Stricken by the influenza epidemic that had spread across the world in the wake of the First World War—the military conflagration that ironically both ruined his “reputation and elicited prophetic words that have the greatest claim on our imaginations today”—Randolph S. Bourne died on a dreary December day in 1918.
Dead at 32, Bourne left behind a legacy of social and cultural criticism and a body of work—some of it unfinished—that, given its manifold interpretations, entreats us to revisit what he wrote and the spirit behind it, a century after his death. Although a botched forceps delivery at birth mangled his face and left one of his ears torn, and even as the spinal tuberculosis he contracted while very young left him with a hunchback and kept him short of stature, his intrepidity and moral integrity made the man larger than life long after he passed. “If any man has a ghost,” John Dos Passos memorably affirmed, “Bourne has a ghost.”
Toward the end of his life, Bourne became persona non grata at the New Republic, the progressive magazine that previously employed him, and among respected liberal intellectuals who championed Woodrow Wilson’s war-making idealism. They chaffed at Bourne’s outspoken critique of US involvement in World War I. John Dewey, the American pragmatist philosopher Bourne once admired, apparently got Bourne booted off the editorial board of the Dial, an alternative weekly he was writing for, after Bourne explicitly rebuked Dewey’s endorsement of Wilson’s wartime agenda. Bourne also seems to have suspected Dewey of tipping off government officials who Bourne believed had been asking around about his loyalties at the offices of the New Republic.
Bourne is no longer anathema to intellectuals, as he was in his day. Immortalized as the apotheosis of a principled anti-war critic from the 1960s onward, many have since tried to resurrect his reputation, but not always in ways truest to the spirit of his philosophy. Perhaps owing to Bourne’s appreciation of Nietzsche, writers in the 1990s interested in a postmodern, genealogical approach to scholarship who, according to Christopher Phelps, displayed disconcertingly little concern for historical context and meaning, turned to Bourne for inspiration. Phelps criticized the tendency in their postmodern readings to downplay Bourne’s political and intellectual engagement. Additionally, those who self-identify with the “libertarian” tradition have claimed Bourne as their own, but their conceptions of liberty and freedom seem to differ in several important respects from the prophetic philosophy and related values Bourne affirmed.
To the point, Bourne’s philosophy as such deserves far more attention. From what I can gather, plenty of philosophy majors never read him as part of their undergraduate education. Yet there is reason to. As Carl Van Doren, commenting on the younger generation of influential early twentieth-century Americans, notably claimed, “Bourne was its philosopher, John Reed was its hero, Edna St. Vincent Millay its lyric poet, Eugene O’Neill its dramatist, Sinclair Lewis its satirist, Van Wyck Brooks its critic.”
With the remainder of this essay, I hope to give Bourne’s ideas a new lease on life by stressing some of his (partially) neglected philosophical underpinnings. By focusing on his criticism of war in relation to the State, his expansive idea of democracy, and his personal experience of love discussed vis-à-vis his notion of a Beloved Community, I aim to outline the bedrock of his philosophy while challenging some of the assumptions about and popular interpretations of his work. In so doing his spirit may, in a sense, be reborn and better guide us through some of the thornier issues still facing society a century after his death.
War and the State
“War is the health of the state,” Bourne wrote in a posthumously published, unpolished manuscript. Put another way, “the very thought and almost necessity of war is bound up with the ideal of the State.” For Bourne, “The State is the organization of the herd to act offensively or defensively against another herd similarly organized.” The definition suggests interstate conflict is central to the state’s primary function. For it to fulfill its primary function in the modern interstate system, that “organization of the herd,” in Bourne’s formulation, thus requires and begets conflict (especially of the armed, militarist kind) between other states. As the author explained, “The State is intimately connected with war, for it is the organization of the collective community when it acts in a political manner, and to act in a political manner toward a rival group has meant, throughout all history—war.”
Bourne emphasized the herd-like nature of the State and the related consequences stemming from that organizational raison d'être. Working a familial metaphor, he claimed going to war offers an opportunity for “regression to infantile attitudes,” as in people’s reactions to (even imagined) attack or to insults (real or perceived) hurled at one’s country, which encourages one to “draw closer to the herd for protection,” thereby strengthening (the organization of) the State. But that very organization drives those who comprise it “in that detour to suicide, as Nietzsche calls war,” Bourne explained. War mobilizes the herd instinct in those otherwise not predisposed to it. Channeling Nietzsche, again, Bourne surmised that “feeling of being with and supported by the collective herd very greatly feeds that will to power, the nourishment of which the individual organism so constantly demands.” The state thus finds justification in the deep-seated psychological proclivities of human beings. With that analysis, Bourne shines a light on those dark parts of the unconscious and on our inner drives—and, perhaps more so than Nietzsche, he underscores the self-destructive and paradoxical way in which our individual will comes to serve the function of the organized herd, the State.
