The Cosmopolitan Ideal

In recent weeks, I have been writing about the 1910s and trying to give you a sense of what Victorian America looked like on the eve of the cultural revolution. It was a White, Anglo-Saxon (in culture), Protestant nation that also happened to be liberal and republican in principles.

In our own times, we are used to thinking of America in terms of a deracinated civic nationalism. America is a “Nation of Immigrants.” It is liberal, antiracist, cosmopolitan, modernist. It is based on the “American Creed.” The country is based on nothing more than liberalism. We are trying to live up to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr’s Dream where all Americans are judged, not by their race, but by “the content of their character.” American national identity has been stripped of its racial, ethnic, cultural and religious markers. We have become an ideological antiracist, modernist and cosmopolitan nation.

When did that happen? Why did it happen? How did that happen? What explains this incredible change in national identity and culture between 1910 and 1950?

The following excerpt comes from David A. Hollinger’s book In The American Province: Studies in the History and Historiography of Ideas:

“This essay identifies the cosmopolitan ideal as the most powerful ideological agent in the integration of a single but scattered community of American intellectuals. Although the essay takes for granted that values and interests more specific than cosmopolitanism inevitably informed senses of what was or was not “cosmopolitan,” I wish I had more explicitly acknowledged that one person’s expanded horizons can be another’s confinement. Just how the cosmopolitan ideal was interpreted, and how it was then translated into concrete undergraduate curriculums, ideological persuasions, agendas for disciplines, and the like, is the substance of much of the unwritten history of American intellectuals during the mid-century decades.”

In these decisive years, the American intelligentsia became cosmopolitan.

“For all its susceptibility to different interpretations, the cosmopolitan ideal is definite enough to be distinguished from the cultural pluralism associated with the name of Horace Kallen. I was so certain of this when I wrote that I sketched the distinction quite casually, only to learn from others after publication that the distinction had often been missed, and that my point was thus more important than I had realized. What distinguishes cultural pluralism from cosmopolitanism is the commitment of the former to the survival and nurturing of the ethnic group as such. While cosmopolitanism is inherently suspicious of ethnic particularism, cultural pluralism actually prescribes it and envisions a society full of particular groups, each respecting one another. Adherents of the cosmopolitan ideal have often made supportive references to cultural pluralism in the interests of promoting the common cause of “tolerance.” But such support has generally been offered when society as a whole, rather than an intellectual elite, is being discussed. Full-blown cosmopolitanism, as defined in the essay below, was understood to be a realistic ideal for intellectuals. Not every citizen could be expected to become as multitudinous as Margaret Mead or Lionel Trilling, but all Americans needed to be protected from the hated ethnocentrism of the long-dominant Anglo-Saxons. Cultural pluralism was understood as a potential brake on this uniquely threatening variety of provincialism.”

In other words, David A. Hollinger is saying that the norm in Victorian America had been “Anglo-conformity.” European immigrants came to the United States and were expected to assimilate and join the American ethnic nation by embracing English culture. This is what had happened with the Irish, French Huguenots, Germans and Scandinavians in the 19th century. Anglo-Saxons were the dominant ethnic group in America and assimilated other groups like the Turks or the Hungarians.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Reform Jews like Felix Adler and Horace Kallen had begun to advocate cultural pluralism. This idea gained traction with the liberal wing of the Progressive movement. America should become a federation of ethnic groups. Jews and other European ethnic groups like the Italians should retain their own culture. The critical difference between “cultural pluralism” and “cosmopolitanism” is that the former preserved the host culture while the latter did not.

“In 1916 Randolph Bourne expressed the hope that ethnic diversity would enable the United States to develop a style of life and thought more fulfilling than that of the single, national cultures of Europe and America. Exactly at the point in history when the majority of native-born Americans were the most anxious about the cultural effects of massive immigration from Central and Eastern Europe, Bourne depicted this immigration as a unique opportunity for Americans to liberate themselves from “parochialism,” and to develop in themselves a truly “cosmopolitan spirit.” His denunciation of contemporary chauvinism was of virtually no importance in the national political context; public policy was influenced rather by those who wanted to assimilate immigrants into a preexisting American norm, and to drastically limit additional immigration. Yet Bourne’s articulation of the cosmopolitan ideal was with, rather than against, the drift of history when his efforts are viewed in another context: the emergence of a national, secular, ethnically diverse, left-of-center intelligentsia.”

