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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/17114/the-brilliance-of-randolph-bourne/

The Brilliance of Randolph Bourne

May 27, 2011 by

His radically antiwar views on the eve of the US government’s intervention in World War I got him fired. FULL ARTICLE by Jeff Riggenbach


J Cortez May 27, 2011 at 9:19 am

Great Article!

El Tonno May 28, 2011 at 8:54 am

What! I don’t see this article linked from antiwar.com …

Freedom Fighter May 28, 2011 at 11:57 am

I understand that Libertarians are anti-war but war is found in the very fabric of nature.

You see, certain species of ants contain formic acid in their abdomen and the purpose of this is to advance towards the enemy and blow up, release the formic acid to kill the invaders, true suicide attack.

You have teeth, claws, neurotoxic venom, you even have bacteria like clostridium botulinum, clostridium tetanus that generate extremely potent neurotoxins.

You have this guy, John J. Xenakis who argues that war is a biological necessity. He argues that nature “provides” us with an overactive sex drive that overproduces people, enough to test this production at war and only the best, the fittest and the strongest survive war and produce offsprings.

Libertarians continuously fail to see that maybe mankind does not run the show, that the show is is run by forces outside of mankind, forces like nature, biology, “God”, which want those things.

Like it or not, war seems to be biological and not political and Libertarianism is facing a savage God.


The solution to this war problem, proposed by John J. Xenakis, is to develop highly advanced artificial intelligence to supplant and remove the nation-state from power. I agree with everything John J. Xenakis says.

If you want to end war, you will have to end the nation-state and you will have to redirect war against nature’s and biology’s limitations and constraints. The only way to prevent an apocalyptic war that will decimate mankind is to stop fighting war against one another and start fighting war together against this monstrous universe. War will always be there, it can be used to decimate us like it can be used to unite us.

As far as I’m concerned, nature (God), is our common enemy and this would be sufficient to unite mankind against this common enemy.

El Tonno May 28, 2011 at 12:09 pm

War is not nature. War is man’s thinking in action.

An ant has no idea of what it’s doing. Maybe the anthill does in a mechanistic sense. Bacteria just run through their currently ingrained mechanism which is the result of fast evolutionary pressure.

If war were a biological necessity, it would selected away, leaving only those people who decide to not get suckered by geezers in power and decide to stay at home while the cretins duke it out in the trenches. Well, until mechanisation and thermonuclear fusion hits the scene. At that level, selection will be done planet-wise, I reckon.

I won’t resist to quote some Chalres Stross though [http://subterraneanpress.com/index.php/magazine/spring2007/fiction-missile-gap-by-charles-stross/]

“Suppose there’s an alien race out there. More than one. You know about the multiple copies of Earth. The uninhabited ones. We’ve been here before. Now let’s see…suppose the aliens aren’t like us. Some of them are recognizable, tribal primates who use tools made out of metal, sea-dwelling ensemble entities who communicate by ultrasound. But others–most of them–are social insects who use amazingly advanced biological engineering to grow what they need. There’s some evidence that they’ve colonized some of the empty Earths. They’re aggressive and territorial and they’re so different that…well, for one thing we think they don’t actually have conscious minds except when they need them. They control their own genetic code and build living organisms tailored to whatever tasks they want carrying out. There’s no evidence that they want to talk to us, and some evidence that they may have emptied some of those empty Earths of their human population. And because of their, um, decentralized ecosystem and biological engineering, conventional policy solutions won’t work. The military ones, I mean. … SETI assumes that NHIs are conscious and welcome communication with humans and, in fact, that humans aren’t atypical. But let’s suppose that humans are atypical. The human species has only been around for about a third of a million years, and has only been making metal tools and building settlements for ten thousand. What if the default for sapient species is measured in the millions of years? And they develop strong defense mechanisms to prevent other species moving into their territory?”

Freedom Fighter May 28, 2011 at 4:07 pm

“An ant has no idea of what it’s doing.”

