The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1995Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech at German State Ceremony – 8 May 1995

Below is the transcript of Mr Major’s speech at the German State Ceremony at the Schauspielhaus in Berlin on Monday 8th May 1995.


Herr Bundespraesident, Herr Bundeskanzler, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This week, in London, in Paris, in Moscow and here in Berlin, we are turning our minds back 50 years to remember those on all sides who fell in the last War and to remember the day that peace came to Europe. I said “the last War” and I said that because I believe that for our countries gathered here today it was the last time that we will ever fight one against another. [Applause]

Many have contributed to this: Churchill and de Gaulle, Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy, Konrad Adenauer who rebuilt Germany and you, Herr Bundeskanzler, who have led it so long and have seen it reunited in peace and in freedom.

Fifty years ago Europe saw the end of 30 years that had contained not one but two world wars. The slaughter in the trenches, the destruction of cities and the oppression of citizens; all these left a Europe in ruins just as did the 30 Years War some centuries before.We are commemorating the end of this European tragedy in our great cities. We must not forget the past but here in Berlin this evening I would like to think not of the past but of the future.

In September last year, we met here in this wonderful theatre and we did so to bid farewell to the Allied Forces that had guarded Berlin for 40 years. I would like to recall a phrase I used on that occasion: “If we are wise, Europe stands today on the threshold of a New Age of Reason. We have before us new possibilities of peace, freedom and friendship that we have never had before.”

The first age of reason, the enlightenment, brought new confidence to Europe. The wars of religion were replaced by reason and tolerance. Superstition was replaced by science. Newton gave us laws of nature, Bach laid the foundations of music, Montesquieu taught us the spirit of the law and Adam Smith explained the laws of the market.

In those days Europe was awakening from the darkness of the mind. Today, Europe is emerging from a century of violence and ideology. Traumatised in the first half of this century by brutality and destruction, Europe has lived the second half of this century half frozen in a trance. We are, as it were, still rubbing our eyes after 1989 wondering if it can be real but thankfully it is real.

What do I mean by a new age of reason? First, I mean an end to dogma and ideology. Fascism and communism lie behind us. The two great enemies of reason have been defeated not just by armies but by more powerful ideas, freedom and democracy and by reason itself.
Freedom means freedom to think, to choose, to question. The European tradition is of pluralism, scepticism and debate. Today, the authoritarianism of the mind is gone, I hope and pray, for ever. We can now look forward to a Europe of open minds.

A new age of reason will be the new age of the individual. The tyrannies that we have overcome were erected in the name of race, state or of history. With the first enlightenment came the ideas of freedom and of democracy. Today, we have escaped from the ideologies of race and the state. The individual for us these days is the measure of all things. Freedom is always freedom of the individual; responsibility is always individual responsibility. Freedom of choice, equality before the law, open minds and a just and open society, these are at the heart of our European traditions and it is this that will help us build the Europe that lies ahead of us.

A new age of reason means a new international society.

The Europe of today has come a long way from the Europe of the first 30 Years War but the threats and dangers of extremism or violence, military and civil, have not gone altogether. Today, we no longer need the old system of coalitions to contain national ambitions, the old system of the balance of power. We now bring our different histories and traditions together in pursuit of common goals. This is not an easy process. There have been, and there will be, setbacks but I cannot believe that we will ever again revert to the old way of doing things.

We can be proud that out of the ruins of war we have built a system of cooperation never known before in all the long history of the world: the United Nations – struggling towards law and justice; NATO – the only lasting peace-time alliance; the European Union – that unique blend of integration and cooperation across national boundaries and the one essential rule of this system is that we settle our differences by discussion and by compromise, by reason and never again by violence. [Applause]

Ladies and Gentlemen, the war whose end we remember was fought for the freedom of the individual against the tyranny of the state, for the freedom of the mind against the tyranny of ideology and the peace we have built in these fifty years is built on the foundation of a new international society.

If our international society is based on reason, it is also based on friendship, friendship between our peoples who were once in dispute and war and personal friendship amongst ourselves and amongst all our citizens.

The first Age of Reason came as the men of ideas – Hume and Voltaire – led us out of the darkness of the mind. In the last 50 years we have lived through a political enlightenment. We owe a debt to those who have led us out of political darkness. We are all their inheritors and we have a responsibility to use that inheritance wisely. Our chance today is that we may be able to make a reality of Kant’s vision of a Perpetual Peace.

The price of that peace will be perpetual vigilance. Freedom and peace are not to be had as gifts. We will need courage and commitment to defend what we have created in these 50 years of peace but I believe that we are justified in having confidence that it can and that it will be done.

Civilisation is a partnership between the dead, the living and those who are not yet born. We have a debt to those who died in the War and we have a debt to those who built the peace. Those debts can properly be repaid only to the next generation. For them we must build a world of open minds, of individual freedom and responsibility; and for them we must strengthen and extend the New International Society. Herr Bundespraesident, for me these will be the pillars of the New Age of Reason. [Applause]