As I have been arguing for a month now, the Victorian mainstream died in the wake of World War I and was replaced by this “national, secular, ethnically diverse, left-of-center intelligentsia” based in New York which is our current “mainstream.” The roots of the modern Left trace back to the Young Intellectuals in Greenwich Village who fused modernism with progressive liberalism – the result being cultural liberalism – in the years before World War I. The spiteful mutant Randolph Bourne, of course, was their mouthpiece and he was the first American writer to articulate the new ideal of cosmopolitanism.

“This intelligentsia had become a prominent feature in American life by the end of the 1940s. Its most obvious leaders included Edmund Wilson, Lionel Trilling, and Dwight MacDonald, among men of letters; David Riesman and Daniel Bell among social scientists; and Reinhold Niebuhr and Sidney Hook among philosophical essayists. The discourse of this intelligentsia was largely institutionalized in the liberal arts divisions of several major universities and in such journals of opinion as the New Republic, the Partisan Review, Commentary, the Nation, and, more recently, the New York Review of Books and the New York Times Book Review. So influential was this intelligentsia in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s that most Americans who thought of themselves as “intellectuals” were either members of it, or part of its audience. Although the precise extent of this community of discourse can be a matter for argument, persons who identify with it recognize one another so readily that some sociologists have described “intellectuals” as virtually an “ethnic group.” The analogy is ironic in view of the diversity of the actual ethnic origins of these intellectuals. In Bourne’s time, leaders of American high culture were predominantly Anglo-Saxon and Protestant, not only in their origin but in their sense of what it meant to be an American; by mid-century, this leadership was approximately half Jewish and half “WASP,” and its two halves worked in concert to serve values that were distinctly aloof from conventional ethnic particularism of any species. Indeed, the potentially obvious, but rarely spelled-out cosmopolitanism of the mid-century intelligentsia is the key to the latter’s historical development.”

By 1950, the American intelligentsia was based in New York and was half Jewish and half WASP and united behind the ideal of cosmopolitanism, which encourages the preservation of foreign cultures and the deconstruction of America’s traditional Anglo-Saxon culture.

The New York avant-garde and its dominance over America is where Jews, liberalism and modernism came together into one explosive molotov cocktail. Its values of liberalism, modernism, cosmopolitanism and antiracism were established as a national consensus after World War II and were inculcated in the public by the new technologies of the mainstream media and higher education. Over the course of a century from 1920 to 2020, these values have put down deeper and deeper roots in the process shattering American culture which has led directly to our present crisis of national disintegration.


“The intellectuals who gathered in Greenwich Village in the 1910s celebrated creative individuality over social adjustment, urban diversity and turmoil over middle-class assimilation and tidiness, radical dissent over bureaucratic regulation, improvisation over expertise, artistic vision over political pragmatism.

A Legacy of Pluralism
Their traditions have since inspired the American Left, old and new; movements for women’s and sexual emancipations; the artistic avant-garde, to the extent that one has existed in America; and many of the ensuing efforts to redefine American culture as pluralistic, diverse, and cosmopolitan. These struggles have included movements for civil rights, civil liberties, and increased democratic participation by all members of our society — regardless of race, class, gender, or sexuality.

New York City
These rebels are often referred to as “the Greenwich Village Left” — although there were other and earlier centers of rebellion, notably Chicago in the first decade of the century. Still, by 1912 or so, most of the cultural radicals of this generation had made their way to New York, and many stayed on for the next five or more years, before disbanding for Paris, Moscow, Taos, Croton-on-Hudson, Provincetown, or the more disciplined socialist community on New York’s Lower East Side. The names of some of the leading participants suggest the variety of careers and backgrounds that came together in this “rebellion”: Max Eastman, Crystal Eastman, John Reed, Emma Goldman, Floyd Dell, Mabel Dodge, Alfred Stieglitz, Margaret Sanger, John Sloan, Hutchins Hapgood, Dorothy Day, Randolph Bourne.

