Jane Addams: Chicago's Pacifist

The New Internationalism

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Photograph of Hull House shortly after its establishment. Courtesy of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection.

Chicago as a Cosmopolitan City of Immigrants

The everyday lives of poor immigrants in the slums of Chicago are the inspiration for Jane Addams’ idea – the “new internationalism” (she also refers to it as the “new cosmopolitanism”).  Addams says there was a time, in the not-to-distant past, when a man would face possible death if he were to leave his village and journey into the fields of a neighboring village.  Hence survival compelled people to see themselves as part of distinct tribes and to see others as dangerous and threatening.  Yet, in modern times, a great transformation in human identity is under way. “Only now, during the last one hundred years, are we able to say that the peasant people of the earth, the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, have at last come into a larger cosmopolitanism founded upon a community of interests and knowledge.” [1] This cosmopolitanism is mainly the product of the mass migration of people, from their traditional homelands to cities across the United States, in search of better lives for themselves and their families. 

During Addams’ lifetime, Chicago’s population grew exponentially, from about 100,000 in 1860 to well over three million by the time of her death, in 1935.  The city’s transformation is largely the product of waves of migration – from the East Coast, the Mississippi Delta, Mexico, Europe, and Asia.  In 1900, approximately three in four Chicagoans were either born abroad or the children of immigrants. Among the city’s foreign-born population, two-thirds were either German, Irish, Polish, Swedish, or Czech.  When World War I broke out in 1914, Germans, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, comprised the city’s single-largest immigrant group.

Addams poses this question: “What is happening from this new bringing together of the peoples of the earth?” [2] She says this process, together with greater literacy, has given rise to a “common kingdom of the mind,” one that is inclined toward peaceful relations among people and nations.  “Some of us who live in cosmopolitan neighborhoods are convinced,” she declares, “that at this moment there is arising in these cosmopolitan centers a sturdy, a virile and an unprecedented internationalism which is fast becoming too real, too profound, too widespread, ever to lend itself to warfare.” [3] Addams believes it is no longer the case that leaders of countries can declare war and expect their citizens to thoughtlessly take up arms against and kill foreigners.  “So I believe that once we apprehend the international goodwill which is gathering in the depths of the cosmopolitan peoples, that we will there discover a reservoir of that moral devotion which has fostered ‘the cause of the people,’ so similar in every nation, throughout all the crises in the world’s history.” [4] Peace – the “healing of the nations,” she says, requires “channels through which its beneficent waters may flow,” and if nurtured a “new cosmopolitanism” will steadily replace the “value of the war virtues.” [5]

The cosmopolitan city, Addams writes in Newer Ideals of Peace (1907), is a laboratory for a new spirituality or morality because “gathered there from all parts of the world” are people from many nationalities who, through their “associations and affections,” have come to see one another as being bound together by the “necessity for defense against a hostile world.” [6] Having left their “tribal” worlds behind them, “immigrants are reduced to the fundamental equalities and universal necessities of human life itself, and they inevitably develop the power of association which comes from daily contact with those who are unlike each other in all save the universal characteristics of man.” [7]  A new “moral code” among poor immigrants therefore grows “out of solidarity of emotion and action essential to the life of all.” [8]

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Addams is critical of the Enlightenment notion that sees the American founding as the result of the triumph of the inalienable rights of the individual.  Instead, she says, the extent to which people enjoy rights is a function of an evolutionary process in which these rights are “hard won in the tragic process of experience.” [9] In reality, government stands above and apart from the people and rules over them as opposed to serving to their needs.  The great problems facing humankind are “more industrial than political,” Addams concludes, and therefore they cannot alone be solved by a “political constitution.” [10] Social progress, Addams continues, follows from united immigrant communities who share both “an unquenchable desire that charity and simple justice” ought to order public affairs, and the expectation that their “kindheartedness… shall be given some form of governmental expression.” [11] It is possible to transform government in the cosmopolitan city from a “militarized” institution – the “historic outgrowth of conquest and repression” – to an institution that is reborn from the “social energy” of people and that addresses the people’s “rising concern for human welfare.” [12] Moreover, the modern system of international relations, she opines, is likewise transformed – from militarism to pacifism – by people forging associations with one another and building new institutions (locally, nationally, transnationally, internationally) that serve their common aspirations for peace and justice.  

