

Therefore, we who seek a world of law must labor to understand the foundation on which law can rest. We must set to work to build it. For if the rule of law is an ideal, the establishment of that rule is the practical work of practical men. We must not let the difficulties of this task lead us into the twin dangers of cynicism or unreasoning faith.

For the fact is that if law cannot yet solve the problems of a tormented earth, it is steadily growing in importance and in necessity.

The first condition of law is justice. That law which oppresses the weak, or denies the fair claims of the poor, will prove a flimsy barrier against the rising storm of man's demand for justice.

Law must not be the prisoner of plunder or privilege.

Law is not the soothing keeper of the status quo. Law is an instrument in the battle for the hopes of man. And if it is not fashioned as such an instrument, then no matter how beautifully and logically framed, it will yield to violence and to terror.

So if we, the fortunate of the earth, would ask other people to submit to law, then we ourselves must assume some responsibility for peoples' liberty and peoples' well-being.

International law has been primarily concerned with relations between States. In pursuit of justice, it must now concern itself more than in the past with the welfare of people.

So I look forward to the day when the relief of hunger and misery and ignorance in all parts of this world will be fixed in legal obligation--as it now is in my own country.

When our world law embodies the right of the despairing to hope, and the responsibility of the fortunate to help, then it will be strengthened a thousandfold in the cause of peace.

If world conditions were largely satisfactory it would not be difficult to evolve a rule of law. But we do not live in a satisfactory world. It is stained with evil and injustice, by ruthless ambition and passionate conflict. Only by fighting these forces do we help build a base on which the temple of law may rest.

The second condition of law is institutions. Through them law receives meaning and force. And institutions themselves, through their own actions, help to make new law. The United Nations General Assembly has done this in peacekeeping.

The past 20 years have seen an abundant flowering of new international structures. From the Common Market and NATO, to the IBRD and the Asian Development Bank, order and legal process have been imposed upon spreading segments of the affairs of countries.

Some of these institutions have played a large role in the prosperity of the West and in the keeping of the peace.

Others contribute to the progress of the developing countries.

The United States has helped to build many of these organizations. Their strength represents a victory for the cause you represent--a legal order contributing to the prosperity of each and to the peace of all. My country intends to protect and strengthen those institutions, sharing the task with all who share our common purpose.

Central to the hope of world peace through law is the United Nations. Since its beginning, dozens of disputes, many laced with violence, have come before the world assembly. Some have remained unsolved. Many have found a settlement sufficient to allow mankind to move forward in peace. And in some places the United Nations was able to prevent conflict and bloodshed.

I hope we can strengthen the United Nations-not simply as a forum for debate, but as an arena for the solution of disputes.

That is why I asked a great Justice of our Supreme Court, Arthur Goldberg, to become America's Ambassador to the world body. The life of Ambassador Goldberg has been devoted to resolving disputes between those who at first believed that they could not yield one iota from their positions, and who came at last to sign a common agreement.

And my country will fully support the efforts of the Secretary General to bring peace between the great nations of India and Pakistan.

And perhaps in the United Nations, and with the patient effort of individual countries, we can also halt the terrible arms race which threatens to engulf the earth. Perhaps we can succeed through an effective treaty preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, through extending the test ban treaty, by obtaining an agreement halting production of fissionable material for use in nuclear weapons and allocating substantial portions of this material to peaceful uses, by agreeing to reverse the arms race in strategic nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles, and by working toward general and complete disarmament under effective international controls, which must be the world's goal.

The third condition of law is acceptance. World law, if it is to bring world order, must reflect the judgment and the felt desires of men and of nations. When law ignores this--as we have seen in our own history--it itself is ignored.

I think that we may be evolving a world consensus on which law can stand. The mass of mankind is slowly realizing the dangers of conflict and the futility of war. They are accepting their responsibility to relieve their own poverty and the misery of their fellow inhabitants of the earth. They are finding--in knowledge and fear and pain--that their common interest lies in common acceptance of their own obligations and the rights of others.

We can see this in a hundred small ways. During the past year the United States was present at 629 international conferences. In the short time since I became President the United States has participated in more such conferences than during the entire first 150 years of our history.

Of course, the great issues and the great dangers are not resolved. In the past 12 months there is not a single continent that has been spared violence. In the past 2,000 years there has hardly been a decade without war.

If this was all, the future would look dark indeed. But there is another and a brighter thread which runs through the history of the race. It is man's drive to create and to live in harmony with his fellows. And that is what we call civilization.

Law is the great civilizing machinery. It liberates the desires to build and it subdues the desire to destroy. And if war can tear us apart, law can unite us--out of fear or love or reason, or all three.

World peace through world law will not come quickly. We must work, in a variety of ways, to create the vital conditions which may bring us to that day, to build the justice which forms it and the institutions which give it life, and to find the understanding acceptance which will make it work. This means we must be willing to accept small advances and limited goals. But the final objective is the largest and the most elusive that man has ever known: peace. Peace which is not simply the absence of conflict or even of fear--but peace which is the framework for the fulfillment of human possibility.

How can we dare to hope for that which has always escaped mankind? Perhaps it is because our invention draws us together to the point where any war is civil war. Perhaps the vastness of our destructive power makes us shrink from conflict. Perhaps, under the horror and the murder of this carnage-filled century, civilization has been slowly flowering, leading us toward victory in the endless battle between man's love for his fellow and man's desire to destroy him.

Law is the greatest human invention. All the rest give him mastery over his world, but law gives him mastery over himself.

There are those who say the rule of law is a fruitless and utopian dream. It is true that if it comes, it will come slowly. It will come through the practical and the wise resolution of numberless problems. But to deny the possibility is to deny peace itself and to deny that flowering of the spirit which we must believe God meant for man.

I do not deny it. I believe in it. And so do you. And if others will join us, then the time may yet come when you and your colleagues will be honored as pathfinders toward the final armistice in man's war against himself.

Note: The President spoke at 10:30 a.m. in the Washington Hilton Hotel. In his opening words he referred to Charles S. Rhyne, President of the World Peace Through Law Center and former President of the American Bar Association, Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the United States, William S. Thompson, Secretary General of the World Peace Through Law Center, and Attorney General Nicholas deB. Katzenbach.

The conference was held in Washington September 12-18, 1965.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks to the Delegates to the Conference on World Peace Through Law. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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