"The Metropolis of Discontent": Chicago and the evolution of modern liberalism, 1890-1920
Jarvis, Eric Christian
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This dissertation examines how the city of Chicago—its social and economic conditions, its liberal discourse, and its cultural symbolism—shaped the evolution of modern liberalism. Relying on historical and literary critical methods, this project draws on writings, speeches, articles, letters, and novels to analyze the social thought of Jane Addams, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, John Dewey, Ray Stannard Baker, Theodore Dreiser, and other reformers. In the 1890s, disputes between workers and employers led many liberal Chicagoans to conceive of social strain—and the notion of class—in terms of labor-capital relations. During the 1900s, however, the rising profile of interracial violence in Chicago and across the Midwest spurred some white liberal Chicagoans to acknowledge, as black reformers had long argued, that racial prejudice fueled economic conflicts. This ideological trend sparked a national conversation on racial equality and inspired new forms of interracial association, yet it also re-inscribed discriminatory attitudes towards African Americans and encouraged white liberals to view racism as an economic, not a cultural, problem. Ultimately, this conceptual shift was short-lived. By 1920, white reformers had subsumed the pursuit of racial equality within their crusade for economic justice, and Chicago had become an ambivalent symbol of democracy that evoked the advance of organized labor and the failure of racial liberalism. Chapter one describes how liberal Chicagoans developed a way of thinking that was investigative, pragmatic, class-oriented, and Chicago-centric and that downplayed the social significance of racial tensions. Chapter two explores how the Pullman Strike of 1894 caused white liberal Chicagoans to narrow their conception of class to its economic aspects. Chapters three and four analyze how race riots and interracial strike warfare in the Midwest prompted some white reformers to recognize how racial antagonism shaped industrial relations. As a result of these social currents, white and black liberals formed new organizations dedicated to protecting black civil rights even as presidential politics exposed the limits of racial liberalism. Chapter five discusses how race riots in St. Louis and Chicago led white liberals to reframe their thinking on class conflict by turning away from further analysis of its racial dimensions.