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  • Problems of Immigration and Warfare for the Pragmatist Pacifism of James and Addams
  • John Kaiser Ortiz


Despite their mutual quests to find moral alternatives to warfare, neither William James nor Jane Addams fully anticipated today’s heavily knotted relationship between immigration and the struggle for peace. Neither figure fully accounted for the twenty-first-century reality wherein immigrants (or foreign-born individuals) who serve in the United States military represent a significant number of total bodies enlisted for the human mobilization effort required for sustaining warfare in its infrastructural, institutional, and international forms. In fact, immigrants account for more than 10% of the roughly 1.3 million active-duty military personnel presently staffing the US Armed Services (USAS). Foreign-born individuals employed by the USAS1 represent over 110,000 employees of the world’s most heavily funded military apparatus. Further problematizing their efforts is the little-known truth that since the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan began, at least 102,206 immigrants have been naturalized as citizens of the United States in exchange for their military service. This paper examines the confounding ways in which the pragmatist pacifism of James and Addams appears to deepen the incongruities surroundings today’s movements for peace and also immigrants’ rights. How would James and Addams respond to the obstacle to peace that immigrants currently represent?

A primary goal of this paper is to propose a strengthened account of pragmatist pacifism that contributes toward a more critical engagement with immigrant experience and warfare, one that conveys the continuing relevance of classical pragmatism toward contemporary moral dilemmas at the same time that it pushes forward the projects of peace and immigrants’ rights. Granted, both thinkers viewed the perpetuation of warfare as a distinct moral problem. [End Page 86] But neither figure ultimately viewed immigrants or immigration as bulwarks or hindrances to achieving peace. On the contrary, both figures believed that immigrants (like youths and young travelers on the whole) embodied the potential for realizing alternatives to warfare. That being the case, I develop reasons in this essay for elucidating how James’s understanding of ideas (framed according to his doctrine of radical empiricism) might be beneficial to Addams’s understanding of immigrants and immigration. By refocusing on what I regard as James’s more important philosophical contributions stated in terms of how he understood the relationship between disparate or otherwise unconnected ideas, and by reframing Addams’s appeal to immigration by including a more robust normative critique of immigrant cultural practice as it affects local and also global matters of social justice, I argue that the instructive, though in this way carefully modified application of James’s and Addams’s ideas for moral alternatives to warfare, can still deliver a compelling pragmatist pacifist framework that remains faithful to the original intentions of these authors yet also serves to rethink contemporary searches for peaceful alternatives to militarism, warfare, and other forms of armed conflict.

Importantly, my argument is limited in its focus to discussing how the pacifist tradition within American pragmatism holds relevance for explaining the tangled, sometimes contradictory, but always complex contemporary American attitudes toward warfare as much as peace. The fact that contemporary immigration realities stand, in some cases, in stark contrast, and in others, striking resemblance to the realities of James’s and Addams’s time is of secondary importance to the larger claim that these two philosophers were committed to thinking through the positive as well as negative roles that world travel and immigration play in warfare. Immigrants themselves play no significant role in my analysis, as my focus here is on the articulation of pragmatist practices, principles, and ideals in terms of how to achieve peace over warfare. After all, immigrants themselves only represent around 10% of the total military apparatus. The fact that immigration serves as a form of what James will call world travel, combined with the sociological witness of immigrant reality by Addams, suggests to me that a more critical evaluation of their insights might create future opportunities for furthering the project of pragmatism in the Americas, one that might look more closely at the relationship of immigrants to the political and structural forms of...


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pp. 86-110
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