Randolph Bourne (1886-1918) was a public intellectual, essayist and social critic of the early 20th century. Born in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Bourne was struck with spinal tuberculosis at age four--a disease that permanently stunted his growth and curved his spine. Then at age seven, his father abandoned the family, leaving Bourne and his mother penniless. Without money to pay for college, Bourne worked for six years as a piano teacher until he could afford tuition to Columbia University. At Columbia, Bourne studied under historian Charles Beard and philosopher John Dewey.
Unlike Dewey, Bourne was a staunch opponent of America’s involvement in World War One. As the war brought about increasing fear and suspicion of immigrants among native-born Americans, Bourne wrote “Transnational America,” arguing for a cosmopolitan rather than melting-pot America. Bourne calls for a new conception of American national identity when he proposes that cultural diversity is both more feasible and more valuable than assimilation. While reading, pay attention to Bourne’s dissection of “freedom,” and consider his ideas in contrast to his contemporary political climate in which ethnic diversity was largely viewed as a threat to American liberalism.