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Randolph Bourne Biography

(1886–1918), Atlantic Monthly, Columbia Monthly, Youth and Life, New Republic, The Gary Schools, The Seven Arts

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American literary and social critic, born in Bloomfield, New Jersey, educated at Princeton and Columbia Universities. Born with a severe facial disfigurement, as a child he suffered tuberculosis of the spine which retarded his growth. A leading radical intellectual of his generation, at Columbia Bourne was influenced by the historian Charles Beard, the anthropologist Franz Boas, and John Dewey. His essays appeared in Atlantic Monthly and the Columbia Monthly and were collected in Youth and Life (1913). In 1913 he travelled and studied in Europe. As a contributing editor to the New Republic he observed the progressive school system in Gary, Indiana and published his observations in his first substantial work of educational theory, The Gary Schools (1916). Bourne's opposition to American involvement in the First World War prompted some of his most trenchant political and social criticism, notably his series of essays published in The Seven Arts in 1917; his position caused a rift with his intellectual mentors, especially John Dewey whose philosophy he had called ‘our American religion’, and drew criticism from Van Wyck Brooks and Walter Lippmann. Later essays in The Menorah Journal, the New Republic, and The Yale Review explored the idea of a heterogeneous culture in the USA and questioned the desirability of the ‘melting pot’. Bourne left unfinished an important essay in political theory, ‘The State’. The Radical Will (1977) is an anthology of his writings; Forgotten Prophet: The Life of Randolph Bourne (1984) by Bruce Clayton is a biography.

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