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Democracy, citizenship and internationalism, c.1918–45
Author: Helen McCarthy

In the decades following Europe's first total war, millions of British men and women looked to the League of Nations as the symbol and guardian of a new world order based on international co-operation. Founded in 1919 to preserve peace between its member-states, the League inspired a rich, participatory culture of political protest, popular education and civic ritual that found expression in the establishment of voluntary societies in dozens of countries across Europe and beyond. Through the hugely popular League of Nations Union (LNU), this pro-League movement touched Britain in profound ways. Foremost amongst the League societies, the LNU became a pioneering advocate of democratic accountability and popular engagement in the making of foreign policy. This book offers an account of this popular League consciousness, revealing the extraordinarily vibrant character of associational life between the wars. It explores the complex constituencies making up the popular League movement and shows how internationalism intersected with class, gender, religion and party politics during a period of profound social, cultural and political change.

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The respectable face of troublemaking
Helen McCarthy

This book provides an alternative interpretation of the popular League of Nations movement in Britain. It argues that the League inspired a rich and participatory culture of political protest, popular education and civic ritual which took root in British society between the wars. The book also addresses why the story of the League movement forms an integral part of the larger history of the democratisation of Britain's political culture between the wars. The League of Nations Union's (LNU) individual membership covered all parts of the United Kingdom but was disproportionately concentrated in England. This book also argues that the creation of the League of Nations inspired a lively popular movement in Britain whose influence was widely felt after 1919, from Westminster village to village hall. Finally, an overview of the chapters included in this book is given.

in The British people and the League of Nations
Helen McCarthy

This chapter addresses the League movement as a product of new strands of thought and action emerging from the First World War which collectively became known as the ‘New Diplomacy’. It investigates the significance of the category of ‘public opinion’ for League supporters in light of their efforts to make foreign policy more accountable to the electorate. It concentrates on the educational campaigns and media strategy of the League of Nations Union (LNU) and the Peace Ballot of 1934–35. The movement's faith in voters' readiness to absorb complex ideas became harder to sustain over the course of the 1930s. The LNU was internally divided over the success of the Ballot. The Peace Ballot proved that Britain's quiet citizens could be induced to break their silence on occasion, and there can be little doubt that foreign affairs produced many such occasions between the wars.

in The British people and the League of Nations
The League in party politics
Helen McCarthy

This chapter investigates the League of Nations Union's (LNU) efforts to present the League to the public as a cause which transcended party politics. The type of individual which the LNU attracted to its Executive was naturally of a centrist temperament. The League stood as an obvious focal point for Liberals feeling intellectually and morally dispossessed by the War. The decline of Liberalism as an electoral force did not signal the marginalisation of broader ‘liberal’ values within British politics. Cecil's resignation saw the charges of anti-government bias against the LNU increase substantially. Furthermore, Labour's attitudes towards the League and the LNU are explained in this chapter. The LNU's non-party strategy embraced the politics of centrism. The desire of Conservatives and Labour to enjoy some of the reflective glory enabled the LNU to recruit from and engage the attention of both parties for much of the period.

in The British people and the League of Nations
Christianity, religion and the League
Helen McCarthy

This chapter reveals that the League's movement cultivated sizeable Anglican and Free Church followings in England and Wales, benefiting from but also contributing to the drive towards ecumenical co-operation after the war. It also shows that the League movement's message of Christian internationalism became a constitutive element of the public culture of religiosity. The greater affinity between the Free Churches and the League was the legacy of pre-war political nonconformity. The League of Nations Union (LNU) branches were more commonly met with a wall of silence when approaching local Roman Catholic churches. The Religions and Ethics Committee was never amongst the LNU's most active bodies. The LNU stood as testimony to the diversity of spiritual life in interwar Britain and the possibilities of ecumenical and inter-faith co-operation. Christianity was the national religious creed with which the vast majority of the population identified, including those who rarely, if ever, attended church.

in The British people and the League of Nations
Internationalist education between the wars
Helen McCarthy