Bourne is equally attentive to the role the State plays in reproducing class society. Some attention is paid to class in the modern-right libertarian tradition that claimed Bourne, but usually in the form of a critique of how state communism generates a ruling elite. For Bourne, it is the governing classes in industry and elected office that enjoy the benefits of rule via the State without “the psychic burden of adulthood.” The state machinery helps recast their “predatory ways” so the actions appear to be in the service of society. Drawing on Nietzsche once more, while also sort of turning him on his head—using Nietzsche as methodological inspiration, maybe not unlike Marx is said to have done with Hegel—Bourne provided a critical-historical analysis of inbuilt class structure and property relations. Referring to early twentieth-century ruling classes in the United States who feared they were losing control of the state as “annoyed” and “bewildered,” he acknowledged they had little to fear; they inherited that “political system which had been founded in the interests of property by their own spiritual and economic ancestors,” he wrote. He reexamined the outcome of the American Revolution and the ideology surrounding it, suggesting the erstwhile colonists “merely exchanged a system run in the interest of the overseas trade of English wealth for a system run in the interest of New England and Philadelphia merchanthood, and later of Southern slavocracy.” Once the State starts to function, he surmised, it “becomes an instrument by which the power of the whole herd is wielded for the benefit of a class.” Rulers, Bourne claimed, capitalize on reverence produced by the State and wield it to protect their privileges. The ruling class can remain in power because people have the impression that in obeying and serving the rulers they are obeying and serving “society, the nation, the great collectivity of all of us.”
With the extreme repression against dissidents during World War I no doubt at the forefront of his mind, Bourne highlighted how a state engaged in foreign war also tends to wage another form of war against its domestic population. His critique of the State did not necessarily highlight the institution’s hierarchically controlled monopoly on the use of violence and its claim to legitimate use of penal force; today, with more than two million people in prison in the US, “Incarceration is the health of the state” might be an equally germane axiom. However, Bourne did note a related “conflict within the State” that arises during war: “The pursuit of enemies within outweighs in psychic attractiveness the assault on the enemy without. The whole terrific force of the State is brought to bear against the heretics.” Military violence directed at other nation-states “unifies all the bourgeois elements and the common people, and outlaws the rest.”
Bourne and his one-time intellectual mentor, John Dewey, agreed in part on that last point; however, they disagreed sharply about war and the State when it mattered most. As the US military engaged in war abroad—a war that left approximately 10 million civilians and almost 10 million soldiers dead and some 21 million wounded, and that resulted in the death of more than 100,000 Americans—Dewey was writing pieces mildly critical of attacks on anti-war dissent yet sympathetic to the wartime agenda. Apparently oblivious to the repression already underway, he wrote that he was not terribly “concerned lest liberty of thought and speech seriously suffer among us, certainly not in any lasting way. The fight was carried on against so much greater odds in the past and still made its way, so that I cannot arouse any genuine distress on this score.” He proceeded to spot “something rather funny in the spectacle of ultrasocialists,” who were “crying aloud all the early Victorian political platitudes.” He did call into question “the conscription of mind as a means of promoting social solidarity” (the sort needed for a State to make war); however, Dewey also worried not for “the freedom of those who are attacked, but of those who do the attacking or who sympathize, even passively, with the attack” because, he cautioned, the latter’s intellectual apathy precluded freedom of thought.
For one of his anti-war essays for the Seven Arts, Bourne borrowed the title of a Nietzsche text (minus an article—“the”) and took Dewey to task for his former mentor’s vapid justifications for war. Invoking another prominent American pragmatist, Bourne wondered rhetorically whether William James would “accept the war-situation so easily and complacently,” and he proclaimed “that philosophy of Dewey’s which we had been following so uncritically for so long, breaks down almost noisily when it is used to grind out interpretation for the present crisis.” He rejected the idea, accepted with little scrutiny by many in the Progressive movement, that inherently anti-democratic means—the State’s modus operandi—could be used to consolidate the achievements of democracy, and he held Dewey responsible for popularizing that notion. In a letter to Van Wyck Brooks, Bourne deplored “a liberal war undertaken which could not fail to do more damage to American democracy at home than it could ever do to the enemy abroad.” He deemed Dewey’s defection “typical,” adding that despite “years of eloquent opposition to military conscription,” Dewey accepted militarism “without a quiver or even an explanation of the steps by which his conviction made so momentous a change.” Dewey’s facile shift toward erudite warmongering in the name of democracy, wrapped in foundered nuance as it was, compelled Bourne to call the esteemed pragmatist’s philosophical foundations into question. “A philosopher who senses so little the sinister forces of war,” Bourne wrote in one essay, “who is so much more concerned over the excesses of the pacifists than over the excesses of military policy, who can feel only amusement at the idea that any one should try to conscript thought, who assumes that the war-technique can be used without trailing along with it the mob-fanaticisms, the injustices and hatreds, that are organically bound up with it, is speaking to another element of the younger intelligentsia than that to which I belong.” For Dewey to comment “as if war were anything else than such a poison” reveals, Bourne wrote, that his “philosophy has never been confronted with the pathless and the inexorable, and that, only dimly feeling the change, it goes ahead acting as if it had not got out of its depth.”
