Alfred Eckhard Zimmern
Born26 January 1879
Surbiton, Surrey, U.K.
Died24 November 1957
EducationWinchester College
Alma materNew College, Oxford
OccupationClassical scholar, historian

Sir Alfred Eckhard Zimmern (1879–1957) was an English classical scholar, historian, and political scientist writing on international relations.[1] His book The Third British Empire was among the first to apply the expression "British Commonwealth" to the British Empire.[2] He was a prominent liberal internationalist.[3] He was also credited with coining the phrase "welfare state",[4][5][6] which was made popular a few years later by William Temple.[7]

Early life and background

Zimmern was born on 26 January 1879 in Surbiton, Surrey, UK. His mother was Mathilde Eckhard. His father, Adolphus Hermann Christian Anton Zimmern, was a naturalised British citizen, born in Germany. Adolphus Zimmern was also the patriarch of a prominent Eurasian family in Hong Kong.[8][9] Judge Archie Zimmern and former Hong Kong Stock Exchange chairman Francis Zimmern were both his nephews.[10] The writers, translators and suffragettes Helen Zimmern and Alice Zimmern were his cousins.

Alfred was brought up a Christian and later an active participant in the World Council of Churches. However, later in life he became a supporter of Zionism.[11] He was educated at Winchester College, and read classics at New College, Oxford, where he won the Stanhope essay prize in 1902.[12] At Berlin University, he came under the influence of Wilamowitz and Meyer.

Academic career

Zimmern was Lecturer in Ancient History, New College, Oxford (1903), and Fellow and tutor, New College (1904–1909). Later he was a staff inspector at the Board of Education (1912–1915) and a member of the Foreign Office Political Intelligence Department (1918–1919).

He then became Wilson Professor of International Politics, and as such the first Professor of International Politics (also known as International Relations) in the world, at the University College of Wales (1919–1921). Having left Aberystwyth, he taught at Cornell University in 1922 and 1923.[13][14]

He was the inaugural Montague Burton Professor of International Relations, Oxford University (1930–1944), and co-founder of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (1919). He was for a short time a member of the Round Table Group (1913–1923) and later provided the insider source of information for Georgetown University professor Carroll Quigley.


Zimmern has been classified as a utopian and idealist thinker on international relations.[15][16] He is cited often, in this perspective, in E. H. Carr's The Twenty Years' Crisis (1939); Carr and Zimmern are characterised as being at opposite ends of the theoretical and political spectrum.[17]

Zimmern contributed to the founding of the League of Nations Society and of UNESCO.[18] He was Deputy Director of the Institute for Intellectual Co-operation, in Paris, in the mid-1920s;[19] after tension with the Director, the French historian Julien Luchaire, both left.[20] He was nominated in 1947 for the Nobel Peace Prize,[21] in connection with his UNESCO work.

Within UK politics, Zimmern joined the Labour Party in 1924, and was Labour candidate for Carnarvon Boroughs against David Lloyd George in the 1924 general election. A close friend of Ramsay MacDonald, Zimmern followed him in 1931 when MacDonald moved to head a National Government; he became an active member of the National Labour Organisation and frequently wrote articles for its journal, the News-Letter. Zimmern was one of five writers who contributed to a book "Towards a National Policy: being a National Labour Contribution" in April 1935. He died at Avon, Connecticut on 24 November 1957.


Further reading


  1. ^ Donald Markwell (1986), "Sir Alfred Zimmern Revisited: Fifty Years On", Review of International Studies. Donald Markwell, "Sir Alfred Eckhard Zimmern", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004. [1]
  2. ^ Discussed in J. D. B. Miller, "The Commonwealth and World Order: The Zimmern Vision and After" (1979), Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 8: p. 162.
  3. ^ Baji, Tomohito (2021). The International Thought of Alfred Zimmern: Classicism, Zionism and the Shadow of Commonwealth. Springer. ISBN 978-3-030-66213-4.
  4. ^ welfare state
  5. ^ Book extract
  6. ^ Kathleen Woodroofe, "The Making of the Welfare State in England: A Summary of Its Origin and Development", Journal of Social History, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Summer, 1968), pp. 303–324.
  7. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, from 1941.
  8. ^ Eric Peter Ho, Tracing My Children's Lineage, Centre of Asian Studies, HKU, ISBN 978-962-8269-54-9, 2009
  9. ^ "Reiss Bradley (泰和洋行) – the Forgotten Hong"
  10. ^ 施炳光家族
  11. ^ Noam Pianko, "The True Liberalism of Zionism”: Horace Kallen, Jewish Nationalism, and the Limits of American Pluralism[permanent dead link], American Jewish History, 94(4), December 2008.
  12. ^ "University intelligence". The Times (36770). London. 17 May 1902. p. 11.
  13. ^ Cornell University Information Database Archived 7 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Time magazine comments.
  15. ^ In addition to Dickinson, the list of contributors to this utopian literature included Nicholas Murray Butler, James T. Shotwell, Alfred Zimmern, Norman Angell, and Gilbert Murray.[2] Archived 13 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Idealism (or 'utopianism') and power (or 'realism') are often portrayed as mutually exclusive and contradictory philosophies or attitudes to global affairs.... When the intellectual roots of the leaders of Chatham House (Lionel Curtis, Philip Kerr, Arnold Toynbee, Alfred Zimmern) and the Council on Foreign Relations (Hamilton Fish Armstrong, Whitney Hart Shepardson, Russell Cornell Leffingwell) are examined, it is clear that each category of their thought may be interpreted as a combination of idealism and power.[3][permanent dead link]
  17. ^ 2001 edition of the Crisis, introduction by Michael Cox, note p. xciii.
  18. ^ Richard Toye – |UNESCO.ORG
  19. ^ PDF, p. 22.
  20. ^ Duncan Wilson, Gilbert Murray, p. 357.
  21. ^ Nomination database