“War is the health of the State,” Randolph Bourne wrote in that discarded essay, which he probably died believing would never see print, “and it is during war that one best understands the nature of that institution.” For
it cannot be too firmly realized that war is … the chief function of States. … War cannot exist without a military establishment, and a military establishment cannot exist without a State organization. War has an immemorial tradition and heredity only because the State has a long tradition and heredity. But they are inseparably and functionally joined.
Moreover, Bourne argued,
it is not too much to say that the normal relation of States is war. Diplomacy is a disguised war, in which States seek to gain by barter and intrigue, by the cleverness of wits, the objectives which they would have to gain more clumsily by means of war. Diplomacy is used while the States are recuperating from conflicts in which they have exhausted themselves. It is the wheedling and the bargaining of the worn-out bullies as they rise from the ground and slowly restore their strength to begin fighting again.
Randolph Bourne believed that informed citizens needed to realize the implications of what he was saying. For
if the State’s chief function is war, then the State must suck out of the nation a large part of its energy for its purely sterile purposes of defense and aggression. It devotes to waste or to actual destruction as much as it can of the vitality of the nation. No one will deny that war is a vast complex of life-destroying and life-crippling forces. If the State’s chief function is war, then it is chiefly concerned with coordinating and developing the powers and techniques which make for destruction. And this means not only the actual and potential destruction of the enemy, but of the nation at home as well. For the … calling away of energy into military pursuits means a crippling of the productive and life-enhancing processes of the national life.
Randolph Bourne believed that “we cannot crusade against war without crusading implicitly against the State. And we cannot expect … to end war, unless at the same time we take measures to end the State in its traditional form.” Bourne had reason to be wary when writing sentences like those in 1918. People were being imprisoned and, in some cases, deported for writing things like that. There was a particular prejudice against anarchists and against people who sounded as though they might be anarchists. Perhaps this is why Bourne added the following caveat to his call for ending the State: “The State is not the nation, and the State can be modified and even abolished in its present form, without harming the nation. On the contrary, with the passing of the dominance of the State, the genuine life-enhancing forces of the nation will be liberated.”