The State, Exploitation and (Social/Political/Economic) Democracy
As I suggested elsewhere, Bourne and Dewey also arrived at profoundly different perspectives on the State. Arguably, the younger Columbia University graduate abandoned by his New Republic colleagues developed ideas about democracy truer to Dewey’s ideal than were some of Dewey’s own ideas. Democracy, Dewey famously insisted, is “more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience.” He also called the concept of democracy “a wider and fuller idea than can be exemplified in the state even at its best.” Yet Dewey assumed that people’s historical recognition of the consequences of conjoint human activity prompted the formation of a public and thus the State. The narrative presumes the public and the State are historically and inextricably linked, and in my view, leads to the conclusion that achieving a functioning public and self-governing “Great Community”—Dewey’s ideal—is a path inseparable from State organization. As if presciently responding to the previously cited claims Dewey would publish years later, Bourne insisted the State “can only be understood by tracing its historical origin,” adding that the State “is not the national and intelligent product of modem men desiring to live harmoniously together with security of life, property and opinion. It is not an organization which has been devised as pragmatic means to a desired social end. All the idealism with which we have been instructed to endow the State is the fruit of our retrospective imaginations.”
In addition to the thoroughgoing, Nietzsche-inspired rebuke of the State he formulated before his death, as detailed above, Bourne also deployed Nietzsche in the service of something Nietzsche scorned. He deployed Nietzsche in the service of the sort of democracy that Dewey had conceptualized as community association, against and beyond the State, capable of liberating those individual, creative capacities celebrated by Dewey and Nietzsche alike. This aspect of Bourne’s thought stands in stark contrast to the American libertarianism from within which he has been exalted. Nonetheless, his ideas are not antithetical to the libertarian tradition associated with anarchism, especially the more communally oriented iterations of the anarchist tradition that have emphasized solidarity and mutual aid.
Bourne advocated social and cultural renewal, yet he argued that for a revivifying social movement to spearhead such renewal it had to move beyond mere interest in charitably assisting the weak and beyond haughty pity for the poor. He argued it needed to move toward “delight in a healthy, free, social life, to an artistic longing for a society where the treasures of civilization will be open to all, and to our desire for an environment where we ourselves will be able to exercise our capacities, and exert the untrammeled influences which we believe might be ours and our fellows.” The framing reflects his consistent concern with a culture that could complement economic democracy. He levelled constructive criticism in the same mode elsewhere, lamenting that a “great social movement”—socialism—“has suffered from a lack of spiritual appeal.” Bourne, it is safe to say, had what some call soul. He endeavored to share that with others and to inspire his fellow cultural critics and a new generation intent on humanizing society.
Responding to the ascendance of bureaucratic-industrial capitalism, “Bourne explored a communal alternative of friendship,” one that Casey Nelson Blake suggests invoked “an older philosophy of friendship and democratic self-governance with origins in the fifth-century Athenian polis and in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.” Friends, at least for Bourne, are the “spark” that kindle thoughts. Grounded in classical moral/political philosophy, Bourne, as Blake discerned, hoped friendship-based associations “would provide the basis for a participatory democracy.” In his personal letters and published works, Bourne sketched a rough ideal of friendship-based decision-making capable of incorporating dissent without either totalizing conformity or coercion; in so doing, he echoed Aristotle’s notion that friendship (philia) is the fabric that binds city-states together. Upon closer inspection, then, intellectual historians would be better off situating him in the anarchist-socialist tradition associated with theorists like Murray Bookchin, who advocated a libertarian municipalism premised upon community decision-making influenced by the Athenian polis, than in the modern-right libertarian tradition of a Murray Rothbard. Whether his philosophy of the State, developed years later, would have led him to abandon some of these earlier ideas, owing to any State-like influences embedded within them, is hard to say.
What remains incontrovertible is the consistent emphasis Bourne placed on an enriched notion of democratic-community experience and the incisive commentary he offered on the subject of exploitation. In one essay, he referred rhetorically to his difference of opinion he had with a friend regarding capitalist social relations. Bourne acknowledged that groups of workers can “exercise temporarily a decisive pull on the surplus”– produced, say, in the firm they sell their labor power to—“and divert more of it to themselves.”  However, he claimed that so long “as the employer is entrenched in property rights with the armed state behind him, the power will be his, and the class that does the diverting will not be labor.” His friend did not appreciate “these Nietzschean terms,” he added. Yet, unlike postmodern readings that would naturalize power, Bourne historicizes the unfavorable power relations he described, depicting them as intrinsic to a certain socioeconomic system. Employees might band together and unionize under this system. Within the dominant set of social relations, however, the exercise of power by the working class will tend to pale in comparison to the power exercised by those who own and control capital. The property rights of the latter, guaranteed by the State, enable that class to exert influence over formal politics and to claim legitimate use of force to protect their property and appropriated surplus. That workers can take a little more when they organize within the confines of the system, as Bourne noted, seemed further proof to him of the objectionable power relations baked into a capitalist market society. That undesirable system of power is thus endemic and responsible for “exploitation,” but also potentially subject to displacement by economic democracy.
