A Will to Peace: Jane Addams, World War I, and "Pacifism in Practice"

TitleA Will to Peace: Jane Addams, World War I, and "Pacifism in Practice"
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsAgnew, Elizabeth N.
JournalPeace & Change
Date Published01/2017

In the early 20th century, Jane Addams (1860-1935) was among Progressive activists and intellectuals in America who envisioned human evolution toward a world without war. World War I and its aftermath required critical reassessment of this view, as Addams sought to defend pacifism against its critics, while deliberating about its methods with members of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), of which she was a co-founder and the first president. This essay argues that engagement with the “peace biology” tradition of social evolutionary theory was crucial to Addams's refutation of war as “natural” and her sustained faith in human cooperation. Indebted in particular to Peter Kropotkin and Georg Friederike Nicolai, Addams articulated a postwar understanding of “pacifism in practice” that resisted both concessions to violence and pledges to absolute nonviolence, as WILPF responded to international conflicts and movements for national self-determination. Her critics notwithstanding, a century later evolutionary science lends nuanced support to her views on cooperation and women's particular potential for sustaining peace.

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