Jane Addams’s Social Gospel Synthesis and the Catholic Response: Competing Views of Charity and Their Implications
By Brandon Harnish
This article appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of The Independent Review


Awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 for her many charitable works, Jane Addams exemplified the Social Gospel movement’s attempt to synthesize Christianity and Progressivism. Addams believed that social work gave Christianity meaning, whereas the Catholic intellectual tradition held that Christianity gave social work meaning.


The turn of the twentieth century was a time of philosophical dislocation. The scientific and philosophical writings of the modern period, which had begun with Descartes and culminated in Nietzsche, threatened the dogma, tradition, and realism of Catholic Christianity. Darwin’s theory of evolution had only grown in influence since its publication in 1859, and in many minds it served as the final proof of the supremacy and power of materialistic science. Not unconnected to this development was the Comtian program of social science, which emphasized empirical research, statistics, and an overall imitation of the methods of the physical sciences, all for the purpose of improving people’s material condition and thrusting mankind into the “positive stage of history.” It followed, then, that education ought not to inculcate truth and doctrine (because science might at any time overturn previously held beliefs) but foster a spirit of change and tolerance so that the “social organism” could adapt and grow as needed. The notion of a political philosophy grounded in natural-law theory fell entirely out of favor. Democracy ceased to be a means for securing individual rights and instead became the ultimate manifestation of society’s solving of any and all problems by means of scientific government planning (Woods 2004; Pestritto and Atto 2008)....

Other Independent Review articles by Brandon Harnish
    Fall 2010   Alasdair MacIntyre and F. A. Hayek on the Abuse of Reason

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