Bourne also delved into the related psychology of early twentieth-century capitalism. He questioned the policy makers and influencers who assumed “all life is being lived in terms of their own psychic background,” oblivious to the vastly different life experience of those affected by their decisions. He questioned their tendency in debates about economic reform to contend “that discontent is not only illogical but a symptom of personal deficiency rather than a reaction against a system which, by separating, by the widest possible gap, desire, activity and the elation of success, takes the color and zest out of work and out of life.” In one essay, he recounted the challenges he faced trying to find work in a world where business has certain priorities that prompt businesspersons to discount the potential contributions those with disabilities might make. Echoing Dewey in another piece, Bourne claimed that upon entry into the labor market, a worker is “trained to take orders, without a glimpse of the end and reason of the process,” and the worker reaches “acceptance of the role and status which the industrial system and its masters have prepared for him.” Bourne also rebuked the common assumption that any worker could improve his or her lot if he or she wanted and really tried to, citing “conditions which make real advancement, except for a few favored individuals, impossible.” Yet he went beyond a mere critique of the myth of meritocracy and of the mythos surrounding the doctrine of equality of opportunity. He claimed the sort of “optimism” found in those beliefs “is little more than an attempt to salve our social conscience as a relief for the industrial evils which have come through the domination of a ruling class of owners and directors, imposing a strict regimen of mechanical labor and a minute division of labor, and so devitalizing and distorting the normal satisfactions of activity for great masses of men.” He called it “a rather grim irony to ask”  working people to sacrifice their leisure hours to study and additional work, with further detriment to their well-being, in hopes of advancing up the hierarchy. Inevitably, Bourne deduced, given the relationships comprising it, that hierarchy ensures many will remain in positions in which they have little say over how they work, why they do certain tasks, and the decisions that affect them.
In relation, as a recent guest on The Partially Examined Life podcast, Elizabeth Anderson, has argued, the freedoms proponents of capitalist market society extol and use to defend said society (e.g. the freedoms of entry and exit, even as those come with under-acknowledged costs) do not justify the outcomes that order engenders. In examining the psychological consequences of that order in its early twentieth-century incarnation, Bourne likewise objected to the “divorce between ‘product’ and ‘climax’” responsible for making the mind “of the wage-earner so different from that of the business man,” and as detailed above, he excoriated that economy for generating undue anguish among large swaths of the population. A century later, Anderson contends that employers—the corporate firms and businesses for which most people work—constitute a kind of “private government,” a “government that has arbitrary, unaccountable power over those it governs.” For his part, Bourne found faith in people’s endowments and referred to our “unwillingness to be bound” by such circumstances, by the type of “private government” Anderson insists still rules over so many people. Moreover, as Anderson explains, the notion that free markets could make for a free society wherein most individuals would be self-employed and not subordinate to any unaccountable master on the job no longer applied after the Industrial Revolution, when markets in labor and wage work became ubiquitous.  In her view, what was once understandably upheld as an egalitarian and authentic libertarian vision remained unexamined even after opportunities for workplace liberty and egalitarianism were rendered essentially obsolete. “Thus arose,” she wrote, “a symbiotic relationship between libertarianism and authoritarianism that blights our political discourse to this day.”
To his credit, Bourne was privy to those changes a hundred years ago. In a piece he submitted to an essay competition in 1912 using the pseudonym J. Lowes, he offered a critical take on the advent of the industrial revolution and the attainment of certain political freedoms:
The working classes soon found that men might be everywhere equal in respect to their rights, and yet that economic disadvantage would render that political freedom valueless to secure for them even a modicum of prosperity and happiness. Freedom to work means little in a social system whose very existence depends on the presence of a reserve army of the unemployed. When the relation of employer and employee in the new system gave one class economic power over the other, the equal rights of men before the law became almost an empty dignity. What avail was the guarantee of life and property to classes whose life and labor were infinitely cheap, and who possessed no property that any one would care to deprive them of? The most perfect political rights could scarcely prevent such classes from falling into a practical economic serfdom, holding their livelihood, as they did, at the mercy of another.
Even the more perceptive political thinkers and philosophers of the late eighteenth-century committed what Bourne termed a “fatal but fascinating fallacy”; they conceptualized Society and the State as “identical,” which blinded them to the power of the economic order. Not unlike the formulation Anderson would come up with, as described above, Bourne before her equated the preponderant control of accumulated private property with the power assumed and exercised by the conventionally defined State. “And everywhere in the modern world,” he wrote, “the elaborately organized hierarchy of industry—an economic State built up alongside the political State and based on a curious mixture of status and contract—has taken its place as the dominant social element.” It makes sense, then, to view his critique of the State in its totality, which encompasses the realm of production, allocation and distribution of goods, resources, wants and needs.
Bourne’s expressed appreciation for and emphasis on positive liberty and on the construction of the kind of creative community and culture needed to make people’s individual liberty meaningful further separates him from modern-right libertarian thinkers. He remarked on the fact “that Liberty and the Rights of Man are after all negative rather than positive principles,” adding: “Men appeal to rights as a defensive weapon, as a resistance to aggression rather than as a call to constructive work.” The libertarian socialism Bourne championed would advance, in his words, “an ideal of social justice.” A movement and philosophy in that register “extends the ideals of democracy, equality and fraternity from the political to the economic order, and adds the ideal of Justice, which makes its appeal to men as social beings albeit with personal desires.” He refers to an ethic that fosters “the development of the personal potentialities of every human being, and of the social potentialities” of our age.
