Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Megan Threlkeld's "Citizens of the World"

Megan Threlkeld is Michael G. and Barbara W. Rahal Professor of History at Denison University. Her first book, Pan American Women: U.S. Internationalists and Revolutionary Mexico (2014), analyzed U.S. and Mexican women’s efforts at cooperation during the years of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1940).

Threlkeld applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Citizens of the World: U.S. Women and Global Government, and reported the following:
The reader who opens Citizens of the World to page 99 drops in on Rosika Schwimmer and Lola Maverick Lloyd shopping their plan for world government. Schwimmer and Lloyd were feminist pacifists who in 1937 founded the Campaign for World Government and published Chaos, War, or New World Order? What We Must Do to Establish the All-Inclusive, Non-Military, Democratic Federation of Nations. Their plan was a radical populist vision for a world parliament that would include all nations and peoples, abolish war, and represent all world citizens equally. As part of their publicity efforts, they approached three different organizations, looking for support: the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the United Pacifist Committee, and Federal Union, founded by journalist Clarence Streit. As the reader of page 99 would learn, all three groups turned them down.

Our imagined browser would not come away from page 99 with an accurate impression of the book’s larger arguments. I wrote this book because I wanted to know what women in this era meant when they called themselves, as Schwimmer and Lloyd did, “citizens of the world.” Though none of the nine women I profile in the book explicitly defined the phrase, and though there were myriad differences in their backgrounds and worldviews, I argue they meant three things. First, the phrase signified a demand to participate in shaping the world polity, particularly through a strong intergovernmental organization or a world federation. Second, it was an expression of women’s obligation to work for peace. Some of the women in the book were pacifists, others were not, but they all agreed a global government was the only way to end war, and thus they had a responsibility to help create one. Third, it was a call for gender equality. These women knew that unlike the white men who dominated international relations, they could not take any form of citizenship for granted. Their use of the phrase deliberately evoked citizenship’s equalizing potential, even though in practice many of them excluded people of color from its full benefits.

The page 99 reader would, however, get a sense of one of the book’s underlying themes, which is that women had a hard time drumming up support for world government, especially in the radical form Schwimmer and Lloyd envisioned. Despite popular support for the League of Nations and the United States’ central role in founding the United Nations, most Americans remained unwilling to relinquish the degree of sovereignty a genuine world government required. Even peace activists like members of WILPF and UPC, who believed in international cooperation and wanted to end war, rejected the concept as unrealistic. But Schwimmer and Lloyd promoted world government for the rest of their lives, because that was what they felt world citizenship obligated them to do.
Learn more about Citizens of the World at the University of Pennsylvania Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue