This is the whole point of why we have been studying Modernism
The following excerpt comes from Henry F. May’s book The End of American Innocence:
“The Young Intellectuals went further than mere tolerance: they turned the conventional hierarchy upside down. Anglo-Saxons, repressed and bigoted, were at the bottom of the scale; at the top were the Italians, the Slavs, and above all, the Eastern European Jews of the East Side. Writers of Puritan ancestry like Hutchins Hapgood, earnest radicals like Ernest Poole, who was studying Yiddish, found an endless satisfaction in the quarter’s crowded streets, its theaters, and above all in its Hungarians, Russian, and Polish cafes, where atheist and orthodox, anarchist and socialist, argued endlessly over their glasses of tea. …
In the midst of its cosmopolitan variety New York afforded the Young Intellectuals a quarter of their own, America’s nearest equivalent to a Left Bank, the legendary, early Greenwich Village, so often caricatured and imitated and sentimentalized that it is hard to learn what it was really like. …”
Clearly, it is one thing to argue about the rights and status of non-Whites and racial equality as liberals did throughout the 19th century. It is another thing to repudiate your own ethnic group and embrace cosmopolitanism and expressive individualism and to believe that Jews should be at the top of the social hierarchy and your own group should be at the bottom. This is a very important difference.
In the 1910s, this group of highly influential young leftists who came to be known as the Young Intellectuals, which was composed of provincials from the Midwest and Harvard graduates from the East moved to Greenwich Village in New York City where they formed a radical bohemian subculture which mixed Modernism with progressive liberalism, socialism and anarchism. The primary organ of the Young Intellectuals was a radical socialist magazine called The Masses:
“Perhaps the most vibrant and innovative magazine of its day, The Masses was founded in 1911 as an illustrated socialist monthly, and it was soon sponsoring a heady blend of radical politics and modernist aesthetics that earned it the popular sobriquet “the most dangerous magazine in America.” The magazine had three editors during its first two years—Thomas Seltzer, Horatio Winslow, and Piet Vlag (the magazine’s founder)—but for the remainder of its short life The Masses was brilliantly edited by Max Eastman, who—with Floyd Dell, as managing editor—helped turn it into the flagship journal of Greenwich Village, the burgeoning bohemian art community in New York. The magazine staked out progressive positions on issues like unionization, co-operation, freedom of speech, racial equality, birth control, free love, and women’s suffrage; and with investigative reporting and war dispatches by radical journalists John Reed and Louise Bryant, it inveighed against sweatshop labor at home and militarism abroad. Into this pot of socialist politics The Masses mixed experimental visual and literary arts; the two came together on its lavishly colored covers as well as in an array of political cartoons by the brilliant Art Young and striking illustrations by John Sloan and Boardman Robinson. The magazine also published the work of numerous major American writers—poetry by Carl Sandburg, Louis Untermeyer, and Amy Lowell; fiction by Jack London, Upton Sinclair, and Sherwood Anderson—whose modernism took root at home rather than in London or Paris. Eastman claimed that the magazine’s policy was “to do as it Pleases and Conciliate Nobody, not even its Readers.” Not surprisingly, The Masses found itself constantly entangled in lawsuits claiming libel brought by major corporation and syndicates (most notably the Associated Press), and eventually the government, invoking the Espionage Act of 1917, barred it from the mails in August 1917 for its critique of the U.S.’s involvement in World War One.”
In the first issue of The Masses, its editor Max Eastman described its mission:
“A Free Magazine — This magazine is owned and published cooperatively by its editors. It has no dividends to pay, and nobody is trying to make money out of it. A revolutionary and not a reform magazine; a magazine with a sense of humour and no respect for the respectable; frank; arrogant; impertinent; searching for true causes; a magazine directed against rigidity and dogma wherever it is found; printing what is too naked or true for a money-making press; a magazine whose final policy is to do as it pleases and conciliate nobody, not even its readers — There is a field for this publication in America. Help us to find it.”
The Masses was written in the spirit of the Alt-Right, not our stuffy, hidebound liberal mainstream of which it was the direct ancestor. It was highly influential on young people in its time because it did not give a shit about taboos or the opinions of respectable people. It was a breath of fresh air in the stale Victorian mainstream which plunged America into World War I and was embarking on Prohibition. The Wilson administration put Floyd Dell on trial and censored The Masses for its opposition to World War I.
“The Masses, a richly illustrated radical magazine, was published monthly in New York from 1911 until 1917, when it was suppressed by the government for its anti-war and anti-government perspective. The Masses blended art and politics and included fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and illustrations by many of the leading radical figures of the day. Shortly after his arrival in New York in 1913, Floyd Dell was invited to join the editorial staff of The Masses to bring some editorial discipline to that haphazard enterprise. Max Eastman, a former college instructor in philosophy, had been named editor of the dry and stodgy magazine. Dell opened its pages to talented writers, artists and cartoonists whose work reflected the burgeoning realism in the arts. Dell also added a managing editor’s expertise in planning, designing and producing a magazine, shaping it to his and Eastman’s political and literary tastes. It became a stunning periodical with two-color lithographed covers and fine printing for the artwork in its pages.
