Herbert Croly

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Herbert Croly, (1869-1930) a leader of the Progressive Movement[1] as an editor, and political philosopher and a co-founder of the magazine The New Republic. His book, The Promise of American Life (1909) looked to the conservative spirit of effective government as espoused by Alexander Hamilton, combined with the democracy of Thomas Jefferson. The book was one of the most influential books in American political history, shaping the ideas of many Progressives such as Theodore Roosevelt. It also influenced the later New Deal. Calling themselves "the new nationalists" Croly and Walter Weyl sought to remedy the relatively weak national institutions with a strong federal government. He actively promoted a strong army and navy and attacked pacifists who thought democracy at home and peace abroad was best served by keeping America weak.

In his 1914 book Progressive Democracy, Croly contested the thesis that the liberal tradition in the United States was inhospitable to anticapitalist alternatives. He drew from the American past a history of resistance to capitalist wage relations that was fundamentally liberal, and he reclaimed an idea that Progressives had allowed to lapse - that working for wages was a lesser form of liberty. Increasingly skeptical of the capacity of social welfare legislation to remedy social ills, Croly argued that America's liberal promise could be redeemed only by syndicalist reforms involving workplace democracy. O'Leary (1994) shows his liberal goals were subordinate to his commitment to republicanism.

Early Life

Herbert Croly's parents were David Croly and Jane Croly. His father David was a devoted Comtist and raised Herbert that way.[2]


Croly called for the adoption of Hamiltonian means to achieve Jeffersonian ends. To achieve this synthesis, however, Croly rejected Hamilton's arguments for institutional checks on a pure national democracy, and Jefferson's arguments for limited government. Croly rejected these limits because he saw them as too closely tied to the doctrine of individual rights. Croly wanted to transcend the doctrine of individual rights in order to create a national political community, one that would be forged by a strong but democratic national government. Howewer, Croly failed to see the connection between Jefferson's belief in democracy and his belief in limited government, and he failed to see the connection between Hamilton's belief in a strong national government and his call for institutional checks on democracy. Thus, although many American reform movements have their roots in the rhetoric of Croly's progressivism, to be effective they have had to accommodate the principles of liberal individualism that Croly wished to eradicate.[3]


Croly's book The Promise of American Life was sent by his friend Learned Hand to Theodore Roosevelt.[4]

Later Revisionism

Starting in the 40's, some authors tried to distance progressive ideology from Croly's views(specifically in regard to the book Promise of American Life), and instead re-cast them as having underlying tones of totalitarianism or fascism[5], not progressivism.

Further reading

  • Dexter, Byron. "Herbert Croly and the Promise of American Life," Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 70, No. 2 (Jun., 1955), pp. 197-218 in JSTOR
  • Jaenicke, Douglas Walter. "Herbert Croly, Progressive Ideology, and the FTC Act," Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 93, No. 3 (Autumn, 1978), pp. 471-493 in JSTOR
  • Katz, Claudio J. "Syndicalist Liberalism: the Normative Economics of Herbert Croly." History of Political Thought 2001 22(4): 669-702
  • Levy, David W. Herbert Croly of The New Republic: The Life and Thought of an American Progressive (1985)
  • O'Leary, Kevin C. "Herbert Croly & Progressive Democracy," Polity, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Summer, 1994), pp. 533-552 in JSTOR
  • Stettner, Edward A. Shaping Modern Liberalism: Herbert Croly and Progressive Thought (1993) excerpt and text search
  • Forcey, Charles. The Crossroads Of Liberalism: Croly, Weyl, Lippmann, And The Progressive Era 1900-1925 (1961), on archive.org

Primary sources

  • Croly, Herbert. The Promise of American Life (1909) full text online, one of the most influential books of the early 20th century
  • Croly, Herbert. Progressive Democracy (1914) full text online
  • Croly, Herbert. Marcus Alonso Hanna: His Life and Work full text online(1912), favorable biography of the leading conservative politician
  • Croly, Herbert. "The Effect on American Institutions of a Powerful Military and Naval Establishment," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 66, (July 1916), pp. 157-172 in JSTOR
  • Croly, Herbert. "State Political Reorganization," Proceedings of the American Political Science Association, Vol. 8, Eighth Annual Meeting (1911), pp. 122-135 in JSTOR


  1. Herbert D. Croly: Apostle of Progressivism. Heritage Foundation (March 14, 2013).
  2. (1904) Memories of Jane Cunningham Croly, "Jenny June". From a Testimonial by Herbert D. Croly. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 61–63. 
  3. David K. Nichols, "The Promise of Progressivism: Herbert Croly and the Progressive Rejection of Individual Rights" Publius 1987 17(2): 27-39
  4. (2013) Reason and Imagination: The Selected Correspondence of Learned Hand. OUP USA, 14–15. 
  5. Filler, Louis (1948). "The Dilemma, So-Called, of the American Liberal". Antioch Review 8: 140-141. https://books.google.com/books?id=FTAQAAAAIAAJ&dq=dilemma.