Randolph Bourne

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Randolph Bourne

Randolph Silliman Bourne (/bɔːrn/; May 30, 1886 – December 22, 1918) was a progressive writer and intellectual born in Bloomfield, New Jersey, and a graduate of Columbia University. Bourne is best known for his essays, especially his unfinished work "The State," discovered after his death.

Life and works

Bourne's face was deformed at birth by misused forceps and the umbilical cord was coiled round his left ear, leaving it permanently damaged and misshapen. At age four, he suffered tuberculosis of the spine, resulting in stunted growth and a hunched back. He chronicled his experiences in his essay titled, "The Handicapped." Bourne's articles appeared in journals including The Seven Arts and The New Republic.

World War I divided American progressives, pitting an anti-war faction, including Bourne and Jane Addams, against a pro-war faction led by pragmatist philosopher and educational theorist John Dewey. Bourne was a student of Dewey's at Columbia, but he rejected Dewey's idea of using the war to spread democracy. (He was a member of the Boar's Head Society.[1]) In his pointedly titled 1917 essay "Twilight of Idols", he invoked the progressive pragmatism of Dewey's contemporary William James to argue that America was using democracy as an end to justify the war, but that democracy itself was never examined. Although initially following Dewey, he felt that Dewey had betrayed his democratic ideals by focusing only on the facade of a democratic government rather than on the ideas behind democracy that Dewey had once professed to respect.

Bourne was greatly influenced by Horace Kallen's 1915 essay "Democracy Versus the Melting-Pot" and argued, like Kallen, that Americanism ought not to be associated with Anglo-Saxonism. In his 1916 article "Trans-National America," Bourne argued that the US should accommodate immigrant cultures into a "cosmopolitan America," instead of forcing immigrants to assimilate to Anglophilic culture.

Bourne was an enthusiast for Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s belief in the necessity of a General Will. Bourne once exclaimed: “Yes, that is what I would have felt, done, said! I could not judge him and his work by those standards that the hopelessly moral and complacent English have imposed upon our American mind. It was a sort of moral bath; it cleared up for me a whole new democratic morality, and put the last touch upon the old English way of looking at the world in which I was brought up and which I had such a struggle to get rid of.”[2]

Bourne died in the Spanish flu pandemic after the war. His ideas have been influential in the shaping of postmodern ideas of cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism, and recent intellectuals such as David Hollinger have written extensively on Bourne's ideology. John Dos Passos, an influential American modernist writer, eulogized Bourne in the chapter "Randolph Bourne" of his novel 1919 and drew heavily on the ideas presented in War Is The Health of the State in the novel.

"Trans-National America"

In this article, Bourne rejects the melting-pot theory and does not see immigrants assimilating easily to another culture.[3]:248 Bourne's view of nationality was related to the connection between a person and their “spiritual country”,[4]:76 that is, their culture. He argued that people would most often hold tightly to the literature and culture of their native country even if they lived in another. He also believed this was true for the many immigrants to the United States. Therefore, Bourne could not see immigrants from all different parts of the world assimilating to the Anglo-Saxon traditions, which were viewed as American traditions.

This article goes on to say that America offers a unique liberty of opportunity and can still offer traditional isolation, which he felt could lead to a cosmopolitan enterprise.[3]:262 He felt that with this great mix of cultures and people, America would be able to grow into a Trans-National nation, which would have interconnecting cultural fibers with other countries. Bourne felt America would grow more as a country by broadening people's views to include immigrants' ways instead of conforming everyone to the melting-pot ideal. This broadening of people's views would eventually lead to a nation where all who live in it are united, which would inevitably pull the country towards greatness. This article and most of the ideas in it were influenced by World War I, during which the article was written.[3]:264

Randolph Bourne Institute

The Randolph Bourne Institute seeks to honor his memory by promoting a non-interventionist foreign policy for the United States as the best way of fostering a peaceful, more prosperous world. It publishes the website Antiwar.com.


