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EDUCATION, EXPEDIENCY, AND DEMOCRATIC DILEMMAS IN WAR TIME: INSIDE THE DEWEY-BOURNE DEBATE

  • Christopher McKnight Nichols (a1)

Abstract

In one of the most significant debates in U.S. intellectual history, John Dewey and Randolph Bourne attempted to redefine the relationship between democracy and war in the midst of World War I. This essay argues that the Dewey-Bourne debate is not just a vital dispute over the United States’ role in the war and the world, but that it also must be seen as a crucial moment for understanding fractures in progressive politics and debates over projects that presume to cultivate an educated citizenry. Focusing on Dewey and Bourne's developing ideas from 1914 through 1918, with an emphasis on concepts evolving in and from Dewey's Democracy and Education and Bourne's cultural criticism, the essay explores their core disagreements about the relationship between education and progressive reform, the role of intellectuals in the state, the consequences of intervention in the war and the use of force, and democratic citizenship in national and international contexts. This essay provides insights into the boundaries and pitfalls of liberal politics in the early twentieth century; it argues that this debate reveals a central ambiguity in Dewey's thought, and shows how wartime expediency and potential for progressive influence derailed aspects of the Deweyan project of democratic education.

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The author would like to thank Tina Groeger, Nancy Unger, and Alan Lessoff for their generous reading and comments on this article. Special thanks are due to Danielle Holtz for her research and editing assistance. Work on this article was supported by an Andrew Carnegie fellowship from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Please note that aspects of this article draw on and adapt ideas and sections from Nichols, Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), chs. 3–4; and Nichols, “Rethinking Randolph Bourne's Trans-National America: How World War I Created an Isolationist Antiwar Pluralism,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 8:2 (Apr. 2009): 217–57. This analysis is indebted to close readings of Randolph Bourne's published writing as well as his papers, held by Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library; and John Dewey's published works and papers, housed at Southern Illinois University.

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NOTES

1 Habermans, Jürgen, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Burger, Thomas, trans. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989), 52 .

2 Blake, Casey, Beloved Community: The Cultural Criticism of Randolph Bourne, Van Wyck Brooks, Waldo Frank, and Lewis Mumford (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 87 .

3 See Bourne, Randolph, Youth and Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1913); The Gary Schools (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1916); Education and Living (New York: The Century Company, 1917); his essays on or involving education are numerous: notable examples include New Republic pieces throughout 1914 and 1915 such as “In a Schoolroom,” I (Nov. 7, 1914): 23–24 “A Substitute for Education,” II (Feb. 6, 1915): 25–26; and “The Democratic School,” IV (Oct. 16, 1915): 297–98.

4 This is a point that is hard to track down in the archives but Bruce Catton makes it most strongly in Forgotten Prophet: The Life of Randolph Bourne; Casey Blake in Beloved Community also substantiates the notion that Dewey worked to alienate Bourne from writing opportunities that might have given him a platform to reject Dewey and the wartime cause. Even after the Seven Arts folded, Bourne signed on with The Dial magazine in Mar. 1917. As it changed format and publisher from 1917 into 1918, however, editor Martyn Johnson brought Dewey in to join their new editorial group and to reconstruct the paper. Despite the wishes of new publisher Scofield Thayer, they pushed Bourne gradually out until he was demoted in Oct. 1918.

5 I have written more extensive accounts of these travels and how his personal experiences seem to have informed his public writing and cultural criticism based on Bourne's writing and other sources. For direct sources, see Bourne's report to the Trustees of Columbia University evaluating his Gilder fellowship, Impressions of Europe, 1913–1914: Report to the Trustees of Columbia University,” Columbia University Quarterly 17 (Mar. 1915): 109–26, repr. in Bourne, The History of a Literary Radical and Other Papers, ed. Brooks, Van Wyck (New York: S. A. Russell, 1956).

