Tuesday, October 15, 2002

I was reading the conversation about imposing our values on other nations on Body and Soul and it made me think further about Jane Addams. I'm reading with a class Jean Elshtain's biography of Addams. Elshtain sees Addams as believing most of all in democracy as a relationship and a conversation, not one set of values but pluralism that values all the different voices. Yet Addams certainly believed in Western Culture and in the idea that we are progressing, becoming more civilized--that was the basis of her pacifism (expressed for example in Peace and Bread in Time of War). Perhaps at times our modern eyes have to read Addams' faith in Western Culture as imperialist, yet Addams lived her life so deeply as a neighbor to people from other cultures, respecting their cultures, not as an expert showing them a better way. Elshtain would perhaps say that Addams by her focus on doing right by individuals rather than on big theories is able to believe that democracy is a better way without being condescending to people who aren't part of our culture. Addams would I think say that before we criticize anyone else we need to live up to our own ideas better.

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