"The effort of reason, and the adventure of beauty": The aesthetic rhetoric of Randolph Bourne

Nathan Crick, Jeremy Engels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


We are still coming to terms with the legacy of Randolph Bourne. Although he died at the age of 32 just as the United States was cheerfully entering the First World War under the banner of "democracy," the words he penned in an unfinished essay still resonate in the American social conscience: "War is the Health of the State." This maxim, once thought the exclusive property of leftist radicals, now can be heard echoing from every political corner of the blogosphere as progressives and libertarians alike find cause to question the motives of governmental power. Yet despite his reappearance as a symbol, Bourne in many ways remains as forgotten as ever-perhaps even more so as his once provocative claim has been transformed into a talking point. This essay endeavors to recapture the voice of Bourne in all its complexity, seeking to place him at the forefront of the contemporary American intellectual tradition as one of its most piercing critics, most visionary poets, and most eloquent rhetors. Specifically, we show how Bourne's critique of the "State" foresaw the rise of the technological society organized by ideological propaganda, how his vision of the Beloved Community anticipated our modern ideals of global transnationalism, and how his literary essays practiced a form of aesthetic rhetoric which employed dramatistic methods to bring about a new state of expanded social consciousness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)272-296
Number of pages25
JournalQuarterly Journal of Speech
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education


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