Eugene Debs underwent a transformation over the course of his life that compelled him to replace a brand of unionism rooted in nationalism with a variant of socialism based on internationalism. As a trade and industrial unionist, Debs employed American political traditions linked to citizenship to attack the inequality and injustice engendered by corporations. After he became a socialist, however, Debs seriously questioned the values of citizenship and the heritage of the American Revolution, ultimately transcending the ideological framework he had utilized as a unionist. Previous historians have missed this shift in Debs's thought because they have presented his Christianity as an extension of his preoccupation with citizenship and the American Revolution. Debs emerged from a republican tradition, but his concern with the fate of humanity led him to substitute his earlier focus on American citizenship with the interests of a worldwide civilization. This process of growth caused Debs to elevate socialism in order to denigrate capitalism, exchange the particular virtues of independence and liberty for the universal values of interdependence and brotherhood, and swap the founding fathers and their revolution for Jesus and his revolutionary gospel. In the end, Debs was more concerned with perfecting the internationalist goals of civilization than the nationalist values of citizenship, and he believed that the perfection of humanity endorsed by Christianity was also the overarching goal of socialism.

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