The Campaigns, Causes and Controversies of Five American Radicals

Lippmann thereafter retreated into a career of Olympian detachment and superiority as America’s most respected and respectable pundit. The one person who might have dragged him off this pedestal and forced him to learn the lessons of his misguided enthusiasm for the war was Randolph Bourne. A hunchback with misshapen features, Bourne was a lonely and marginal figure who made his name writing ardent essays in The Atlantic and The New Republic on education, immigration and culture. Those magazines had no use, however, for his ideas about the war. In a literary monthly, Seven Arts, Bourne wrote a series of brilliant and biting antiwar essays, diagnosing the liberals’ and pragmatists’ capitulation to war fever as a “dread of intellectual suspense.” John Dewey replied angrily but, as he later admitted, ineffectually.

It was one of the most important controversies in American intellectual history. Bourne was vindicated in every respect but unfortunately did not live to press his advantage — he died, only 32, in December 1918. If he had lived and become as influential as he seemed likely to, fewer liberal intellectuals might have supported America’s disastrous military interventions in Indochina, Central America and the Middle East.

The Wilson administration’s heavy-handed repression of wartime dissent brought together two of McCarter’s subjects: Reed and Max Eastman, a sometime poet and the editor of The Masses, where both of them published antiwar essays. The government put them on trial for obstructing the war effort. Eastman delivered a rousing speech, which won the day by producing a deadlocked jury. He later moved to the right, becoming one of the more interesting critics of the American and international left.

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Alice Paul broadcasting for the National Woman’s Party in the 1920s.

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Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

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