That’s funny, because when I observe most of mankind, I arrive at the same conclusion, LOL :-D

Dave Albin May 28, 2011 at 12:25 pm

War really isn’t a part of nature. Organisms are driven to survive, and in some cases, this means at the expense of other organisms. So, there really is no drive to destroy others, just a drive to produce ones own offspring. Even when it seems obvious that organisms are at war with each other, it’s usually just an attempt to survive. Pathogen bacteria, as they kill the host organism, reproduce at a rapid rate, and use the host’s mechanisms to attempt to escape and find a new host. Pathogens interact for a long time without killing off the host, in many cases.

In most cases, organisms that are very different from each other survive side-by-side and interact in a mutually-beneficially way. This is the model for free trade and peace that comes from nature.

Capn Mike May 29, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Re: John J. Xenakis’ plan:

Watch “Colossus: The Forbin Project” to see how THAT turns out.

Freedom Fighter May 28, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Drive for survival could be argued about man’s warfare. Drive for survival of government, drive for survival of institutions, drive for survival of ideologies. War is everywhere, wake up.

“In most cases, organisms that are very different from each other survive side-by-side and interact in a mutually-beneficially way. This is the model for free trade and peace that comes from nature.”

Well, you have both models in nature, you haven’t seen nomadic ants fight against termites, this is WAR on a grand scale.

As for mutual beneficially way, ants take custody of fleas to extract their milk, this looks like government taking custody of the productive population to milk them.

My point is, if Libertarians think that the government is at constant war against it’s own population, Libertarians are right but that is just a minor detail in the grand scheme of things. It would seem that the entire universe is at constant war against it’s own creation, therefore the tyrannical government part is just a speck of dust in the general grand trend of things.

Dave Albin May 28, 2011 at 6:28 pm

I think the part you are forgetting is that animals operate based on instincts, while humans operate both based on instinct and logical thought. This is mainly what separates us from animals. We can think about things and come to the conclusion that it is better for us to trade and engage in mutually-beneficial behaviors rather than kill each other and destroy property, which governments are particularly good at. We can rise above out instincts if we want to and if we are left alone by entities that have absolute authority over us.

Sione May 28, 2011 at 5:36 pm


You have obviously invested a lot of intellectual effort in your idea. That’s fine. A trap for you lies in waiting. It is this. When you are confronted with a challenge to your idea, or the assumptions it relies upon, it is very convenient to dismiss that challenge without serious analysis, let alone honest consideration and enquiry. To a large extent this is related to the magnitude and duration of effort previously spent in developing, believing in and promoting your idea to yourself and to other people. To some extent this is a matter of ego- after all it is never pleasant to have to admit to error, especially very large errors (e.g. accepting and promoting a false ideology). Beware the trap, for it is particularly cruel. Interestingly, it is very easy for others to identify when someone is snared within this particular trap. That is one of the attributes of the trap which makes it so exqusitely cruel and potentially so destructive. Beware.

Another trap to be wary of.

While it is convenient to employ analogy when communicating ideas, concepts, principles and the like, it is gravely erroneous to treat an analogy as though it were the same as the concept it is being employe to illustrate. An analogy may possess “similarity to” but it is not the “same as”.

When dealing with the social behavious and interactions of human beings it is important to avoid the error of pretending them to be the same as, say, those of ants or herds of sheep, groups of asteriods, viruses or sub-atomic particles. While it is possible to project similarities from one to the other, that does not mean they are the same. One should aways be very cautious of any conclusions drawn by the employment of generalised analogy. Beware.

Something to think about at length.

Human beings have the attribute of volitional consciousness. Their actions are the result of the decisions that they make by exercising this attribute. War is something that human beings may at times engage in. War is an expression of certain volitional and conscious decisions which human beings make.