A Sense of Alienation
What drew this community of artists, journalists, activists, poets, organizers, and malcontents together and to the Village in the years after 1910? Most came from elsewhere — the majority of the rebels grew up in provincial American towns, children of respectable but often marginal or even downwardly mobile parents. Some historians have suggested that a characteristic shared experience of the rebels, male as well as female, was that they grew up in mother-dominated homes, with absent or failed fathers. Even if such circumstances were not as unusual in late-Victorian America as some historians would make them seem, there is merit to the speculation that such an upbringing produced in the children, especially the sons, a sense of alienation from the more traditional male modes of success in late-nineteenth-century America, as well as an unusual willingness in both genders to accept the possible equality of women.

Combining Politics and Art
Although many of the male rebels were products of Ivy League educations (Eastman, Reed, Bourne, Van Wyck Brooks) and several had continued on to advanced graduate work, most shunned the newly emerging routes to professional success — whether through university appointments, government service, the professions, or even conventional journalism. Instead, they sought to combine politics and art, advocacy and poetry, life and work — to reject predictable careers and to improvise. That explains, in large part, the appeal of the Village, where rents were still cheap, studio space and a sense of community still possible, and where the ethnic diversity and marginality of the neighborhood might shelter the “bohemian rebels” from the prying eyes of disapproving bourgeois neighbors. (The Italian immigrants in the Village disapproved, too, but their opinions clearly carried less sanctioning weight.) The women rebels were more likely to be professionals — lawyers, social workers — than were the men, but for a woman to enter these professions in 1910 was hardly to surrender to conventionality. In their private lives, these women defied more conventions than did their male comrades, as they challenged the double standard of Victorian sexual morality; advocated birth control, woman suffrage, and an end to traditional marriage and the conventional sexual division of labor; and probably to a greater degree than the men, experimented with homosexual and homoerotic relations as well as heterosexual liaisons. These experiments were not without their complications and emotional costs; conventional mores may be flouted while still maintaining a powerful hold on people’s imaginations, fears, and aspirations.

In Need of Revolution
Perhaps the most characteristic unifying belief of the rebels, an idea that united people as different as Max Eastman and Emma Goldman and movement organs as various as The Masses and the Seven Arts, was their linking of artistic experiments — modernism — and an eclectic array of radical political positions — generally some variation on anarcho-socialism — in a sweeping belief in the primary necessity of a revolution in consciousness. In so doing, many rejected the means if not always the goal of the Marxist socialists’ more disciplined advocacy of organization toward a class revolution fueled by the inescapable contradictions of capitalism. Simultaneously and more consistently, the Greenwich Village intellectuals criticized the Progressives’ liberal faith in adjustment, expertise, and reform from within the existing political and economic arrangements. Crucial to this faith in the transformation of consciousness was the rebels’ sense that the individual consciousness would be the source of revolutionary (usually nonviolent) action. Modern art, liberated sexual energies, cultural criticism, and intellectual dissent would inspire the rejection of materialism, conventional morality, traditional gender relations, and the political status quo. This transformed consciousness would ignite a revolution that would somehow liberate both the individual genius and the oppressed classes of the world. Writers, artists, poets, intellectuals, and critics, of course, would play a defining role in any such reconstruction of consciousness, since they were already exploring the revolutionary implications of modernist literature and syndicalism, surrealism and feminism, Freud (in an often distortedly optimistic and therapeutic sense), and the connections between free love and the demise of private property. These radical aspirations clearly appealed as much to the various personal discontents of these writers, artists, and intellectuals as they did to the larger problem of a transformed social order. To the rebels, this would not have indicted their intentions but justified them, since personal disaffection and unhappiness were-as social scientists had taught them-a direct product of social alienation, political oppression, and economic dislocation. The famous Paterson Pageant of 1913, a rally for striking silk-workers of the Industrial Workers of the World orchestrated by John Reed and other Masses writers, was just one example of the Villagers’ effort to join their political and artistic ideals, their personal desires and social commitments.

Under Attack
In the ensuing decades of [the twentieth] century and for several different generations of the American Left, Greenwich Village has had a continuing and storied importance. But for the celebrated generation of radicals who gave the Greenwich Village “rebellion” its name, the First World War, brought an end to this phase of the history of the Left in the Village. With the federal government’s wartime suppression of dissent, including the Post Office’s battle against the Masses in 1917-1918, with the imprisonment of pacifists and the deportations of alien radicals like Emma Goldman, many of the Village rebels lost heart. Often they found their already fragmented and improvised political positions increasingly under attack or untenable, and turned to private lives and solutions, to art for its own sake, to postwar Paris or revolutionary Moscow, but in most cases away from the faith in the spontaneous liberation of human consciousness that had once united and inspired them.