  1. ^ Chaddock, K (2012). The Multi-Talented Mr. Erskine: Shaping Mass Culture through Great Books and Fine Music. Springer. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  2. ^ Siegel, Fred (2013). The Revolt Against the Masses. New York: Encounter Books, p. 18.
  3. ^ a b c Lasch, Hansen: "The Radical Will: Selected Writing of Randolph Bourne". Urizen Books: New York, 1977
  4. ^ Filler, L. "Randolph Bourne". American Council on public Affairs: Washington D.C.


  • Abrahams, Edward (1986). The Lyrical Left: Randolph Bourne, Alfred Stieglitz, and the Origins of Cultural Radicalism in America. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. ISBN 0-8139-1080-3.
  • Blake, Casey Nelson (1990). Beloved Community: The Cultural Criticism of Randolph Bourne, Van Wyck Brooks, Waldo Frank & Lewis Mumford. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-1935-2.
  • Hansen, Olaf (ed.) (1977). Randolph Bourne: The Radical Will: Selected Writings, 1911–1918. New York: Urizen Books. ISBN 0-916354-00-8.
  • Hollinger, David A. (1995). Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism. New York: BasicBooks. ISBN 0-465-05991-0.
  • Lasch, Christopher (1986) [1965]. The New Radicalism in America, 1889–1963: The Intellectual As a Social Type (paperback ed.). New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-30319-5.
  • Paul, Sherman (1966). Randolph Bourne. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Sandeen, Eric J. (ed.) (1981). The Letters of Randolph Bourne: A Comprehensive Edition. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston Pub. Co. ISBN 0-87875-190-4.
  • Bourne, Randolph (1964). War and the Intellectuals: Collected Essays 1915–1919. NY: Harper Torchbook.
  • Vaughan, Leslie (1997). Randolph Bourne and the Politics of Cultural Radicalism. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.

Further reading

External links

  • Bourne's obituary, from The New Republic (1919-01-04), by Floyd Dell
  • Works by Randolph Bourne at the Fair Use Repository
  • Randolph Bourne 1886–1918 includes links to writings by and about Bourne
  • Randolph Bourne Page from the Anarchist Encyclopedia
  • "Bourne Yet Again: Errors of Genealogy," by Christopher Phelps
  • Riggenbach, Jeff (May 27, 2011). "The Brilliance of Randolph Bourne". Mises Daily. Ludwig von Mises Institute.
  • Works by Randolph Bourne at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
Online bibliography
  • The State (1918).
    • "War is the Health of the State" (1918), excerpted from The State.
  • "Law and Order", from Masses (March 1912).
  • "From an Older Time", The Dial, Vol. LXV, June/December, 1918.
  • "The Price of Radicalism", from The New Republic (March 11, 1916). 161.
  • "A Mirror of the Middle West", The Dial, November 1918.
  • "Trans-National America", from Atlantic Monthly, 118 (July 1916), 86–97.
  • "The Relegation of God", The Dial, September 1918.
  • "What is Exploitation?" from The New Republic (November 4, 1916). 12–14.
  • "Mr. Bennett is Disturbed", The Dial, July 1918.
  • "The Gary Public Schools", Scribner's, September 1916.
  • "The War and the Intellectuals", from Seven Arts II, June 1917. 133–46.
  • "The Light Essay", The Dial, November 1918.
  • "Below the Battle", from Seven Arts II, July 1917. 270–77.
  • "A War Diary", from Seven Arts II, September 1917. 535–47.
  • "H. L. Mencken", from The New Republic (November 24, 1917). 102–103.
  • "An Examination of Eminences", The Dial, December 1918.
  • "Columbia Students Pity Workers", from the New York Times (February 26, 1913). Article at bottom of PDF.
  • "College Life To-day", The North American Review, September 1912.
Retrieved from "https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Randolph_Bourne&oldid=868642507"
This content was retrieved from Wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randolph_Bourne
This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article "Randolph Bourne"; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA