Universalism
in The age of internationalism and Belgium, 1880–1930
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At the fin de siècle, Belgium experienced a period of great cultural dynamism, as reflected in influential artistic movements, literary periodicals and manifold efforts for social reform. This chapter considers two individuals whose endeavours seem to embody the optimism of this period: the bibliographer Paul Otlet and his friend Henri La Fontaine, a Socialist senator, pacifist leader and Nobel Peace laureate.

The two started their collaboration in the circles of Brussels-based sociology, and subsequently launched various international projects, including the International Institute of Bibliography, the Union of International Associations, the Palais Mondial in Brussels and the project of a world capital (Cité Mondiale). Their efforts covered science, politics and the arts, constituting an internationalism with universal ambitions.

The chapter draws attention to the settings in which activists such as Otlet and La Fontaine operated. To this end, it looks beyond the Great War and addresses wider subjects, such as the League of Nations’ work for intellectual cooperation.

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