Throughout his writing, Bourne based his political philosophy on fair assumptions about and pragmatic-empirical recognition of innate human being and with it, what we could call the human spirit. He located a source of hope in human endowments. Indeed, “human nature will not be downed, and will not rest content until we have a social life where all work is done with joy and interest, where the goal and the road are permeated by the same glow,” he averred. Our spirit, he suggests, cannot rest until the facets of society that stand in the way of positive liberty and that stymie our potentials cease to operate ideologically as purported evidence of freedom. “The modern radical opposes the present social system not because it does not give him his ‘rights,’” Bourne explained, “but because it warps and stunts the potentialities of society and of human nature.” Our human nature is simultaneously the source of needs and desires hitherto denied and of the inescapable drives and desires urging us to transform what precludes realization of the former. Owing to it, Bourne grasped “the great hope that out of this immoral situation a new morality may be born,” concordant with a society in which working people can become “true personalities and full-grown citizens, instead of the partially handicapped persons society makes them now.”
Love and the Beloved Community
For many, there is a moment in life, around the age of 30, give or take a few years, that is characterized by marked maturation and even a grain of wisdom. Simultaneously, the sense of wonder youth hold in reserve continues to both invigorate and to at times muddle the emergent adult’s thought. Bourne appears to have authored his aforementioned, unpublished inquiry into the State during that period in his life.
Around the same time, however, Bourne was also experiencing new emotions and drawing new conclusions. “The doors of the deformed man are always locked,” he wrote in an earlier piece, reflecting on his experience up through young adulthood, “and the key is on the outside. He may have treasures of charm inside, but they will never be revealed unless the person outside cooperates with him in unlocking the door.” Before he died, Bourne met someone who assisted him in unlocking the door.
Esther Cornell, a stunning young woman who worked as an actress after 1916 and had studied dance, helped him do it. Their romance blossomed through written correspondence. In his letters to her, Bourne wrote as if rapt with desire. He appeared to be in passionate disbelief that Cornell could want him. “It would be so easy for me to delude myself into thinking that you cared for me more constantly than you do, and really even imagined marrying me,” he wrote to her. “When I come to my senses it seems grotesque for me to imagine your being willing. You are so radiantly adequate for any fortune.” He continued: “And I go right on having delusions of grandeur that you could love me and be happy with me. All my life I have alternated delusions of greatness with the most cowering and abject feeling of worthlessness. I turn cold when I think that someday you might find me out and drive me into the latter state again.” He told Cornell he was worried he would bore her, and remarked on how he envisioned her “gradually receding,” even “gently and tenderly perhaps, but still receding,” once she were to discover that the “qualities” she “imagined” him were not there. He also lavished her with compliments reflecting infatuation, if also far more. “Your reasonableness is divine,” he told her, “there is nothing like it squelch your impulse. And I really get a physical sensation from your intelligence, your arrested glowing inquiring look that makes one feel a flexible, poised instrument within.” He was committed in their correspondence and the courtship therein. “I am determined that you shall not forget me,” he declared. “If necessary, I will write you all the time” And the final sentence of one letter to Cornell emanates with the burning affection Bourne felt for her: “I wish I was with you this minute.”
Personal strife, from the social consequences of his life-long appearance and disability to the flak he received for refusing to kowtow to the war effort in his writing, defined Bourne. Yet, as Bruce Clayton wrote,
surely fate was smiling at last. Esther said she loved him; she wanted to get married. His Fabian tactics of courting her gently but persistently had worked. She was beautiful and she wanted him. She was vivacious, sometimes a bit zany, but that would merely counter his tendency to despair. He was as close to heaven as a romantic man who loved women could get. But was that fortune’s smile or fate’s ghastly, mocking grin?”
Soon after moving into an apartment with his fiancé, Bourne contracted the flu during the epidemic that, spread by the war, would come to kill thousands of Americans. Bourne died once Esther, who had been at his side and awake for 24 hours, took a nap at the insistence of their mutual friend. Their short-lived romance nevertheless showcased the undeniably, unabashedly human in Bourne—the amorous and the erogenous elements kindling that passion from within that he managed to exude on the page.
Before his death, Bourne also intimated that love ought to underpin community. He placed a transnational ideal against “the thinly disguised panic which calls itself ‘patriotism’ and the thinly disguised militarism which calls itself ‘preparedness,’” consistent with his critique of the State. Offering an alternative to today’s popular paradigm that encourages unrestricted flow of capital across borders but justifies the use of force to regulate the movement of human beings, Bourne endorsed a “free and mobile passage of the immigrant between America and his native land again which now arouses so much prejudice among us.” With the kind of concern conspicuously lacking in a lot of popular rhetoric with respect to immigration and people seeking asylum in the US at present, he argued “our idealisms must be those of future social goals in which all can participate, the good life of personality lived in the environment of the Beloved Community.” The first American to borrow the “Beloved Community” ideal from philosopher Josiah Royce, some 40 years before Martin Luther King Jr. famously invoked the concept, Bourne prophesized that putting it into practice would “liberate and harmonize the creative power” of people and confer upon them the “new spiritual citizenship” of the world.