6 See Walter Hixson's concept of the “myth of America” and the ways in which national identity in an American democracy have tended to be made through war: The Myth of American Diplomacy: National Identity and U.S. Foreign Policy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008). The process of democratic education through war and conflict is akin to the American project of “regeneration through violence” articulated in Richard Slotkin's Gunfighter Nation trilogy of books. This process also easily translated into the disciplining of dissent as unpatriotic, casting any behavior that defied the imperatives of the wartime state as non-citizen-like (and often criminal), which represented a seemingly thoroughgoing challenge to liberal democracy, one that Dewey eventually rejected, but did seem not to consider, reckon with, or even truly recognize until the conflict was all but over.

7 Ryan, Alan, John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism (New York: W. W. Norton, 1995), 169 .

8 Bourne, “Twilight of the Idols,” Radical Will, 339, 343.

9 The terms and issues at stake in this debate ring strikingly familiar to the modern ear, particularly since the 2016 presidential campaign and in light of current polarized political conditions: “democracy will solve this; no, no, this will ruin democracy.”

10 For some of the best insights see Robert Westbrook's exceptional work on Dewey, especially John Dewey and American Democracy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991); Ryan, Alan, John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism (New York W. W. Norton, 1995); Martin, Jay, The Education of John Dewey (New York; Columbia University Press, 2002); Biel, Steven, Independent Intellectual in the United States 1910–1945 (New York: New York University Press, 1992); Jewett, Andrew, Science, Democracy, and the American University: From the Civil War to the Cold War (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012); and Jewett's Canonizing Dewey: Columbia Naturalism, Logical Empiricism, and the Idea of American Philosophy,” Modern Intellectual History 8:1 (Apr. 2011): 91125 . James Livingston provides contrasting analysis to many of the arguments presented in this article; see, for example, his War and the Intellectuals: Bourne, Dewey, and the Fate of Pragmatism,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 2:4 (Oct. 2003): 431–50. In the final analysis of this paragraph we begin to see a partial distinction between Dewey's pragmatist education model and the German bildung/kultur model that grew out of Kant and the German romantics. Democracy and Education contained the seeds for a similarly coercive and combative system of enculturation, even as Dewey sought to distance his democratic educational vision from the homogenizing autocracy he perceived in the kultur models. Thanks to Danielle Holtz for helping me to conceptualize this important distinction.

11 Dewey, Democracy and Education, quotes from “4. On the Social and Moral,” ch. 26.

12 Dewey, “Schools and Social Preparedness,” 1916, Middle Works, 10:193.

13 Blake, Beloved Community, 86.

14 Bourne, “The War and the Intellectuals,” Radical Will, 307–18.

15 Bourne, “The War and the Intellectuals,” Radical Will, 307–18; also Randolph Bourne, “John Dewey's Philosophy,” Radical Will, 331–35. For John Dewey's articles in the New Republic, see “Conscience and Compulsion” (July 1917); “The Future of Pacifism” (July 1917); “What America Will Fight For” (Aug. 1917); and “Conscription of Thought” (Sept. 1917).

16 Ryan, Dewey, 169; see esp. the full section on “pragmatism at war.”

17 Dewey, Democracy and Education, end of ch. 11 on “experience and thinking.”

18 Robert Westbrook, “Panel 1: Bourne the Historical View,” 4–5, in Randolph Bourne's America, Columbia University Conference, Oct. 11, 2004, transcript, pdf file accessed at http://www.randolphbourne.columbia.edu/video_archive.html. See also Westbrook, “Bourne over Baghdad,” Raritan 27 (Summer 2007): 104-17.

19 A selection of the best historical scholarship on Bourne includes Blake, Casey, Beloved Community: The Cultural Criticism of Randolph Bourne, VanWyck Brooks, Waldo Frank, and Lewis Mumford (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990); Clayton, Bruce, Forgotten Prophet: The Life of Randolph Bourne (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984); Moreau, John Adam, Randolph Bourne: Legend and Reality (Washington, DC: Public Affairs Press, 1966); and Vitelli, James R., Randolph Bourne (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981), 155, 158. Also, Blake, Casey, “Randolph Bourne” in A Companion to American Thought, eds. Fox, Richard Wightman and Kloppenberg, James T. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 8587 ; Vaughan, Leslie J., Randolph Bourne and the Politics of Cultural Radicalism (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas Press, 1997), 56 .

