Jane Addams & the Radical Impulse
THE IMPULSE TO RADICALISM has been getting a bad press. Students are being told that John Brown had “reasoning paranoia,” that abolitionists and Progressives were middle-class men who felt their status threatened by centralized industrialism, that Populism was anti-Semitic and paranoid, that Woodrow Wilson’s insistence on Article 10 was Presbyterian rigidity, and that when Jane Addams was a little girl she would get up in the night to tell her father she had told a lie. Indeed the scholars who are seeking to psychologize out of existence that radicalism which will not rest until, in Blake’s words, “we build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land,” the motive- changers who have occupied the temple of divine discontent, have made Jane Addams a principal exhibit in their collection of curious cases.
For Jane Addams had the temerity to proclaim, in an article written in 1893, that the settlement movement was as much a “subjective necessity” for its participants as it was an objective necessity for society as a whole. The physical segregation of rich and poor in our great cities, she wrote, impoverishes the children of the rich as well as the children of the poor. “It is inevitable,” she said,
that those who feel most keenly this insincerity and partial living should be our young people, our so-called educated young people who accomplish little toward the solution of this social problem, and who bear the brunt of being cultivated into unnourished, over-sensitive lives. They have been shut off from the common labor by which they live…. They feel a fatal want of harmony between their theory and their lives…. They hear constantly of the great social maladjustment, but no way is provided for them to change it, and their uselessness hangs about them heavily.
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