Halvdan Koht

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Halvdan Koht : biography

7 July 1873 – 12 December 1965

Having never adhered to Christianity in his adolescent or adult life, Koht started to feel solidarity with the labor movement and the working classes, leading to the radicalization of his views: from 1900 he voted for the Norwegian Labor Party, and had four years prior to that began to consider himself a socialist.Kjærheim, 1985: p. 7 While living in the United States, he developed a form of historical materialism, which led to a fusion of history scholarship and political views. He viewed the Liberal Party as an important agent in Norwegian history, since it pronounced the rights of the farmers, but he now viewed the working class as the next class to be included in the political life, and specifically through the Labor Party. In Koht’s Liberal Party period, he cooperated with some of their more radical members, among them Carl Jeppesen, who later would join the Labor Party. He joined the Labor Party when he returned from the United States and moved to Bærum in 1909.Koht, 1951: p. 159 He lived with his family in Stabekk, but commissioned a house in Lysaker in 1910. The house, designed by architect Arnstein Arneberg, was dubbed "Karistua". The university offered him no office, so he had to conduct his research at home.Skard, 1974: p. 125

Koht served as a member of Bærum municipal council in the terms 1916–1919, 1928–1931 and 1931–1934. In 1952 he wrote the 50-year history of Bærum Labor Party.Koht, 1952

Foreign affairs politician

Internationally, Koht tried to prop up the institutions that maintained public international law. In 1923 he participated in the arbitrations between Denmark and Norway about the disposition of Eastern Greenland. Sovereignty was claimed by Denmark. Koht teamed up with the conservative politician C. J. Hambro, who had edited Nordmanns-Forbundets tidsskrift to which Koht had contributed. The negotiations led to an agreement on Norwegian trade rights in the area, but a question of sovereignty over Eastern Greenland remained unsolved. In 1931, forces in and outside of the then-Agrarian government annexed "Erik the Red’s Land".

In the 1930s Koht became the foremost international politician of the Labor Party. He positioned himself in the Labor Party as the prospective Minister of Foreign Affairs should the party form a government. He did so because fellow historian and Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1928, Edvard Bull, Sr., had died, making Koht the "Foreign Minister-designate". The Labor Party also polled well in the Norwegian parliamentary election, 1933, leading them to prepare for office.Ørvik, 1960 The Labor government was formed on 20 March 1935. Koht became Minister of Foreign Affairs in Johan Nygaardsvold’s Cabinet. Among Koht’s first actions as minister was to persuade the Labor Party not to pull Norway out of the League of Nations, something the party had declared that it would do as recently as 1934.Moen and Sæther, 2009: p. 37 In foreign policy matters Koht and Nygaardsvold usually made decisions without consulting the other ministers, merely informing the rest of the cabinet of the decisions that had been made.Moen and Sæther, 2009: p. 207

After the League of Nations failed as an effective international body, Koht again favored the strict neutrality policy to which Norway had adhered before the League of Nations membership. For many years, he was reluctant to an expansion of a Norwegian military defense capacity. He did not vehemently and principally oppose such an expansion, and had been quite friendly to the principle of a national defense in the past. His neutrality policy nonetheless put him on the "defense-skeptical" side together with Johan Nygaardsvold and most of his cabinet. Among the more "defense-friendly" in and around the cabinet, not the least from 1936, were Trygve Bratteli, Haakon Lie, Finn Moe, Trygve Lie, Oscar Torp, Martin Tranmæl and Minister of Defense Fredrik Monsen.Pryser, 1988: pp. 219–220 In 1936 Koht expressed great concern for the consequences of the arms race taking place in Europe, which he felt could easily lead to war.Moen and Sæther, 2009: p. 38