20 Randolph Bourne, “A Moral Equivalent for Universal Military Service,” New Republic, July 1, 1916, 217–19.

21 Bourne, “A Moral Equivalent for Universal Military Service,” 217–19.

22 Bourne, “Trans-National America” in War and the Intellectuals, 107.

23 Bourne, “Trans-National America,” (The Atlantic Monthly, vol. CXVIII [July, 1916]: 86–97), in War and the Intellectuals: Essays by Randolph S. Bourne, 1915–1919, ed. Resek, Carl (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), 107–23.

24 Bourne, , “The Jew and Trans-National America” (Menorah Journal II [Dec. 1915]: 277–84), in War and the Intellectuals, 130.

25 See Bourne, Youth and Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1913); and Blake, Beloved Community, 114. In addition, it must be noted, of course, that Bourne abhorred the nativism and xenophobia not just of hyper-patriotic nationalist interventionists but also of those seeking a more closed, inward-oriented, isolated nation and foreign policy. I have expanded on some of this analysis in chs. 3 and 4 of Promise and Peril (2011) and in the pages of the JGAPE, in my article “Rethinking Bourne's … (2009).

26 For more on these configurations of thought as they developed and this community of anti-war thinkers, see Nichols, Promise and Peril, esp. chs. 3, 4, and 5. See Kazin, Michael, War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914–1918 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2017).

27 Sandeen, Eric J., ed., The Letters of Randolph Bourne: A Comprehensive Edition (Troy, NY: Whitston, 1981), 412–13.

28 Sandeen, ed., The Letters of Randolph Bourne 10:266.

29 John Dewey, “The Future of Pacifism” (1917) in Middle Works, Jo Ann Boydston, ed., 10:264; Bourne's “narcotic” notion appears in his “Twilight of the Idols.”

30 Bourne, “A War Diary,” 332.

31 Bourne, “Collapse of American Strategy,” War and the Intellectuals, 22–35. See Westbrook's excellent elucidation of this point on Bourne and the “realistic pacifists,” John Dewey and American Democracy, esp. 207.

32 For a contrasting interpretation, see Livingston, James, “War and the Intellectuals: Bourne, Dewey, and the Fate of Pragmatism,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 1:4 (Oct. 2003): 431–50.

33 Livingston, “War and the Intellectuals,” 444.

34 Bourne, “The War and the Intellectuals,” Radical Will, 307–18.

35 Most Dewey scholars tend to agree on this point. See Jay Martin, The Education of John Dewey, sections on Dewey and “experience” in the context of the war, esp. 276–78.

36 Howlett, Charles F. and Cohan, Audrey, John Dewey, America's Peace-Minded Educator (DeKalb: Southern Illinois University Press, 2016), 62 .

37 Bourne, , “Conscience and Intelligence in War,” Dial 63 (Sept. 1917): 193–95. Jane Addams so admired his critique of Dewey in the piece and especially in “War and the Intellectuals,” that she wrote to express her pleasure at reading it. Addams to Bourne, June 13, 1917, Bourne Papers, Box 1.

38 Dewey, Middle Works, 11, 99, 85.

39 See Stone, Geoffrey, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime: From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (New York: W. W. Norton, 2005); on WWI and the “making of the modern American citizen,” see Capozzola, Christopher, Uncle Sam Wants You World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

40 Westbrook, John Dewey, 202.

41 See, for example, Gale, Richard, The Philosophy of William James: An Introduction (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005); Menand, Louis, The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America (New York; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2001); Myers, Gerald E., William James: His Life and Thought (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986); Perry, Ralph Barton, The Thought and Character of William James: Briefer Version (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1948); Putnam, Ruth Anna, The Cambridge Companion to William James (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Richardson, Robert D., William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

42 On these developments, Marchand, C. Roland, The American Peace Movement and Social Reform, 1898–1918 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972); and Chatfield, “World War I and the Liberal Pacifist in the United States.” Bourne, “War and the Intellectuals” on “Intellectual Suicide,” 13.

