"War is the health of the State."
Randolph Bourne (1886–1918)
CC 1912, MA 1913
The essayist and social critic Randolph Bourne is remembered today as a spokesperson for the generation of young intellectuals who came of age in the 1910s, as a far-sighted commentator on modern American culture and politics, and as a critic of Progressives who supported U.S. policy during World War I. A passionate antiwar polemicist, Bourne charged that the emergency conditions of mobilization for war served only undemocratic purposes; the most important civic role intellectuals could play under such circumstances, he wrote, was to maintain a critical stance as democrats and "malcontents," challenging their culture's complacency and official creeds. Disfigured at birth by a forceps delivery, Bourne experienced a subsequent bout with spinal tuberculosis that left him dwarfed and a hunchback. His essay "The Handicapped-By One of Them," published in the Atlantic in 1911, remains an influential text in disability studies. Likewise, his 1916 "Trans-national America," in which he articulated a "cosmopolitan" ideal that would draw on different ethnic traditions in the service of a democratic culture shared by Americans of varied backgrounds, stands at the center of contemporary debates about the implications of this country's ethnic diversity for U.S. national identity.