Jan Smuts

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Jan Smuts, circa 1919

Jan Christiaan Smuts (24 May 187011 September 1950) was a South African statesman, general, and intellectual. Amongst the offices that he held, he was Prime Minister of South Africa and Field Marshal in the British Army.


  • The groans of the dying and the blanched set faces of the dead ... were enough to drive away all unwholesome feelings of exultation, and to remind one of the grim reality that war is. And even though these were the faces and the sufferings of our enemy, one had ... a deeper sense of the common humanity which knows no racial distinctions.
    • Smuts in Memoirs of the Boer War, p. 151, as cited in Antony Lentin, 2010, Jan Smuts – Man of courage and vision, p. 15. ISBN 978-1-86842-390-3
  • History writes the word 'Reconciliation' over all her quarrels.
  • The war was fought throughout and ultimately won, not only by the usual military weapons in the narrower sense, but by the whole economic, industrial, and financial systems of the belligerent Powers. Food, shipping, metals and raw materials, credit, transport, industries and factories of all kinds played just as important a part as guns, rifles, aeroplanes, tanks, explosives and gas, warships and submarines.
    • The League of Nations - A Practical Suggestion, C: The League and World-Peace, Hodder and Stoughton, 1918
  • The grand success of the British Empire depends not on its having followed any constitutional precedent of the past but on having met a new situation in history with a creation in law; and as a matter of fact the new constitutional system grew empirically and organically out of the practical necessities of the colonial situation.
    • From The League of Nations - A Practical Suggestion, 1918, pp. 37-38, as cited by W. K. Hancock in SMUTS 1: The Sanguine Years 1870-1919, p. 502
  • At the vital moment there seems to be a failure of leadership, and also a failure of the general human spirit among the peoples. I hope I am wrong, but I have a sense of impending calamity, a fear that the war was only the vanguard of calamity ... I cannot look at that draft treaty without a sense of grief and shame.
  • I view it as a thoroughly bad peace – impolitic and impracticable in the case of Germany, absolutely ludicrous in the case of German Austria. Indeed I have not been able to read the comments of the Austrian delegates on our draft terms without deep emotion. I have fought this Peace from the inside with all my power, and have no doubt been able in the end to secure some small openings of hope for the future.
  • If there was to be equal manhood suffrage the whites would be swamped all over South Africa by the blacks and the whole position for which whites have striven for 200 years or more would be given up.
    • Statement at the Imperial Conference (1921)
  • The Mountain is not merely something eternally sublime. It has a great historical and spiritual meaning for us ... From it came the Law, from it came the Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount. We may truly say that the highest religion is the Religion of the Mountain.
    • When he unveiled the Mountain Club War Memorial at Maclear's Beacon on the summit of Table Mountain (1923), as cited by Alan Paton in his final essay, A Literary Remembrance, published posthumously in TIME, 25 April 1988, p. 106.
  • The free creativeness of mind is possible because, [...] the world ultimately exists, not of material stuff, but of patterns, of organization, the evolution of which involves no absolute creation of an alien world of material from nothing. The purely structural character of reality thus helps to render possible and intelligible the free creativeness of life and mind, ... The energy which is being dissipated by the decay of physical structure is being partly taken up and organized into life structures ... Life and mind thus appear as products of the cosmic decline, ... Our origin is thus accidental, our position is exceptional and our fate is sealed, with the inevitable running down of the solar system. Life and mind, [...] are thus reduced to a very casual and inferior status in the cosmic order [...] – a transient and embarrassed phantom in an alien, if not hostile universe. [...] The human spirit is not a pathetic, wandering phantom of the universe, [...] but meets with spiritual hospitality and response everywhere. Our deepest thoughts and emotions are but responses to stimuli which come to us not from an alien, but from an essentially friendly and kindred universe.
    • Smuts expounding a confrontation of opposites in his presidential address to the British Association in September 1931, as cited by W. K. Hancock in SMUTS 2: The Fields of Force 1919-1950, p. 232-234
  • Some of you will not come back. Some of you will come back maimed. Those of you who do come back will come back changed men. That is war!
  • Whatever shall we do in future? The nation that does not arm continuously is lost – as France has been lost, as Britain will be lost but for the Grace of God. In this mechanistic age where bravery and improvised organization at the last moment will not help. The only alternative is a League of the Nations or of some nations strong enough to withstand aggression ...
    • As quoted by W. K. Hancock in SMUTS 2: The Fields of Force 1919-1950, p. 360
  • Nazism ... destroys the very soul of our civilization ... I have not taken the same grave view of Bolshevism, for it never was clear to me that Bolshevism, in spite of its brutalities and cruelties, really threatened the essentials of our ethical civilization. And after all it was a revolution of a semi-barbarous people against a rotten government and an effete church. Nazi-ism in highly cultured Germany is a very different affair.
    • As quoted by W. K. Hancock in SMUTS 2: The Fields of Force 1919-1950, p. 358
  • I don't suppose any first-class work in science is done now outside of the war work ... Of course ... science has fallen into discredit. It has brought no solution to our human problems, and has added greatly to our engines of destruction in this war. Not that science is to blame for this misuse, but people judge by results, and by that standard science has a heavy account to liquidate. Science so far has had far too much to do with the things of sense and of matter, and the things of the spirit have been by-passed.
    • As quoted by W. K. Hancock in SMUTS 2: The Fields of Force 1919-1950, p. 395
  • It is the cleanest, neatest, most sudden and spectacular victory of the war, and in size is quite comparable to the German defeat before Stalingrad.
    • At the conclusion of the North African Campaign in May 1943, as quoted by W. K. Hancock in SMUTS 2: The Fields of Force 1919-1950, p. 380
  • ... Chaim Weizmann, the scientist, the great Zionist, the indomitable leader who, after his people had been all but wiped out in the greatest purge of history, assembled the remnants, led them back to the ancient homeland in face of the heaviest opposition, and welded them once more into a sovereign state among the nations. Surely his achievement bears comparison with that of Moses!
    • In November 1949, as quoted by W. K. Hancock in SMUTS 2: The Fields of Force 1919-1950, p. 520
  • We do not want new orders. What the world wants is an old order of 2,000 years ago – the order of the man of Galilee.
    • On "a post-war new world order" envisaged by the Allies during World War II, as cited in Antony Lentin, 2010, Jan Smuts – Man of courage and vision, p. 144. ISBN 978-1-86842-390-3
  • I find our modern emphasis on 'rights' somewhat overdone and misleading ... It makes people forget that the other and more important side of rights is duty. And indeed the great historic codes of our human advance emphasised duties and not rights ... The Ten Commandments in the Old Testament and ... the Sermon on the Mount ... all are silent on rights, all lay stress on duties.
  • If a nation does not want a monarchy, change the nation’s mind. If a nation does not need a monarchy, change the nation’s needs.