—Tara Fitzpatrick
Excerpt from Buhle, Mari Jo, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas, eds. 
The Encyclopedia of the American Left. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Reprinted with permission.

Note: PBS has a documentary on Emma Goldman who was the most famous anarchist in America and champion of free love. While she was deported during World War I, her friends in Greenwich Village created the modern Left. The queen of the anarchists lived there herself.

About Hunter Wallace 12381 Articles
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  1. Emma Goldman bought a pistol in New York, and brought it to Pittsburgh where her boyfriend Alexander Berkman used it to shoot Henry Clay Frick.

  2. “In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Reform Jews like Felix Adler and Horace Kallen had begun to advocate cultural pluralism. ”

    Adler was the first Jew to have real cultural influence in America. Adler founded a secular cult/religion that attracted a huge number of rich WASPs, especially rich WASP’s who worked in banking and finance. By 1900, a large portion of the WASP elites in NYC and Boston were pretty much self hating in the same way liberals are now. One thing I have not read about is any opposition to Adler’s cult. Were there WASPs who denounced him or saw the danger or his schemes? Finding anti-Adler literature would probably give us a lot of important information about this period.

  3. I used to believe that all social / cultural Marxists were always Jews and that any White who participated was being manipulated into participating.

    I no longer believe that, I believe there are many Whites who fully plan the destruction of our own people. For every Jew Marxist you can find, I guarantee you can find 3 White Marxists who work on their own accord.

    Like I always say, there’s trash in every race. Every race has its trash.

    I don’t believe the United States will ever return to being a White ethno-state, but I do believe that segregation will intensify. Joe Biden’s / Obama’s federalized section 8 plan which brings section 8 everywhere, without regard to zoning designation is very dangerous. Occidental Dissent is always finger-pointing at Trump being the worst thing that ever happened to Whites, completely ignoring the immense danger of this particular federalized section 8 plan.

    All Whites have left is privacy of their communities and industry. We killed industry with this Covid nonsense, luckily we didn’t kill it too badly and we’re returning back to normal but I don’t think we can survive another lock down.

    Joe Biden policies target the only two things Whites have left, our majority-White segregated communities and our industry. Through his federalized section 8 plan and wanting to shut down the economy and be submissive to China.

    • @Gryphon Alinor…

      “I used to believe that all social / cultural Marxists were always Jews and that any White who participated was being manipulated into participating.

      I no longer believe that, I believe there are many Whites who fully plan the destruction of our own people. For every Jew Marxist you can find, I guarantee you can find 3 White Marxists who work on their own accord.”

      Spot on are you, Sir, for, in fact, for every Marxist Jew I believe you could find 8,9, or 10 Gentile Whites.

      No, if the undoing of this country was initially a conscious plot by certain Jews in certain circles, it has now long gone beyond something like that.

      At this point, the cancer is no longer a few isolate tumours, but, rather, has fully metastasized, the results being that most of the entire body has fissured and ulcerated beyond recognizeable function.

      That is why only secession can work, because decomposition is the only thing in this realm that can rectify a diseased composition.

      On an optimistic note, I saw something incredible the other day – the beginning of an unconscious reforming of the Southern Confederacy, that structure coming from a plan of eight former Confederate states to work together to become one united 2nd amendment sanctuary zone.

      Though it is only a little step, it is something which, only a few years back, would have been completely unimaginaable.

      Sanctuary is a 21st century word for secession, and, as it spreads, it will spread more, until the situation comes to right itself, over numerous decades.

  4. Very interesting, thanks for sharing. Of course this dovetails quite nicely with Kevin MacDonald’s points in the Culture of Critique. I especially liked this paragraph:

    “The New York avant-garde and its dominance over America is where Jews, liberalism and modernism came together into one explosive molotov cocktail. Its values of liberalism, modernism, cosmopolitanism and antiracism were established as a national consensus after World War II and were inculcated in the public by the new technologies of the mainstream media and higher education. Over the course of a century from 1920 to 2020, these values have put down deeper and deeper roots in the process shattering American culture which has led directly to our present crisis of national disintegration.”