In a letter to a friend, Bourne wrote that he was beginning to see that his life path would “be on the outside of things, poking holes in the holy, criticizing the established, satirizing the self-respecting and contented.” He also reflected on having “a real genius for making trouble, for getting under people’s skin,” as it were. (298) Eulogizing him in verse, Dos Passos wrote,
This little sparrowlike man,
tiny bit of flesh in black cape
always in pain and ailing,
put a pebble in his sling,
and hit Goliath square in the forehead with it.
The Biblical reference is apt, if ironic. Following Nietzsche, Bourne picked up the metaphorical hammer to philosophize. He did so at a critical juncture and with insight into major institutions and into the philosophies—unpacked by Bourne to reveal ideologies—propping them up.
However, he also prefigured for us quite a few possibilities. Together with a libertarian-socialist critique of economic authoritarianism, he elaborated a conception of democracy beyond the State and beyond incomplete political freedoms. He etched an ideal of a borderless, culturally rich Beloved Community beyond a mere melting pot so that friendship and love could flourish and human beings might become more human. His words radiated with intense pathos, whether they were written for his would-be lover or for readers of the popular press. And while it might occasionally be understood or absorbed too superficially, his writing nevertheless helped light a flame for readers in these hundred years since he died. That flame might feel like that distinctly human desire he prophesized would bring about a Beloved Community. To fuel that desire is to bring back the spirit of Bourne and his life’s work.
 Bruce Clayton, Forgotten Prophet: The Life of Randolph Bourne (Baton Rouge; Louisiana State University Press, 1984), 261.
 The exact date of Bourne’s death remains unclear, at least to this author. Clayton’s recounting seems to suggest Bourne died the morning of 12/22: See Clayton, Forgotten Prophet, 257-258. When this author contacted the Rare Book & Manuscript Library Collections at Columbia University to ask about the date listed for Bourne’s death on their Randolph Silliman Bourne Papers page, they checked and then replaced the previously listed date of December 19 with the following statement: “Published sources disagree on the exact date, but Randolph Bourne died of the flu on or around December 23, 1918.” See: https://findingaids.library.columbia.edu/ead/nnc-rb/ldpd_4079396.
 Casey Nelson Blake, “War and the Health of Randolph Bourne,” Raritan 34, no. 1 (2014), 86-89.
 John Dos Passos, “Foreword,” in Randolph Bourne, The State (Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 1998), 3. See also: John Dos Passos, 1919: Volume Two of the U.S.A. Trilogy (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 1932), 81.
 James Anderson, “From the Old New Republic to a Great Community: Insights and Contradictions in John Dewey’s Public Pedagogy,” Media and Communication 6, no. 1 (2018), 38, https://www.cogitatiopress.com/mediaandcommunication/article/view/1172/1172.
 Clayton, Forgotten Prophet, 256.
 The Randolph Bourne Institute, which publishes Antiwar.com, seeks to honor his memory by championing noninterventionist foreign policy for the US. See: https://www.randolphbourne.org. The New Left in the US in the 1960s rediscovered Bourne and found resonance with his anti-war cultural radicalism and his faith in youth. See: Christopher Phelps, “Bourne Yet Again: Errors of Genealogy,” New Politics 7, no. 1 (1998), 117-125; Casey Nelson Blake, Beloved Community: The Cultural Criticism of Randolph Bourne, Van Wyck Brooks, Waldo Frank, & Lewis Mumford (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 297. And in his now oft-referenced essay authored during the war the United States started in Vietnam, Noam Chomsky also paid obvious homage to a Seven Arts piece by Bourne as he lambasted prominent intellectuals of his era for spearheading US intervention and identifying “themselves with the least democratic forces in American life.” See: Noam Chomsky, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” The New York Review of Books (February 23, 1967); Randolph Bourne, “War and the Intellectuals,” Seven Arts 2, no. 2 (1917), 135, http://library.brown.edu/pdfs/1349194647703129.pdf.
 Commenting on Nietzsche in the Dial, Bourne wrote: “He is too electric, too poetical, too subtle in his insight, too coruscating in his inconsistences, to be tied down and measured out in the common expository way. The only way to appreciate him is to read him, not read about him.” See: Randolph Bourne, “Denatured Nietzsche,” in L. Schlissel (ed.), The World of Randolph Bourne: an anthology edited (New York: Dutton, 1965), 389-391.
 Phelps, “Bourne Yet Again”
 Phelps, “Bourne Yet Again”
 The following author points out that those who manage Antiwar.com tend to support and publish “libertarian” perspectives; however, the site also explicitly appeals to noninterventionists across the political spectrum. See: Jeff Riggenbach, “The Brilliance of Randolph Bourne,” Mises Institute (May 27, 2011), https://mises.org/library/brilliance-randolph-bourne. The “libertarian”-leaning LewRockwell.com also features a plethora of articles with Randolph Bourne references, as a cursory search for Bourne’s name on the site reveals.
 Clayton, Forgotten Prophet, 264.
 Randolph Bourne, The State (Tucscon, AZ: Sharp Press, 1998), 9.