Holism and Evolution (1926)[edit]

Holism and evolution (1926)
  • The intimate rapport with nature is one of the most precious things in life. Nature is indeed very close to us; sometimes closer than hands and feet, of which in truth she is but the extension. The emotional appeal of nature is tremendous, sometimes almost more than one can bear.
    • p. 337
  • In all the previous cases of wholes, we have nowhere been able to argue from the parts of the whole. Compared to its parts, the whole constituted by them is something quite different, something creatively new, as we have seen. Creative evolution synthesises from the parts a new entity not only different from them, but quite transcending them. That is the essence of a whole. It is always transcendent to its parts, and its character cannot be inferred from the characters of its parts.
    • p. 342
  • (Holism is) the tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts through creative evolution ...
  • Having no human companion I felt a spirit of comradeship for the objects of nature around me. In my childish way I communed with these as with my own soul; they became the sharers of my confidence.

Holism (1929)[edit]

"Holism" in The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Fourteenth Edition, (1929), p. 640-644
  • Holism is the theory which makes the existence of “wholes” a fundamental feature of the world. It regards natural objects, both animate and inanimate, as wholes and not merely as assemblages of elements or parts. It looks upon nature as consisting of discrete, concrete bodies and things and not as a diffusive homogeneous continuum. And these bodies or things are not entirely resolvable into parts; in one degree or another they are wholes which are more than the sum of their parts, and the mechanical putting together of their parts will not produce them or account for their characters and behaviour. The so-called parts are in fact not real but largely abstract analytical distinctions, and do not properly or adequately express what has gone to the making the thing as a whole.
  • Holism is therefore a viewpoint additional and complementary to that of science, whose keywords are continuity and mechanism. The ideal of science is continuity, and its method is based on the analysis of things into more or less constant elements or parts, the sum of whose actions account for the behaviour of these things. Things, thus become mechanisms of their parts; and the interactions of their invariable parts in a homogeneous time and space according to the rules of mechanics are sufficient to account for all their properties. This mechanistic scheme applies even to living bodies, as their material structures determine the functions which constitute life characters. Mind is similarly, though much more doubtfully, based on physical mechanisms and functions. Life and mind are thus considered as derivative and epiphenomenal to matter.

Quotes about Smuts[edit]

  • What a man! His sense of values takes one away from Paris and this greedy turmoil.
  • His words touched their hearts.
    • W. K. Hancock, his biographer, on a 1923 address by Smuts at a World War I memorial in Cape Town, Smuts, 1962 / 1968
  • A wonderful clear grasp of all things, coupled with the most exceptionable charm. Interested in all matters, and gifted with the most marvellous judgment.
    • Sir Alan Brooke reminiscing on Smuts on 23 August 1942, as quoted by W. K. Hancock in SMUTS 2: The Fields of Force 1919-1950, p. 408
  • At one moment he set out [...] to expound to us his favourite philosophy of holism, based, I understand, on the paradox that the whole is not the sum of, but is greater than, its component parts. It is certainly true enough of the British Empire.
  • ... I hope that you are now on good way to recovery and that in years to come you will still be able to offer the world such wisdom and leadership in world affairs as you have given in the past. I need not say how much your encouragement and sympathy in the difficult war years meant to me.
    • Niels Bohr writing to Smuts in June 1950, as quoted by W. K. Hancock in SMUTS 2: The Fields of Force 1919-1950, p. 436
  • We had two masters of the spoken word in South Africa, General Smuts and his lieutenant J. H. Hofmeyr, whose life I wrote. Smuts spoke in a high-pitched voice, not the kind of voice that one would expect from a famous soldier, but he too could hold an audience in the hollow of his hand, partly because he was Smuts, partly because he could say nothing trite or shallow, partly because he knew how to speak to ordinary men and women.
    • Alan Paton on Smuts's oratory, in Paton's final essay, A Literary Remembrance, published posthumously in TIME, 25 April 1988, p. 106.
  • This old military building, originally an officer's mess in the South African War, perfectly illustrates Smuts's indifference to luxury and ease of living. He was above such things. It never occurred to him to build a mansion though he could well have afforded to do so. He wanted a house "where the veld came right up to the front door."
    • Guy Brathwaite, who bought the Doornkloof house and 25 morgen of surrounding land, and oversaw its conversion into the Smuts House Museum, The Star, Thursday, July 14, 1960.
  • I cared more that he had helped the foundation of the League of Nations, promoting freedom throughout the world, than the fact that he had repressed freedom at home.
    • Nelson Mandela, cited in Ronald Hyam, 2010, Understanding the British Empire, p. 347

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