Addams calls upon peace advocates to discover the power of a “new cosmopolitanism [that] is developing in the life of the common people.”  Though she concedes it is still no match for “the pomp of war,” this cosmopolitanism “is growing and developing in this America of ours as it is nowhere else, because nowhere else does it have the same opportunity.  Unless we recognize it, unless we lead it forth and give it the courageous expression which it deserves,” she cautions, “we will be thrown back into the old ideas of warfare…”  A “gigantic hero is awakening,” and “this hero of the new internationalism” is not all that unlike the soldier who “represented the spirit of the martyr, and had ever been ready to place his life at the service of a great cause.” [13]

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Old Map of the Atlantic

The Cosmopolitan City as a New Way of Thinking about International Relations

Wendy Sarvasy applauds Addams’ ideas about international peace and her commitment to democratic processes beyond the nation-state. With the new internationalism, she asserts, Addams is looking for new ways of thinking about international relations and opening new possibilities for overcoming militarized, power politics within and among states.  “Addams’ originality as a theorist rests on her application of a pragmatist method of analysis that set up a tension between experience and theoretical or ideological concepts,” Sarvasy writes.  Addams uses the “method to show that the concepts no longer fit the experience and that the experience, properly understood, pointed to new concepts and understandings… [and she] assumed that old concepts would not be abandoned unless ‘substitutes’ were presented.” [14] Addams’ new internationalism, which Sarvasy frames as a combination of the concepts of democratic cosmopolitanism and world social citizenship –  is a promising, alternative vision to the state-centric thinking of militarism so commonly associated with realism.

Sarvasy says Addams’ new internationalism is located between two political poles.  On the one side is Immanuel Kant’s Third Definitive Article – the universal right of hospitality, which allows people to travel the world, be greeted and respected in the countries they visit, and cultivate meaningful and lasting relationships with the citizens of these countries.  On the other pole is Richard Rorty’s idea that sentiments, as found in stories that “create empathy across differences,” [15] are a source of cosmopolitan ethics.  Addams is no doubt a Kantian, but her new internationalism leans toward Rorty’s thinking.  Indeed, Addams’ stories about the lives of immigrants in Chicago underscore the shared experiences of and the sense of community among people from diverse backgrounds, and these stories serve as both a new avenue for imaging new ways of thinking about empowering people – from the grassroots up – to be agents of transformation in the world through transnational civil society.  In short, writes Sarvasy, “Addams was constructing a notion of democratic cosmopolitanism based on the potential of the relations among her neighbors” [16] around Hull House, the settlement house she co-founded in 1889, on West 18th Street and South Halstead Street on Chicago’s impoverished and racially and ethnically diverse near West Side. 

The Cosmopolitan City as a False Metaphor

Jean Bethke Elshtain is critical of Addam’s views on war and peace.  Addams, she says, is very much a product of her time when it comes to government and social progress.  Addams, she claims, believes in the “positive state that would actively promote a common good,” [17] and that the more the state did to serve the wellbeing of the people, the less likely would it be affected by militarism and engage in war.  According to Elshtain, Addams believes that the “immigrant city,” with its mix of people from around the world and a government that caters to the needs of its citizens, “would pave the way for a new internationalism: from city to cosmos.” [18] Yet Elshtain is unmoved.  “This is Jane Addams at her most optimistic and, arguably, least persuasive,” she writes, especially considering the world war that, only a few years after Addams pronounced her new internationalism, would consume a generation of young men.  “The horror of the slaughter on the Western front makes [Addams’] prewar optimism both naïve and forlorn.  The idea of social evolution from militarism to nonmilitant internationalism is no longer convincing.” [19] Furthermore, Elshtain criticizes Addams for employing a false analogy with her ideas of peace.  “Nation-states are not related to one another as are foreign-born immigrants in America’s burgeoning cities,” she writes.  Immigrants interact with one another in a society with established rules, laws, and institutions.  There is the reasonable expectation that the use of violence by one against another will result in action by the state to punish the offender.  “There is no such structure in the international area,” says Elshtain. [20] That is, unlike politics within states, politics between and among states lacks central political authority.  Hence the unity of people in the cosmopolitan city, where there are effective institutions of government, cannot be reproduced in the affairs of countries in anarchic international system of states. 

