By Kevin C. Murphy, Copyright 2013. All Rights Reserved.
The "League of Dam-Nations"
Progressives and the League of Nations
II. The Origins of the League
After the Great War broke out in Europe in 1914, Roosevelt made the case anew in the pages of The Outlook. "Surely the time ought to be ripe for the nations to consider a great world agreement among all the civilized military powers to back righteousness by force. Such an agreement would establish an efficient world league for the peace of righteousness." As the war progressed, however, Roosevelt became increasingly pro-Allied (and militaristic) in his rhetoric, and - though he thoroughly condemned Wilson for his attempt at neutrality and his lack of "preparedness" at every opportunity - the former President spoke less of the League idea he had floated in 1910. Thus, it befell others to take up the standard.
In To End All Wars, his study of the League of Nations fight, historian Thomas Knock lists many "feminists, liberals, pacifists, socialists, and social reformers" in the ranks of the "progressive internationalists" during World War II, among them Wellesley professor Emily Greene Balch, radical siblings Max and Crystal Eastman, Stanford president David Starr Jordan, progressive editors Oswald Garrison Villard and Paul Kellogg of The Nation and Survey respectively, and settlement house reformer Lillian Wald. It was Jane Addams, however, who, according to Knock, "played a pivotal role in this wing of the internationalist movement" and "personified its purposes and values perhaps better than anyone else." With Wald, Kellogg, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Crystal Eastman, Addams founded the Women's Peace party (WPP) in January 1915. Its platform committee, according to Knock, "produced the earliest, and what must be acknowledged as the most comprehensive, manifesto on internationalism advanced by any American organization throughout the entire war."2
This "program for constructive peace," writes Knock, "called for an immediate armistice, international agreements to limit armaments…removal of the economic causes of the war (that is, a reduction of trade barriers), democratic control of foreign policy, self-determination, machinery for arbitration, freedom of the seas, and, finally, a 'Concert of Nations' to supersede the balance-of-power system and rival armies and navies." With this peace statement in hand (which was also sent on to President Wilson), Addams attended the International Congress of Women at The Hague three months later, and succeeded in having them endorse the WPP proposal as well. Upon her return, Addams, Balch, and others personally pitched the peace plan to the Wilson administration. While the president, Colonel House, and Secretary of State Robert Lansing did not adopt the proposals right away, Wilson told Addams he thought the "program for constructive peace" the "the best formulation which up to the moment has been put forward by anybody," and it was one he clearly returned to when later crafting his Fourteen Points.3
Writing in Peace and Bread in 1922, Addams elaborated on what the WPP had meant by a "Concert of Nations" seven years earlier. "What we insisted upon was that the world could be organized politically by its statesmen as it had been already organized into an international fiscal system by its bankers," she wrote. "We asked why the problem of building a railroad to Baghdad, of securing corridors to the sea for a land-locked nation, or warm water harbors for Russia, should result in war." The obstacle, thought Addams and her contemporaries in the women's peace movement, was nationalism. "Was it not obvious that such situations transcended national boundaries and must be approached in a spirit of world adjustment, that they could not be peacefully adjusted while men's minds were still held apart by national suspicions and rivalries?" The progressive League envisioned by Addams would be a truly international institution, one where the peoples of the world could come together and transcend the petty disputes engendered by virulent nationalism.4
That being said, American patriotism still had a part to play. In guiding the world beyond the heretofore confining limits of nineteenth century nation-states, America must lead by example. The United States, according to Addams, should show the way "by demonstrating that the same principles of federation and of an interstate tribunal might be extended among widely separated nations, as they had already been established between our own contiguous states. Founded upon the great historical experiment of the United States, it seemed to us that American patriotism might rise to a supreme effort because her own experience for more than a century had so thoroughly committed her to federation and to peaceful adjudication as matters of every-day government."5
Of course, Addams and the progressives were by no means the first Americans to advocate the cultivation of an international consciousness that transcended the vagaries of nation. Such a call for international solidarity among the world's workers had been the province of the Socialist Party for decades, and - given the very permeable barrier between socialism and progressivism in the pre-war years - it's safe to say Addams and her ilk were at least partially influenced by the party of Debs.
Indeed, soon after the WPP's peace platform -- and despite being blindsided by the decision of their European counterparts to back their respective governments in war -- the Socialists followed up with their own proposal. Penned primarily by moderate Morris Hillquit, the Socialist peace "manifesto," like the WPP plan, advocated self-determination for all peoples, open diplomacy, disarmament, "political and industrial democracy," and a "congress of neutral nations" to mediate the end of the conflict. As Knock notes, other than a call for a ban on indemnities (reparations), the Socialist proposal "presented few stark contrasts with that of America's foremost 'bourgeois pacifist' organizations (in which, it should be mentioned, many individual Socialist party members held leadership positions.)" Nevertheless, it too was presented to Wilson in person, and once again the president seemed to review it favorably. (Hillquit later reported to the Socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason of Wilson that "his sympathies were entirely with us."6)
Yet, if Wilson seemed generally inclined toward the internationalist bent of the progressives and socialists, he also took heed of the suggestions of the "conservative internationalists," who came to advocate a very different type of League than their rivals on the left. The conservatives, who included among their number former Secretary of State Elihu Root, college presidents Nicholas Murray Butler (Columbia) and Abbot Lawrence Lowell (Harvard), the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and former president William Howard Taft, rested their faith not in international movements but in international law and arbitration.
