In its beginning, there was only one set of Nobel Prizes. Swedish
industrial mogul Alfred Nobel established the annual awards to recognize
great contributions in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace.
more than 100 years ago. The Prize soon became the worldwide
standard for recognizing human achievement.
This reputation of the prize lasted through two world wars. But after
World War II, those who decided who would win the Prizes, committees
in Sweden and Norway, often and increasingly chose to use some of the
Prizes to express their political opinions. A new Prize was added in
economics, a quasi-scientific discipline.
While the recipients of the Prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine have
continued to have the reputation for making some of the greatest
contributions to humanity (with only occasional controversy), the awards
in peace, literature and economics have often become self-parodies of the
Nobel committees, obviously (and frequently explicitly) ideological and
political, and, if the truth be told, a laughing stock for many observers in
Last year, however, I wrote in praise of the 2011 Prize in literature that went
to Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer. After many years of awarding this Prize
to leftist writers of uneven stature, the Prize went to one of the world’s
greatest writers, in my opinion, whose work was beyond politics. (In fact,
Mr. Transtromer is a political liberal, but his literary standing is based on the
remarkable quality of his poetry).
The Prizes in literature and economics have not yet been announced (but
will have been by the time this published), so I have nothing to say about this
year’s awards in these fields.
The Prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine have been awarded, and as
usual, they have recognized some of the world’s most outstanding scientists.
It is the just-announced awarding of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, however,
which has provoked me to write this column. This year’s Prize went to the
European Union. This supra-national organization of most of the national
states of the European continent has been in a prolonged economic and
political crisis for many years, a crisis, I might add, of its own doing.
This year’s award is beyond ludicrous, beyond self-parody, and is one more
instance of the Norwegian committee’s masochistic damage to the reputation
of a once highly regarded Nobel Prize for peace. (It echoes the award in a few
years ago to Barack Obama before he had served as president. That award was
made solely on the hope that he would, in the future, contribute to world peace.
Does anyone, except his political partisans, seriously consider him worthy of a
Nobel Prize for peace three years later?)
The award to the European Union this year is similarly based on hope that the
institution will survive. It is a self-congratulatory and desperate act of some
elitist Norwegian Europeans who are observing the European Union, one of
the world’s most dysfunctional organizations, endure protracted economic
distress and loss of public confidence.
Alfred Nobel’s original idea was to recognize the highest human achievements.
The purely scientific Prizes maintain that high standard. The second group of
Prizes (in literature, economics and peace) have become too often an insult to
Mr. Nobel’s vision, and a sad joke about what human beings can yet achieve.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.