Elshtain identifies and critiques the flaw in Addams’ thinking by comparing Chicago to the world: “By minimizing the ways in which the operation of power at all levels of government helps create and secure the context Addams celebrated – the multinational city in which everyone is a candidate for civic membership – [Addams] evaded the distinction between a great city within a nation-state, on the one hand, and the individual sovereign state in its relation to an international arena that lacks an overarching authority.  If every state is analogized to Chicago and its internal context, an analogy Addams often made” continues Elshtain, “then what political body plays the role of the U.S. government or its equivalent?  [Addams’] answer was, some form of international law or international organization that did not yet exist but that must be promoted and eventually secured. This effort dominated the last twenty years of [Addams’] life.” [21] Addams envisioned a hierarchical order at the international level –  comprised of formal institutions, laws, norms, and global democratic citizenship – but her vision, Elshtain concludes, is a dream.

Sarvasy rejects Elshtain’s criticism of Addams’ comparison of politics in the cosmopolitan city and international politics.  She says Addams did not theorize by employing arguments by analogy.  Instead, “Addams pointed to how immigrants in cosmopolitan cities were creating a web of relations across borders that could inoculate them against the appeal of militarized nationalism…” [22] Sarvasy point is well taken, but essential to Addam’s new internationalism is the notion that the experiences of people in the cosmopolitan city are a indeed a model for international relations – hence Elshtain’s is correct in her conclusion that Addams’ alternative vision of peaceful international relations is flawed because – unlike politics among nations, where there is no higher authority – the progressive politics in the cosmopolitan city Addams envisions benefits from such an authority.  It is also worth pointing out that, once war broke out, immigrant communities had divided loyalties and were in conflict with one another in the streets of Chicago.  Furthermore, the U.S.’s entry into the war, in 1917, brought with it a wave of anti-German sentiment and bigotry across the country – and, because of its large German population, Chicago was their epicenter.  Addams lamented this development, of course.  More importantly, perhaps, the war casts grave doubt on her vision of the cosmopolitan city as a model for a new kind of international relations.   

[1] Jane Addams, “The New Internationalism.”  Proceedings of the National Arbitration and Peace Congress, New York, April 14th to 17th, 1907, ed. Charles H. Livermore (New York: American Peace Congress, 1907), pp. 213-16.  In Marilyn Fischer and Judy D. Whipps, eds., Janes Addams’ Essays and Speeches (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005), 43.

[2] Addams, “The New Internationalism,” 43.

[3] Addams, “The New Internationalism,” 43.

[4] Addams, “The New Internationalism,” 43.

[5] Addams, “The New Internationalism,” 44.

[6] Jane Addams, Newer Ideals of Peace (London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd, 1907), 12.

[7] Addams, Newer Ideals of Peace, 14.

[8] Addams, Newer Ideals of Peace, 12.

[9] Addams, Newer Ideals of Peace, 33.

[10] Addams, Newer Ideals of Peace, 42.

[11] Addams, Newer Ideals of Peace, 13.

[12] Addams, Newer Ideals of Peace, 28.

[13] Addams, “The New Internationalism,” 45.

[14] Wendy Sarvasy, ”A Global ‘Common Table’: Jane Addams’ Theory of Democratic cosmopolitanism and World Social Citizenship,” in Wendy Chielewski and Marilyn Fischer, eds., Jane Addams and the Practice of Democracy (Campaign: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 183-84.

[15] Sarvasy, ”A Global ‘Common Table,’” 185.

[16] Sarvasy, ”A Global ‘Common Table,’” 188.

[17] Jean Bethke Elshtain, Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy: A Life (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 217.

[18] Elshtain, Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy, 218.

[19] Elshtain, Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy, 218.

[20] Elshtain, Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy, 218.

[21] Elshtain, Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy, 220-21.

[22] Sarvasy, ”A Global ‘Common Table,’” 187.