To the conservatives who formed the League to Enforce Peace (LEP), with Taft at its head, in June 1915, what was needed was not a federated world government that transcended nation-states, but a world court that adjudicated issues between them, and a collective security pact of some kind that could prevent any one nation from threatening the rest. The conservatives had no truck with what they considered to be the wooly-headed internationalist reforms of the women's peace movement, nor did they share their ambitious vision of a federated super-government. Rather, the conservatives believed in free and independent nations, guided by self-interest and realpolitik, interacting with one another as nations, through the twin mediums of law and diplomacy. As Elihu Root had written to this effect in his 1912 Nobel Peace Prize address, "The independence of nations lies at the basis of the present social organization of the civilized world."7
Put simply, when considering a possible "League of Nations," the progressive internationalists emphasized the "League" and the conservatives emphasized the "Nations." This was arguably the most central and striking difference between the WPP/Socialist and LEP/conservative visions of the League, and the question of nationalism versus internationalism would redound through almost all of the foreign policy debates in the decade after the war.
But it was not the only bone of contention. Where the progressives emphasized neutrality in the present conflict and in their rhetoric, seeking a negotiated settlement to end the war, the conservatives were much more inclined to back an Allied victory, arguing Germany was at fault for the conflict and should be punished for it. Where the progressives emphasized the importance of self-determination and thought the League a potential alternative to the imperial system, almost all the conservatives "had been ardent imperialists and champions of Anglo-American entente since the 1890s." Where the WPP and Socialists emphasized the structural reasons for the coming of the Great War and posited ways in which the League could remedy them (removing economic barriers, for example), the LEP gave not a whit for cause and effect. In short, while the progressives envisioned the League as a means toward transcending nationalism and achieving reform and social justice on an international scale, the conservatives thought the League an end in itself - once the rights of nations were recognized and protected by the growing canon of international law, little other tinkering would be required.8
Supported across the political spectrum like this, the idea of the League was often made to carry diverse and even contradictory ideas. Writing in The Crisis, W.E.B. Du Bois argued that the "League of Nations is absolutely necessary to the salvation of the Negro race":
Unless we have some super-national power to curb the anti-Negro policy of the United States and South Africa, we are doomed eventually to fight for our rights…What we cannot accomplish before the choked conscience of America, we have an infinitely better chance to accomplish before the organized Public Opinion of the World. Peace for us is not simply Peace from wars like the past, but relief from the spectre of the Great War of Races [which] will be absolutely inevitable unless the selfish nations of white civilization are curbed by a Great World Congress in which black and white and yellow sit and speak and act." 9At the same time, the New York Times could argue, in its review of Lothrop Stoddard's The Rising Tide of Color, that it "throws new light upon the need of a league or association which will unite the nations in defense of what is precious in the Nordic inheritance."10
So, while progressives and conservatives could agree on the formation of a League of Nations at the end of the war, they held very distinct visions for what form that League would take. This was reflected anew in November 1918, when both sides took the opportunity of the armistice to restate their goals.
Return to the Table of Contents.
2. Knock, 50.
3. Ibid, 50-52. The WPP plan had been anticipated in November 1914 by the Union of Democratic Control, a group emerging from the British peace movement. Like the WPP plan, it advocated self-determination, disarmament, open trade, and the eschewing of alliances in favor of "concerted action between the Powers." Knock, 36-37.
4. Jane Addams, "Peace and Bread," The Survey, January 28, 1922, 659. As the literature suggests, one reason Addams and her cohort in the WPP rejected nationalism so readily, other than the militarism that so often attended it, was due to women's persistent status as second-class citizens, without even the ability to vote.
6. Knock, 55. Although the oppressive behavior of his administration during the war might seem to suggest otherwise, Wilson had no ideological axe to grind with the Socialists. Indeed, he'd written in 1887 (in an essay, "Socialism and Democracy," that was lost until 1968) that state socialism "is only a[n] acceptance of the extremest logical conclusions deducible from democratic principles long ago received as respectable. For it is very clear that in fundamental theory socialism and democracy are almost if not quite one and the same." Ibid, 6-7.
7. Ibid, 56-58. John Fabian Witt, Patriots and Cosmpolitians: Hidden Histories of American Law (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007), 178. In Witt's words, "Root viewed nation-state sovereignty as the foundational building block of international law."
8. Ibid, 55.
9. The Crisis, May 1919. Vol. 18, No. 1, p.p. 10-11. In his essay on Crystal Eastman in Patriots and Cosmopolitans, legal historian John Witt notes that many progressive and radical women were drawn to internationalism because "women's persistent second-class citizenship highlighted the dangers of the nation-state and its nationalist symbols." The Pan-Africanism of Du Bois is another case in point. Witt, 185.
10. Pietrusza, 166.
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