Looking back on American participation in the European conflict, Randolph Bourne summed up one of its lessons: “War is the health of the state.” Bourne saw the expansion of government power as a danger, but it struck most Progressives as a golden opportunity. To them, the war offered the possibility of reforming American society along scientific lines, instilling a sense of national unity and self-sacrifice, and expanding social justice. That American power could now disseminate Progressive values around the globe heightened the war’s appeal.

Almost without exception, Progressive intellectuals and reformers, joined by prominent labor leaders and native-born socialists, rallied to Wilson’s support. The roster included intellectuals like John Dewey, journalists such as Walter Lippmann and Herbert Croly, AFL head Samuel Gompers, socialist writers like Upton Sinclair, and prominent reformers including Florence Kelley and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In The New Republic, Dewey urged Progressives to recognize the “social possibilities of war.” The crisis, he wrote, offered the prospect of attacking the “immense inequality of power” within the United States, thus laying the foundation for Americans to enjoy “effective freedom.”

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