Randolph Bourne

May 30, 1886 - December 22, 1918

 

Source: Wikipedia

 

Randolph Silliman Bourne (May 30, 1886 – December 22, 1918) was a progressive writer and "leftist 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, 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 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.) 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 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. Bourne's view of nationality was related to the connection between a person and their “spiritual country”, 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.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.

 

 

Quotes by Randolph Bourne

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“War is the health of the state.” 
 Randolph Bourne

 

“Those persons who refuse to act as symbols of society's folk ways, as counters in the game of society's ordaining, are outlawed.” 
 Randolph Bourne, The Radical Will: Selected Writings 1911-1918

 

“The ironist is ironical not because he does not care, but because he cares too much.” 
 Randolph Bourne, The Radical Will: Selected Writings 1911-1918

 

“No matter what we have come through, or how many perils we have safely passed, or how imperfect and jagged our life has been, we cannot in our heart of hearts imagine how it could have been different. As we look back on it, it slips in behind us in orderly disarray, and, with all its mistakes, acquires a sort of eternal fitness, and even, at times, a poetic glamour.” 
 Randolph Bourne

 

“The American intellectuals, in their preoccupation with reality, seem to have forgotten that the real enemy is War rather than imperial Germany. There is work to be done to prevent this war of ours from passing into popular mythology as a holy crusade. What shall we do with leaders who tell us that we go to war in moral spotlessness or who make “democracy” synonymous with a republican form of government?” 
 Randolph Bourne

 

“Do not take the world too seriously, nor let too many social conventions oppress you.” 
 Randolph Bourne, The Radical Will: Selected Writings 1911-1918

 

“The world has never favored the experimental life. It despises poets, fanatics, prophets and lovers.” 
 Randolph Bourne, The Radical Will: Selected Writings 1911-1918

 

“Really to believe in human nature while striving to know the thousand forces that warp it from its ideal development-to call for and expect much from men and women, and not to be disappointedand embittered if they fall short- to try to do good with people rather than to them- this is my religion on its human side. And if God exists, I think that he must be in the warm sun, in the kindly actions of the people we know and read of, in the beautiful things of art and nature, and in the closeness of friendships.” 
 Randolph Bourn

 

“For we do not do what we want to do, but what is easiest and most natural for us to do, and if it is easy for us to do the wrong thing, it is that that we will do.” 
 Randolph Bourne, The Radical Will: Selected Writings 1911-1918

 

“We classify things for the purpose of doing something to them. Any classification which does not assist manipulation is worse than useless.” 
 Randolph Bourne

 

“Freindships are fragile things, and require as much handling as any other fragile and precious thing.” 
 Randolph Silliman Bourne

 

“In America our radicalism is still simply amateurish and incompetent.” 
 Randolph Bourne, The Radical Will: Selected Writings 1911-1918

 

“For the secret of friendship is a mutual admiration, and it is the realization or suspicion that that admiration is lessening on one side or the other that swiftly breaks the charm.” 
 Randolph Bourne, The Radical Will: Selected Writings 1911-1918

 

“So to all who are situated as I am, I would say--Grow up as fast as you can.” 
 Randolph Bourne, The Radical Will: Selected Writings 1911-1918

 

Quote Source: Goodreads

Books by Randolph Bourne

Photo: Unsplash / Joao Silas / CC0

 

  • War and the Intellectuals

  • The Radical Will

  • War is the Health of the State

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