 Bourne, The State, 16.
 Bourne, The State, 7.
 He notes that “war, as such, cannot occur except in a system of competing States, which have relations with each other through the channels of diplomacy.” See Bourne, The State, 17.
 Bourne, The State, 10.
 Bourne, The State, 12.
 Bourne, The State, 11.
 For example, in his critique of “participatory communist” ownership, Murray Rothbard suggests that attempting the “utopian and impossible” practice of “universal and equal other-ownership” – which he equates with participatory communalism/communism – engenders a condition wherein the “supervision and control and ownership of others necessarily devolves upon a specialized group of people, who thereby become a ruling class.” See: Murray Rothbard, For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, 2nd ed. (Auburn, AL: Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 1973), 35.
 Bourne, The State, 12.
 Bourne, The State, 35.
 Bourne, The State, 36.
 Bourne, The State, 26.
 The Espionage Act (1917) outlawed interference with military efforts. The Sedition Act (1918) squelched freedom of speech by making it unlawful to “made it unlawful to “willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States, or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of the Army or Navy of the United States …” After those laws were passed, the state arrested more than 2,000 people for violating speech restrictions and convicted more than 1,000. Labor leader Eugene Debs, who spoke out against the war, was one of those convicted. See: “An Act To amend section three, title one, of the Act entitled ‘An Act to punish acts of interference with the foreign relations, the neutrality, and the foreign commerce of the United States, to punish espionage, and better to enforce the criminal laws of the United States, and for other purposes,’” 65th cong., 2nd sess., 16 May 1918, http://www.legisworks.org/congress/65/publaw-150.pdf. See also: Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gillman, Free Speech on Campus (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017), 36-37.
 According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the incarcerated population stood at 2,162,400, and the number of persons supervised by the adult correctional system in the U.S. stood at 6,613,500, at the end of 2016. See: Danielle Kaeble and Mary Cowhig, “Correctional Populations in the United States, 2016,” Bureau of Justice Statistics (April 26, 2018), https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cpus16.pdf.
 Bourne, The State, 14.
 Bourne, The State, 15.
 “A Century After WWI’s End, Adam Hoschild Cautions: ‘Think Long and Hard Before Starting a New War,’” Democracy Now (November 12, 2018), https://www.democracynow.org/2018/11/12/a_century_after_wwis_end_adam.
 Journalist and historian Adam Hoschild cited this number in a recent interview, noting that about half of the deaths were from combat and half were from the influenza epidemic (the same epidemic that killed Bourne). See: “A Century After End of WWI, Trump Snubs Peace Summit While Macron Warns of Growing Nationalism,” Democracy Now (November 12, 2018), https://www.democracynow.org/2018/11/12/a_century_after_end_of_wwi.
 John Dewey, “Conscription of Thought,” New Republic 12, no. 148 (September 17, 1917), 129.
 Randolph Bourne, “Twilight of Idols,” Seven Arts 2, no. 6 (1917), 688-702, http://library.brown.edu/pdfs/1349203543250004.pdf; Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, R. Polt, trans. (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1889).
 Bourne, “Twilight of Idols,” 688.
 Bourne, “Twilight of Idols,” 695.
 Randolph Bourne, “To Van Wyck Brooks” (March 27, 1918), in L. Schlissel (ed.), The World of Randolph Bourne: an anthology edited (New York: Dutton, 1965), 319.
 Phelps, “Bourne Yet Again”
 Bourne, “To Van Wyck Brooks,” 320.
 Bourne, “Twilight of Idols,” 689.
 Anderson, “From the Old New Republic to a Great Community”
 John Dewey, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education (New York: The Free Press, 1916), 87.
 John Dewey, The Public and its Problems (Shallow Press / Ohio University Press, 1927), 143.
 Dewey, The Public and its Problems, 17.
 He emphasized “the search for conditions under which the Great Society may become the Great Community. When these conditions are brought into being they will make their own forms.” See: Dewey, The Public and its Problems, 147.
 In a letter to a friend, Bourne claimed his socialism “is practically that of Kropotkin,” referring to an anarchist-socialist thinker who famously wrote about the principle of mutual aid. More recent authors in the anarchist tradition emphasize mutual aid, solidarity and similar principles as well. See: Randolph Bourne, “To Allyse Gregory” (September 8, 1913), in L. Schlissel (ed.), The World of Randolph Bourne: an anthology edited (New York: Dutton, 1965), 301; Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 1902); Andrej Grubacic and David Graeber, Anarchism, Or The Revolutionary Movement of the Twenty-First Century (The Anarchist Library, 2004), https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/andrej-grubacic-david-graeber-anarchism-or-the-revolutionary-movement-of-the-twenty-first-centu.pdf.
 Casey Nelson Blake, Beloved Community: The Cultural Criticism of Randolph Bourne, Van Wyck Brooks, Waldo Frank, & Lewis Mumford (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 63.
 Cited in Blake, Beloved Community, 63.
 Randolph Bourne, “Socialism and the Catholic Ideal,” Columbia Monthly 10 (November 1912), 19.
 Blake, Beloved Community, 69.