Nature/the Universe is not volitionally conscious. It does not make conscious decisions. Similarly, most of the entities within Nature/the Universe are not volitionally conscious. They possess various attributes, sure, but volitional consciousness is not amongst those. Such entities do not decide to “go to war” in the sense that human beings do. They interact according to their identites, but they do not decide to engage in warfare. For example, that a termite self-destructs is not a result of a volitionally conscious decision any more than is the snapping closed of a relay switch in the HVAC system of my car when a specific voltage is encountered. That Whetu Kara joins the SAS, undergoes basic training, deploys to Afghanistan and engages in war with members of the Taliban is the result of volitionally conscious decisions (a sequence of them, including his ideology, religious beliefs, political affiliations, personality, evaluations, values, and so on- he has his reasons and he is fully conscious of them).

In dealing with the concept “warfare”, it is important to understand that human beings are not the same as termites or most of the other entities encountered throughout Nature/the Universe (or indeed Nature/the Universe itself). The difference lies in the attribute of volitional consciousness. Beware of pretending otherwise for it leads to a terrible error (which you are not going to be the first to make).

Anyway, when El Tonno wrote that “an ant has no idea what it is doing”, he was making a significant point. It is one that requires far more thought than it has been accorded. Please think on it.


Freedom Fighter May 28, 2011 at 5:42 pm


Science does not know the word believe and is always opened for debate and complete destruction and reconstruction of previous ideas.

I, as an individual, have observed nature and mankind and I find that war in all it’s forms and derivatives is as much part of evolution as cooperation. It’s there and cannot be removed. Libertarians want to remove it, that’s a mistake because it’s there. However, the solution would be to fight together instead of fighting each other, but fight we shall.

The common enemy is both the constrains imposed by nature and the constraints imposed by the nation state. One could spin the case to fight “war” against both nature and the nation-state to embetter the human condition as a whole.

Sione May 31, 2011 at 3:48 am


“Science does not know the word believe……”

Yet your post is, as usual, replete with your personal beliefs.


Freedom Fighter May 28, 2011 at 5:47 pm


“Human beings have the attribute of volitional consciousness. Their actions are the result of the decisions that they make by exercising this attribute.”

Are you a male ? Do you think sex drive is “volitional” ?

Then make this experiment, for the next three months, don’t have sex, don’t masturbate and don’t even get aroused. Do that for three straight months and then come back to me and tell me that it’s fully volitional.

It is this part where forces of nature overrides human volition that constitute, in my opinion, an aggression from the part of nature. I understand that there are bodily functions to keep an individual alive, but sex drive seems to be a force that overrides human volition and that doesn’t feel very “libertarian” to me, in fact it looks authoritarian, therefore I conclude that nature is a tyrant.

Freedom Fighter May 28, 2011 at 5:53 pm

I am really at a loss here and I am experience tremendous grievance towards nature and towards God because it is not clear if I should view those entities as friends of foes. This is causing me lots of pains, I don’t have the comfort of certainty.

I am here, in an infinitely hostile nature and environment, longing for a God because I was raised as a Christian even though I’m struggling with the faith. I wished I could be in peace with God and nature but I am constantly reminded of the brutal and revolting aspects of both nature and God when I witness predation, torture, sadism, violence etc.

The closest thing to God on earth is the government and is the nation state and the way it treats it’s constituents and the way nature treats it’s life forms, I see enemies in both nature and God. I am robbed of the peace of mind I would normally have with the concept of God.

God and nature, for me, are becoming another subject of war instead of peace.

noah May 28, 2011 at 8:48 pm

“I don’t have the comfort of certainty.”

Nobody does. That’s what faith is for. Faith is belief that is not based on proof.

Since there is no proof regarding God/Nature as friend or foe, you may choose friend or foe or neither. Of the three choices that are yours to make, I suggest NOT choosing foe, regardless of any evidence to the contrary (since the evidence is likely flawed and certainly is not proof). The days that I choose “foe” are not good days… ever.