  5. Which also covers? The entertainment industry. Oh, yeah. For so many years, every time I’d watch Sullivan, Carson, whatever, a featured comic? Of course, a graduate of The Borscht Belt, naturally.

    Then, watch a little tube from the days of Uncle Miltie to about 1970. Note the name of certain producers, writers, execs, musicians, art people, costuming, and, yep, studio heads? Oy! Goyim they was not, kids.

    And you wonder where so many minds became corrupted? Mmm?

    We now return you to our regularly-scheduled brainwashing already in progress…..

  6. So the question seems to be what sort of culture or country we wish to live in. Do we prefer this multicultural one where we are divided and heading towards continued isolation and broken relationships or do we prefer a common national culture which will define us and allow for participation of all those willing to subscribe. I answer the question for myself with affirmation for the latter.

    In a sense that Randolph Bourne fellow was correct assuming some premises. It is terribly difficult for people from cultures completely alien to ours to assimilate. I think we have empirical evidence for that by simply observing the inability of blacks, who possibly carry a long genetic memory to fit within American society. I think we will discover as well that muslims will be a tough fit. Latin American folks probably will prove to be an easier fit over the long term.

    It could be argued that our opening the doors to non-assimilating immigrants is immoral as it serves no one at all and deprives them of the cultural experiences for which they were fitted. If we accept Bournes thesis that alien people cannot easily assimilate then we have an arguement to cease all immigration from at least non Christian countries as that is the minimal association ones requires having in order to fit in this society.

    The next question is can we do anything about the situation as currently presented. I think we are in a long term battle there as the elite has sunk the anchor pretty deep into the mud. We may need however to look backward and find the ethics and mores of those who sucessfully preceded us and incorporate them into ourselves today. It appears that Southerners have a disdain for the Wasp elite of yesterday but I have been reading a bit on them and feel a certain affinity for what they achieved. If we accept their progressiveness, and it seems so far that on this site at least that this is an easy step, I think we have a model to build upon.

    When Hunter is finished with this expose it strikes me that the necessary evidence is now brought forward to begin addressing the future. There really needs to be a discussion about what is the proper role of man on earth, what are the duties and responsibilities derived from the conclusions of that discussion and what makes for a correct culture that suits our natures. Then an evolutionary process needs to be defined that gets us to those conclusions.

    The lack of a future vision anywhere of which I am aware in the old ” Hard Right” Or “Alt Right” thought was the cause of a failure. Until we know where we are headed any path will take us there.

  7. I think the problem is that the Jews have ever Whites is that they are well versed in Semantics and all its subtleties. They can twist the meaning of things to the point where they can sell Black as White and vice versa. They are very critical thinkers and always, at the back of their minds is if anything and everything is good for them.

    Whites are definitely behind the learning curve on that. They are not critical thinkers and they don’t hold fast to what is best for them in the interests of Fair Play and Justice and Morality and Honor.

    This lack of critical thinking is what makes them pay more attention to what people say and how it feels rather than what it means and what these people actually DO.

    Case in point how the Russian people got snockered by the Bolsheviks pushing a Dictatorship OF the Proletariat. Not BY the Proletariat, but OF the Proletariat. They didn’t lie. They just allowed the ehtnic Russians to hear what they wanted from all that Utopian blather.

    President Theodore Roosevelt wanted American unity. Remember his famous diatribe about Hyphenated Americans. Roosevelt loved how patriotic and unifying were the themes of Melting Pot, but there remains no doubt in my mind that HE believed the contents would change from Whites from different European countries, even Catholic ones, ultimately fanning out and marrying the White Anglo Saxon Protestant majority and the end result would probably be White American Protestants. That Protestant work ethic continually being strengthened and invigorated by energetic White Europeans who were hungry and were ready to roll up their sleeves and work and contribute. And if not for all the race mixing and the racial composition of immigration, that would be the case. My grandparents were Catholic, many in my generation started leaving and our children and grandchildren are with Protestant and non-denominational churches.

    While the Melting Pot playwright, Israel Zangwill envisioned something more along the lines of that of Count Richard Coudenhove Kalergi, the Japanese-Austrian HAPA who envisioned racially mixing Europeans into one big brown mass who would be ruled over by Pure Whites and Jews. They are openly pushing for that in Europe and all but openly doing that here in the States.

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