 Randolph Bourne, “The Excitement of Friendship,” The Atlantic Monthly (December 1912), http://monadnock.net/bourne/friendship.html, para. 1.
 Blake, Beloved Community, 69.
 Randolph Bourne, “Bourne to Prudence Winterrowd,” in The Letters of Randolph Bourne: A Comprehensive Edition, ed. Eric J. Sandeen (Troy, NY: Whitston, 1981[1913, June 30]), 93-94; Bourne, “The Excitement of Friendship”; Bourne, “To Prudence Winterrowd” (March 2, 1913), in L. Schlissel (ed.), The World of Randolph Bourne: an anthology edited (New York: Dutton, 1965), 294-299; Bourne, “The Excitement of Friendship”
 Blake, Beloved Community, 69.
 Murray Bookchin, “Libertarian Municipalism—An Overview,” Society and Nature 1, no. 1 (1992), 94.
 For a short bio of Rothbard and a list of his major works, see: https://mises.org/profile/murray-n-rothbard.
 Randolph Bourne, “What is Exploitation?” New Republic (November 4, 1916), http://fair-use.org/the-new-republic/1916/11/04/what-is-exploitation.
 Bourne, “What is Exploitation?” para. 6.
 Randolph Bourne, “In the Mind of the Worker,” Atlantic Monthly 113 (June 1914), https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.b000556097;view=1up;seq=389, 376.
 Randolph Bourne, “The Handicapped,” Atlantic Monthly (1911), https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/randolph-bourne-the-handicapped, 11.
 Dewey criticized the separation of means from ends within the system of wage labor and the submission of authority that is expected of most workers who must subordinate their aims to the employer. He also wrote that wage workers in the existing system “do what they do, not freely and intelligently, but for the sake of the wage earned.” See: Dewey, Democracy and Education, 100, 136, 260.
 Bourne, “In the Mind of the Worker,” 378.
 Bourne, “In the Mind of the Worker,” 376.
 Bourne, “In the Mind of the Worker,” 378.
 Elizabeth Anderson, Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk About It) (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017), 61.
 Bourne, “In the Mind of the Worker,” 378.
 Anderson, Private Government, 45.
 Bourne, “In the Mind of the Worker,” 381.
 Ibid. Noam Chomsky makes a similar argument. He focuses on how those influenced by the early classical liberal (or classical libertarian) tradition, with its eighteenth-century critique of arbitrary state power as an impediment to human freedom, would in order to be consistent have to be equally critical of unaccountable and concentrated private power (representing similar infringements on liberty) that emerged with modern capitalism. See: Noam Chomsky, Government in the Future (New York: Seven Stories Press).
 Anderson, Private Government, 1-36.
 Anderson, Private Government, 36.
 Randolph Bourne, “The Doctrine of the Rights of Man as Formulated by Thomas Paine,” in The Radical Will: Selected Writings, 1911-1918, ed. Olaf Hansen (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1977), 244.
 Bourne, “The Doctrine of the Rights of Man as Formulated by Thomas Paine,” 244-245.
 Bourne, “The Doctrine of the Rights of Man as Formulated by Thomas Paine,” 245.
 Bourne, “The Doctrine of the Rights of Man as Formulated by Thomas Paine,” 246.
 Bourne, “In the Mind of the Worker,” 382.
 Bourne, “The Doctrine of the Rights of Man as Formulated by Thomas Paine,” 246.
 Bourne, “In the Mind of the Worker,” 381-382.
 Bourne, “The Handicapped,” para. 6.
 Clayton, Forgotten Prophet, 255.
 Randolph Bourne, “Letter to Esther Cornell, Summer 1918(a)” in L. Schlissel (ed.), The World of Randolph Bourne: an anthology edited (New York: Dutton, 1965), 322-323.
 Randolph Bourne, “Letter to Esther Cornell, Summer 1918(b),” in L. Schlissel (ed.), The World of Randolph Bourne: an anthology edited (New York: Dutton, 1965), 323-324.
 Bourne, “Letter to Esther Cornell, Summer 1918(a),” 323.
 Bourne, “Letter to Esther Cornell, Summer 1918(b),” 323.
 Bourne, “Letter to Esther Cornell, Summer 1918(b),” 324.
 Clayton, Forgotten Prophet, 257.
 Clayton, Forgotten Prophet, 258.
 Randolph Bourne, “Trans-national America,” Atlantic Monthly (July 1916), https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1916/07/trans-national-america/304838/, III, para. 8.
 Bourne, “Trans-national America,” III, para. 14.
 Jeremy McCarter, “The critic who refuted Trump’s world view—in 1916,” New Yorker (August 13, 2017), https://www.newyorker.com/books/second-read/the-critic-who-refuted-trumps-world-view-in-1916, para. 8; Anderson, “From the Old New Republic to a Great Community”
 Bourne, “Trans-national America,” III, para. 7.
 It seems Bourne might have taken to wearing a black cape when/after he traveled to Europe.
James Anderson is an adjunct professor working in Southern California. He is from Illinois but now tries each semester to cobble together classes to teach at various colleges and universities in Southern California. He has worked as a freelance journalist for several news outlets.