Randolph Bourne Archive
Anti-War, Anarchist, Disabled-Rights Advocate and Colombia University Scholar

May 30, 1886 December 22, 1918


Randolph Bourne Randolph Bourne

"Country is a concept of peace, of tolerance, of living and letting live. But State is essentially a concept of power, of competition: it signifies a group in its aggressive aspects. And we have the misfortune of being born not only into a country but into a State, and as we grow up we learn to mingle the two feelings into a hopeless confusion."

— Randolph Bourne, "War is the Health of the State," 1918

Randolph Silliman Bourne was a progressive writer and intellectual born in Bloomfield, New Jersey, and a graduate of Columbia University. He is considered to be a spokesman for the young radicals living during World War I. His articles appeared in journals including The Seven Arts and The New Republic. Bourne is best known for his essays, especially his unfinished work "The State," discovered after he died. The essay is the source of the well-known phrase "war is the health of the state," by which Bourne lamented governments' success at arrogating authority and resources during conflicts.

Bourne's face was deformed at birth by misused forceps and the umbilical cord was coiled round his left ear, leaving it permanently damaged and misshapen. 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 - by one of them", considered a foundational work in disability studies. At age 23, he won a scholarship to study at Columbia University, from which he graduated in 1912 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master's degree in 1913. He was a journalist and editor of the Columbia Monthly, and he was also a contributor to the weekly The New Republic since it was first launched in 1914, but after America entered the war, the magazine found his pacifist views incompatible. From 1913 to 1914, he studied in Europe on a Columbia Fellowship.

World War I divided American progressives and pitted 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's 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.

"The sanctity of the State becomes identified with the sanctity of the ruling class, and the latter are permitted to remain in power under the impression that in obeying and serving them, we are obeying and serving society, the nation, the great collectivity of all of us...."

— Randolph Bourne, "War is the Health of the State," 1918

Source: Wikipedia.org



1918: The State


1911: The Handicapped — By One Of Them

1912: Law and Order

1916: The Price of Radicalism

1916: Trans-national America

1916: What is Exploitation?

1917: The War and the Intellectuals

1917: A War Diary

1918: War Is the Health of the State

1918: H. L. Mencken


1957: The Evolution of Randolph Bourne — Review by William F. Warde