A Confident Response
to World War
Beard had a passionate temperament but he attempted always to make sure that passion informed without controlling his judgments. At first he did not view World War as an obstacle to reform. On the contrary, he joined many others in hoping that its nationalizing tendencies would be a cleansing wave, smashing and clearing away the outmoded institutions, arrangements, and habits of thought that resisted needed social changes. However, he did not speak the messianic language of the Wilsonians. It was possible to argue that German "autocracy" had to be stopped without supporting the concept of saving the world for some nobler system. Aware of the ruthlessness of Allied imperialisms, he hoped that the war would finish this form of exploitation too. Finally, he sought, by setting a dramatic example, to dissociate patriotic support of the war from the repression of civil liberties that accompanied it. He did not act out of a naive and unreflective optimism; his life during this period exemplified a feeling of confidence, a certainty that the world was not beyond the control of competent citizens.
Although the outbreak of war in August 1914 had come as a "horrible surprise," Beard's sympathies were always frankly, vigorously, and unambiguously with England and France. Having no deep moral aversion to war, he never supported President Wilson's policy of neutrality toward the conflict. In the autumn of 1914, the acting president of City College forbade him to speak there again on the war because Beard had given a rousing speech that,