43 Randolph Bourne, “The Puritan's Will to Power,” Seven Arts (Apr. 1917): 631–37; also, Randolph Bourne, “H. L. Mencken,” New Republic, Nov. 24, 1917, 102–3.

44 Casey Blake made this point to the author in conversation. Also, see Christopher Lasch on human moral sublimation, the moral equivalent to war, and intellectual criticism, Lasch, New Radicalism in America, 1889–1963 (New York: Knopf, 1965), 145 .

45 Bourne, “A War Diary,” 189–90.

46 Blake, Beloved Community, 158.

47 Bourne, Radical Will, 379 and 355. The war as health of the state presaged the language of a burgeoning and dangerous military industrial complex, such as that constellation of “merchants of death” assigned blame for World War I by the Nye Committee in the mid-1930s, and later decried by Dwight Eisenhower in 1961. The Bourne myth as promulgated by John Dos Passos, Lewis Mumford, James Oppenheim, and Theodore Dreiser holds that Bourne was almost completely marginalized by early 1918. He certainly thought he was, but he was never completely without a voice. He still published essays in Seven Arts and tens of book reviews in the New Republic during the war. Nonetheless, he wrote more sporadically, and often called himself a “spectator” regarding the issues he cared about most. Vitelli, Randolph Bourne, 17–65, 127–46.

48 The poignant, tragic irony here is that Bourne criticized German nationalism (which itself premised citizenship on ability, on the ideal physical body) as he developed the figure of illness to signify war and opposed that to the health of the wartime state as he fell victim to the wartime influenza epidemic. Indeed, Bourne's disability and his own groundbreaking work, such as his essay “The Handicapped,” which appeared in The Atlantic in 1911, provides essential context for his approach to the organicist framework dominant in Germany at the time (evident in many progressive causes, as well), which overwhelmingly privileged “perfect” physical bodies (and often viewed or depicted physical disfigurement as an expression of degeneration, most notably in eugenicist research and writing).

49 Bourne, “Twilight of the Idols” in War and the Intellectuals, 53–54.

50 Bourne, “Twilight of the Idols” in War and the Intellectuals, 53–54.

51 Dewey, “Force and Coercion,” 1916 Middle Works 10:248–49; for more along these lines see “Force, Violence, and Law,” 1916 Middle Works, esp. 10:214–15.

52 Bourne, “Twilight of the Idols,” 53, 56.

53 Westbrook, Robert, John Dewey and American Democracy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), 197 .

54 Sandeen, Eric J., ed., The Letters of Randolph Bourne: A Comprehensive Edition (Troy, NY: Whitston, 1981), 412 .

55 See the Later Works of John Dewey; Howlett, Charles F., “John Dewey and the Crusade to Outlaw War,” World Affairs 138:4 (Spring 1976): 336–55

56 Dewey, John, Human Nature and Conduct (New York: Modern Library, 1922), 512–13. Dewey tended to see the “war system” as European in nature. On the broader historical developments and Dewey's role, see Cywar, Alan, “John Dewey in WWI: Patriotism and International Progressivism,” American Quarterly 21 (Fall 1969): 579–94; for more on Dewey and fascism, see work by Gary Bullert, Charles Forcey, and Charles Howlett.

57 Dewey, Democracy and Education, 418.

The author would like to thank Tina Groeger, Nancy Unger, and Alan Lessoff for their generous reading and comments on this article. Special thanks are due to Danielle Holtz for her research and editing assistance. Work on this article was supported by an Andrew Carnegie fellowship from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Please note that aspects of this article draw on and adapt ideas and sections from Nichols, Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), chs. 3–4; and Nichols, “Rethinking Randolph Bourne's Trans-National America: How World War I Created an Isolationist Antiwar Pluralism,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 8:2 (Apr. 2009): 217–57. This analysis is indebted to close readings of Randolph Bourne's published writing as well as his papers, held by Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library; and John Dewey's published works and papers, housed at Southern Illinois University.

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