Randolph Bourne

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Randolph Bourne

Randolph Silliman Bourne (May 30, 1886 – December 22, 1918) was a progressive writer and "leftist intellectual"[1] 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[edit]

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 the pragmatist philosopher and educational theorist John Dewey. Bourne was a student of Dewey at Columbia, but he took issue with Dewey's idea of using the war as a tool with which to spread democracy. 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. While he had been a follower of Dewey originally, 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 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.

Bourne's face was deformed at birth by misused forceps, and, 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."

"Trans-National America"[edit]

In this article, Bourne rejects the melting-pot theory and does not see immigrants assimilating easily to another culture.[2]:248 Bourne's view of nationality was related to the connection between a person and their “spiritual country”.[3]:76 This spiritual country referred to a person's culture rather than where they lived. He argued that people would most often hold tightly to the literature and culture of their native country even if they were living in another. He also felt this held true for the many immigrants who lived in 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.

He goes on in this article 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.[2]: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 the World War I, during which the article was written.[2]:264

Randolph Bourne Institute[edit]

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.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Richman, Sheldon, Libertarian Left, The American Conservative (March 2011)
  2. ^ a b c Lasch, Hansen: "The Radical Will: Selected Writing of Randolph Bourne". Urizen Books: New York, 1977
  3. ^ Filler, L. "Randolph Bourne". American Council on public Affairs: Washington D.C.

References[edit]

  • 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.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • 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. 

External links[edit]

Online bibliography