‘Forming the New Society’: Work, Social Justice, and the Paris Peace Conference

Neil McLennan* (Corresponding Author), Hazel Hutchison

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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A little-quoted line in the Treaty of Versailles declares that universal peace can ‘be established only if it is based upon social justice’. However, accounts of the Paris Peace Conference, both factual and fictional, demonstrate that such high rhetoric was often at odds with its context. While many American diplomats and socialites experienced the Paris of 1919 as a hothouse of political intrigue and lavish entertainment, drafted soldiers found themselves locked into menial service in a war that no longer existed. Meantime, back home, the abrupt end to the munitions industry and the return of veterans searching for work created havoc in already fragile labour markets, causing hardship, racial violence, and unrest. This article examines American attitudes to social justice in the volatile months around the signing of the Treaty. In order to explore the contradictory impressions of the Peace Conference and its impact, it draws on the papers of James Duncan, a Scotsman serving in Woodrow Wilson’s team, and examines literary representations of 1919 written in retrospect by writers such as Mary Borden and John Dos Passos. Employing a ‘multiperspectivity’ approach (Stradling 2003), this study offers interdisciplinary insights to this key moment in international affairs, domestic policies and social impact. It argues that, as in the Hall of Mirrors in 1919, different views can be sought from many positions to create progressive attitudes to work and social justice, and demonstrates that collaboration across contrasting perspectives is the essence of peace-making.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-252
Number of pages14
JournalFirst World War Studies
Issue number3
Early online date30 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 30 May 2022


  • 1919
  • multiperspectivity
  • Paris Peace Conference
  • peace-making
  • social justice
  • Versailles


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