When thinking “infinitely hostile” consider that infinity stretches in a positive direction as well as a negative one. You are robbed of peace of mind only by your own mind. THAT is tyranny.

noah May 28, 2011 at 8:31 pm

It is true humans do not have control over their heartbeats or breathing (to any great degree).The sex drive, or hunger drive, is perhaps not volitional. But how one ACTS upon the drive IS volitional. One can be sexually aroused yet remain chaste. One can be hungry yet starve one’s self to death as a conscious act of will. Who is the tyrant then, man or nature?

Why do you perceive bodily functions as aggression on the part of nature/God, as opposed to being a gift? If someone prepares you a lovely meal consisting of their favorite foods, unaware that they are foods you despise, you may curse their intended blessing. Your anger is based in your interpretation, not in reality. My advice? Shut up, eat, and say thank you.

The drives are forces that may oppose, not necessarily override, human volition. There is nothing intrinsically authoritarian in a relationship between opposing forces. At least that’s what my wife tells me.

Freedom Fighter May 29, 2011 at 11:40 am

“But how one ACTS upon the drive IS volitional.”

So how you touch your joystick is volitional, even if you are forced to rub it in some kind of way, LOL :-D

Freedom Fighter May 29, 2011 at 11:47 am


Because those “gifts” end up producing individuals who exist only for extreme misfortune, like cattle, livestock, preys, war victims etc.

If the bovine species could extinct itself, it would serve it much better than the “success” of spreading it’s genes only to be mutilated, maimed, abused and tortured to death for it’s meat.

When I watch a video of a kosher and halal slaughterhouse, I fail to see how spreading their genes is a success.

You can say what you want, but life is based on extreme brutality, forces of nature that use extreme brutality to make us into what we are and to maintain us into what we are.

For example, I don’t see how sex drive could be construed as a gift if you act upon it only to produce a deformed or severely sick offspring or one that will become a war casualty etc.
Maybe, in that case, the conscionable thing to do is to resist and refuse those “gifts”. Don’t open that “gift”, it’s booby trapped.

And no, I will not shut up.

Sione May 31, 2011 at 4:22 am


It was recommended that you take the time to consider carefully and seriously ideas that challenge or contradict your own. You should so do especially when what you are informed rebuts your favoured position. On this occasion you clearly failed to make serious enquiry or take serious consideration of ideas that challenged your assertions. It’s a poor habit you have developed and one you ought to remedy sometime soon.

Think on it.

What you do about your so-called “sex drive” is a matter of volitional choice. For example, there are persons who choose a life of abstinance and celebacy and there are those who do not. The point isn’t whether they have a “sex drive” or not, it is what they decide to do- how they decide to act. Another example, there may be those with high “sex drive” who choose to refrain from committing aggressive sexual violence upon others. Unfortunately there may be those who choose the opposite approach. What each actually does is a matter of conscious volitional choice.

When enquiring about the nature of human beings it is important to understand that volitional consciousness is a primary attribute. Indeed, your entering into discussion with me is an expression of your own volitional consciousness. You made a choice to do it. You are unable to evade or avoid your own volition- not until you are unconscious or dead.

As to the rest of your post, well what you reckon “looks like” someting or other, and what you reckon something does or doesn’t “feel” like to you, aint anything more than arbitrary assertion- just unbacked opinion. You need to do a lot better than presenting illogical constructions and relying on baseless generalisations.

This time around how about taking the time to research the matter in some depth?


Ned Netterville May 29, 2011 at 6:25 am

FF: As I have grown old (73), my natural (God-given) human faculties–mental and physical–diminish, so I have had to rely more and more upon God to make up for the loss. As a result, I find I am able to contend with life’s forces on a daily basis better than ever. Most of what I know about the God of my understanding is derived directly or indirectly from the wisdom of Jesus, much of which is condensed in his Sermon on the Mount. For me, life is easy, life is fun, life is exciting, life is filled with golden opportunities when, following the advice of Jesus, I get up in the morning and seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness through prayer and meditation. I do not attribute my good fortune to anything I have done right, rather to the many things I have said or done wrong, amended, and learned therefrom.