In his autobiography Homecoming, Dell wrote: “I hardly realized at the time the nature of the problem The Masses group was trying to solve–co-operation between artists, men of genius, egotists inevitably and rightfully, proud, sensitive, hurt by the world, each of them the head and center of some group, large or small, or admirers or devotees; now it seems to me an extraordinary triumph that so much good-humored and effective co-operation was possible between them. Nobody gained a penny out of the things published in the magazine; it was an honor to get into its pages, an honor conferred by vote at the meetings.”
Following the passing of the Espionage Act of 1917, the government officially labeled the magazine “treasonable material” in August of that year and issued charges against its staff for “unlawfully and willfully . . . obstructing the recruiting and enlistment of the United States’ military. The “conspirators” faced fines up to 10,000 dollars and twenty years improvement. At the trial one paragraph of Dell’s writing was cited as an “overt act” in violation of the Espionage law. “there are some laws that the individual feels he cannot obey, and he will suffer any punishment, even that of death, rather than recognize them as having authority over him. This fundamental stubbornness of the free soul, against which all the powers of the State are helpless, constitutes a conscientious objection, whatever its source may be in political and social opinion.”
After deliberating for three days, the jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision. The jurors seeking to convict the defendants blamed one juror for being unable to conform to the majority opinion, as he was also a socialist. Not only did the other eleven jurors demand the prosecutor to levy charges against the lone juror, but they attempted to drag the socialist supporter out into the street and Lynch him. The Judge, given the uproar, declared a mistrial. A second trial also resulted in a deadlocked jury. Floyd Dell and his Co-Defendants were free.”
It was through the Young Intellectuals and The Masses in Greenwich Village before World War I that Modernism merged with progressive liberalism. Think of what Brooklyn has become today to the Left. This is the great-great grandfather of that whole culture.
“It says a lot about the period that the Villagers, mostly from middle-class Anglo-Saxon backgrounds, seldom knew this. In the peace and comfort that comes with escape from home, they could make their quite open experiments in free sexual relations on the idealistic Wells model. Still more daringly, so long as they did not venture uptown the women could smoke and bob their hair with impunity, and the men could wear flannel shirts …
Some of the early inhabitants were radicals; after the Masses moved to Greenwich Avenue the Village became a center for revolutionary politics, though many socialist stalwarts disliked it as a hangout of anarchists and dilettantes. Writers lived there who had no connection with the Village’s much-heralded Bohemian life: Willa Cather for instance lived on Bank Street from 1912 to 1927. Older iconoclasts from Lincoln Steffens to Emma Goldman found themselves at ease there …”
The only thing missing here is jazz:
“The Liberation, the movement of thought which reached America in the prewar years, is easy to taste and observe, but hard to define. Pervasive and vigorous, it was over very quickly. Iridescent and shifting, insistently gay (its critics would say irresponsible), it was based not so much on a theory as on a way of getting along without theories. One understands it most easily through characteristic episodes recalled in memoirs or described in the press – the explosion of popular poetry in new modes, the excitement of the Armory Show, the dramatic succession of intellectual fashions, the way Bergson and Wells and Freud became crazes like the Turkey Trot or the Tango. To see the Liberation in its dazzling colors – the colors of the Russian Ballet and Matisse, one must place it for contrast against the solid true-blue background of the Progressive Era.
If the Liberation had a characteristic doctrine, it was a simple and old one, very close to the central assertion of earlier romantic periods, the assertion that life transcends thought. The dogmas of the nineteenth century, idealist and still more scientific naturalist, were dead; the twentieth century was to have no place for any dogmas at all. Nothing, especially nothing depressing, had been proven; science had suddenly become wide-open at the ends, and the arguments of philosophers had cancelled each other out. Therefore the road was clear for the creative intuition: one could believe almost whatever one wanted. Traditional values, like traditional means of establishing them, were highly doubtful; it was permissible to prefer violence to peace, creative destruction to building, primitivism to civilization. The only thing that was not permissible was fear, especially fear of change or of the future.
The Liberation reached America some time not long before 1910 and it was clearly over by 1917. It directly affected only certain small groups of young people, and yet its influence was pervasive during these years. Because it was so brief, historians of thought and literature have often failed to describe it clearly. Sometimes they have confused it with earlier tendencies, more often its fugitive note has been drowned out by the brass bands of the twenties. A distant movement in itself, the Liberation was related to what went before, and it opened the way to all that came after …”
By the Liberation, May means the tidal wave of Modernism that swept into the United States in Chicago and New York City in the 1910s. The Armory Show of 1913 was America’s late introduction to Modern Art. He also means the intellectual impact of Nietzsche, Freud, H.G. Wells and Henri Bergson.
Modernism was new and exciting 110 years ago. Now, it is … well, exhausted.