1918 December 22

Randolph Bourne, Fierce WW I Critic, Dies

 

Randolph Bourne was arguably the most articulate critic of the World War I liberals and progressives who supported President Woodrow Wilson and the war effort, accusing them of saying nothing about the massive violations of civil liberties by the administration. His most famous statement was an article entitled “War and the Intellectuals” (1918, see below). He also accused them of betraying their principles in the hope of influencing government policy. Bourne’s essay was directed in particular at his former teacher, John Dewey, the most famous American philosopher, who wrote a notorious essay on the social benefits of war. See June 22, 1918. In the end, the pro-war Progressives failed to influence the peace treaty, which many historians argue set the stage for World War II, and they were also unable to persuade the U.S. to join the League of Nations.

Bourne suffered from many chronic illnesses and died on this day at age 32.

Bourne’s criticisms of the role of intellectuals in wartime reappeared in both World War II and the Vietnam War, notably in Noam Chomsky’s 1967 essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” criticizing the role of intellectuals in formulating American policy regarding Vietnam and in supporting the Vietnam War.

Bourne is also important as one of the first two intellectuals to affirm the idea of the U.S. as a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society. (The other was his contemporary Horace Kallen.) Bourne’s made his argument in the essay “Trans-National America.”

Read Bourne’s famous essay, “War and the Intellectuals”: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/4941/

Read: Randolph Bourne (author), Carl Resek (Ed), War and the Intellectuals: Collected Essays, 1915–1919 (1999)

Learn more about Randolph Bourne: Jeremy McCarter, Young Radicals in the War for American Ideals (2017)

Read Noam Chomsky, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals”: http://www.chomsky.info/articles/19670223.htm

Read Bourne’s “War is the Health of the State”: http://www.bopsecrets.org/CF/bourne.htm

Learn more at the Randolph Bourne Institute: http://randolphbourne.org/

Read Bourne’s essay “Trans-National America” here.

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