Freedom Fighter May 29, 2011 at 11:52 am

@Ned Netterville,

“For me, life is easy, life is fun, life is exciting, life is filled with golden opportunities when, following the advice of Jesus,”

I am happy for you that you have found peace in your faith.

Unfortunately, for me, life is filled with grief and I can’t make all the pieces fit together neatly like you do, because I try to make all the pieces fit together, not just a part of them. If you take the christian faith, nature, physics, the universe, politics etc. and try to make them all fit together, you will discover that they don’t fit together, there is no definite and final picture, it’s as if all the pieces come from different puzzles and are not meant to be fitted together but the different puzzles they came from don’t exist and those pieces are all there is.

This is mind crushing.

Sione May 31, 2011 at 4:38 am


As a Christian you ought to familiarise yourself with the story of the little boy who wanted to use a small pail to put the entire ocean into a small hole he’d dug at the beach. There is a moral to that story. Consider it.

I’d add this. A fruitless struggle to “make all the pieces fit together” and to “attain a definite and final picture” is the expression of a wish for omniscience. You’ll never attain that.

Far from mind crushing, the journey through life is a liberating experience of attaining knowledge, experience, learning, traveling, adventure, making good friends, meeting people, having children, doing honest business, innovating, building, producing, struggling against adversity, meeting challenges, doing interesting things, goal setting, obtaining property, etc etc etc. It’s about releasing your potential and enjoying the results of application of your abilities and attributes. It’s about learning what your attributes are. Far from mind crushing it is amazing how good you can make things to be if you apply yourself.

Abandon that which crushes your intellect and spirit. It is not worthy of you. Spend what time you have well. It is precious- too precious to waste on being mind crushed.


Ned Netterville May 29, 2011 at 6:39 am

Jeff, this is a great article. I am definitely happy to be introduced to Randolph Bourne as a truly courageous American patriot to be remembered and admired on this Memorial Day ahead of any warriors.

David B May 29, 2011 at 6:43 am

Fantastic article, Jeff. This series is most likely my favorite on the Mises site, although there is a lot to choose from!

It’s a shame that Bourne died so young. It would seem that given a full career, he would have written dozens of fascinating works by the time he retired. Years ago I read “War and the Intellectuals” and it had a profound influence on how I view the intellectual class.


Freedom Fighter May 29, 2011 at 11:55 am

As for war, it is proven over and over again from an Austrian perspective that it is destructive to civilization as a whole and that it destroys capital, destroys resources and kills productive members of society. That the aftermath of war is always a generalized impoverishment of mankind. This is especially true in our nuclear and space age where war could wipe out all life from earth.

But then again, if you look at nature and history, war seems to be a natural and genetic imperative.
So I don’t know what to make of it. Should we find ways to prevent war or should we find ways to win the war ? You know, this whole survival of the fittest thing so for those who lost the war, it’s all their fault even if they were the “good” guys.

And speaking of war, there seems to be a war between cooperation and competition in nature, in mankind, in ideas, in action.

War therefore seems to be the greater container and cooperation seems to be a subgroup of war.

The universe in which we live seems to privilege the reptilian brains and to punish the humane and the humanitarian and God seems to be on vacation.

nate-m May 29, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Your definition of ‘war’ is so broad that it makes it almost worthless to discuss.

True, there is a great deal of strife and suffering on earth. The most common experience of the human species is one of being on a constant brink of starvation, full of disease, pain, and early death.

Your angst, difficulty reconciling different aspects of thought, and lack of understanding of the world and how it works and how it’s causing you a great deal of anger (etc.)… is your problem. It’s your personal issue. Your perception is skewed and you are either lying to yourself, being deceived, or a combination of both.

Instead of trying to measure the universe by your impossible and illogical standards maybe it would be better to just relax a bit and just open yourself to understanding.

Maybe counseling would help.

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