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

Bourne's articles appeared in the magazine, The Seven Arts and The New Republic, among other journals of the day.

During World War I, American progressives, Bourne included, found themselves split and pitted against each other. The two factions that emerged were the pro-war faction, led by the educational theorist John Dewey, and the anti-war faction, of which both Bourne and other famous progressives like Jane Addams were a part. 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 1918 essay "Twilight of Idols" he invoked the progressive pragmatism of Dewey's contemporary William James to argue that 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-Saxon. 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.

In this article "Trans-National America", 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 to their “spiritual country”. This spiritual country referred to a person's culture rather than where they lived. He argued that people would most often hold tightly to their literature and cultural of their native country even if they were living in another. He also felt this held true for the many immigrants that lived in the United States. Therefore, Bourne could not see immigrants from all different parts of the world assimilating to the Anglo-Saxon tradition, 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. 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 nation where all who lived 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 first world war, which was taking place during the time period the article was written.

Bourne died in the Spanish flu epidemic shortly after the Armistice of World War I. 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 was born with a deformed face and essentially a hunchback. He chronicled his experiences in his essay titled, "The Handicapped."

Randolph Bourne Institute

The Randolph Bourne Institute (RBI) 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. They are publishers of the website



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