TBT: Randolph Bourne’s “Transnational America”



During the Super Bowl, Coca Cola ran an ad that featured a multi-lingual rendition of “America the Beautiful.” I personally thought that the ad was almost unbearably cheesy, but I admired the sentiment. It was, sadly, a bold thing to do. Naturally, there were many who took issue with the ad, some claiming that it was disrespectful to sing the song in anything but English, and others claiming that it was disrespectful to the country itself because it portrayed those they perceived not be American as Americans. You can find the most egregious examples of these complaints here, though I feel compelled to say that these are hand-picked Tweets. There are a lot of people in this country who do agree with the ad’s sentiment and it’s important not to forget that. ¬†For those of you who haven’t seen the ad, here it is:


With all that being said, the ad has reignited, to an extent, the question of what it means to be an American. Obviously, that’s a question that people have wrestled with throughout American history, whether in our fledgling years, in the years of the first mass European immigrations, in the age of Emancipation, industrialization, civil rights, whatever. Though there is a lot of writing on the topic, one piece that I find particularly interesting, especially upon re-reading it, is Randolph Bourne’s “Transnational America.” Written in the middle of the First World War, Bourne– a noted critic of the war– offers a vision of the United States that is pluralistic, cosmopolitan, and international. It’s a great read.

You can find a link to the essay here. I hope you enjoy it.

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