This chapter reviews the League of Nations Union's (LNU) popular support in Britain's schools, adult education bodies and universities. The campaign to internationalise the school curriculum was amongst the most successful ventures of the interwar League movement. The LNU drew leverage from the League's own endeavours in the sphere of ‘intellectual cooperation’. The League's own activities in the educational sphere provided an important source of leverage which helped the LNU to translate the power of these ideals into concrete institutional backing and innovative classroom practice. Educational provision in Britain was highly decentralised between the wars. The LNU was able to leverage the authority of the League as a means of bestowing legitimacy upon its educational aims. Coverage of the League in the curriculum could vary wildly between schools. Teaching ‘world citizenship’ did not fundamentally challenge the integrative role of the education system.

in The British people and the League of Nations
League, empire, nation
Helen McCarthy

This chapter presents an analysis of the movement's popular base by examining how the supporters of the League of Nations Union (LNU) positioned their cause in relation to interwar pacifism, popular militarism and imperialism. It specifically describes how the LNU's desire to create enlightened patriots out of Britons had implications which stretched beyond the classroom and lecture-hall and involved the careful positioning of the movement's liberal-internationalist values in relation to three major currents within interwar political culture: pacifism, militarism and imperialism. The League became a powerful symbol for post-war conciliation and exuded a ready appeal to the pacifically minded. The principles standing at the heart of the LNU's ‘enlightened patriotism’ helped to reshape British people's understanding of their nation's relationship with the rest of the world. The chapter then turns to explore how far the LNU's enlightened patriots were equally zealous imperialists. LNU leaders accepted the limited legal and institutional framework of the League.

in The British people and the League of Nations
League activism and class politics
Helen McCarthy

This chapter discusses how the League of Nations Union (LNU) was led at a national level by aristocrats, professionals and businessmen and at a local level by the provincial middle classes, with working-class people more likely to support the League through their own organisations. It is argued that this reproduced broader inter-class dynamics and also proved that the League did not reinforce class politics. As Cecil insisted, the plausibility of the movement's claim to represent the national community rested upon its skill in appealing to ‘all classes of citizenhood’. It then addresses how far the LNU remained hampered by inter-class differences and animosities. The LNU experienced some success in engaging different working-class audiences through the labour movement and workplace and through localised interventions into working-class leisure forms. The LNU would remain on the periphery of debates about social and economic reconstruction at home, where class politics were never far from the surface.

in The British people and the League of Nations
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The making of a gendered internationalism
Helen McCarthy

This chapter investigates the extent and nature of women's League-related activism in interwar Britain. The League of Nations Union (LNU)'s recruiting efforts were profoundly gendered. Its propaganda reinforced the broader trend away from the ideals of ‘manliness’ prevalent before 1914. It also followed the example of the political parties by tending to conceptualise women in homogenising terms. Gender relations preserved tokenism and male power whilst simultaneously offering opportunities for female leadership and self-assertion. The chapter then turns to the major event of the movement's history—the Peace Ballot—treating it as a case study in which the operation of gender can be viewed in particularly sharp relief. Gender relations within the LNU exhibited strong continuities with those prevalent in the mixed political movements of the pre-Suffrage era. Sexual difference was so commonplace a feature of public life that the contradictions made little dent in the League's appeal.

in The British people and the League of Nations
The failure of political centrism, 1936–39
Helen McCarthy

This chapter concentrates on the period from early 1936 to the outbreak of the Second World War. These years marked a turning point for the League of Nations Union (LNU) generally and for the League and the conduct of foreign policy more broadly. The link between League membership and collective security was only very imperfectly understood by the general public. The LNU's non-party rule had always been vulnerable to criticism, but in the later 1930s its inability to bear close scrutiny could no longer be denied. The radicalisation of the youth wing set the LNU's centrist dilemma in sharp relief. The souring of relations between absolutist pacifism and liberal pacificism did not eliminate all space for common action. The period between the close of the Peace Ballot and the outbreak of the Second World War were years of disappointment and frustration for the League movement.

in The British people and the League of Nations