Nobel’s Will and the Peace Prize

Norwegian lawyer Fredrik Heffermehl, who holds an LLM from NYU, argued in his book, Nobels vilje published in 2008, that half the awards of the Peace Prize have not conformed to Alfred Nobel’s 1895 testamentary intentions. Now his book is about to be published in translation as The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted and the issue is being mooted in the English-speaking press.

Heffermehl’s interpretation is that “Nobel did not establish a prize for ‘peace’ in whatever guise, but a prize for work for peace in certain ways and certain fields” [emphasis in the original]; he created a prize for those who worked in certain ways to abolish the military and, so, to stop war.

You can judge for yourself — well, more or less, if you don’t read Swedish — because Nobel’s will is available online translated into English (Swedish version). The portion most specific to the “peace prize,” one of five equal portions of the interest of a fund, reads as follows:

. . . and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses. . . .

. . . that [prize] for champions of peace [be awarded] by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting.

It’s not clear to me, not having read the Norwegian book, what Heffermehl’s exact concern is with the “fraternity” provision, which would seem to cover a multitude of sins, shall we say, particularly when followed by “champions of peace.”

Norway and Sweden are both involved in the awarding of Nobel Prizes. At the time of Alfred Nobel’s death Norway had been united with Sweden since the Napoleonic wars and didn’t gain its freedom until 1905.

[Hat tip: @LawandLit]


  1. Fredrik S. Heffermehl

    My book, The Nobel Peace Prize. What Nobel really wanted, is not a translation, lots of new material is added to a rewritten Norwegian book. It includes much new evidence supporting the claims I made on mismanagement of the Nobel Peace Prize. The interpretation of a testament (a will) consists in finding what the testator had in mind using the words actually used (Nobel did not call it a peace prize, but the committee has interpreted that word) – and, Simon, you will find a lot in the book on what recipients and activities Nobel himself must have had in mind when he established his prize for the Champions of Peace and (deep) confraternization of nations. The Norwegian Nobel Committee’s most important error is that they ignore the will; instead of interpreting it they no longer show any discernible interest in what testator intended. Since World War II the committee has forgotten that its task is to serve Nobel’s idea. Norwegian politicians have felt free to make their own prize. That is the basis for my request to the Swedish Foundations inspection to take action against the unlawful awards, prizes that are Nobel´s only in name.

    Greetings, Fredrik S. Heffermehl –

  2. Tusen takk, Fredrik, for the correction about your new book. And may I say thanks, too, for your work for peace.