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The Promise of American Life , published in , is the most comprehensive statement of the Progressive political movement that occurred at the start of the twentieth century. It came at a time when the United States was in great flux due to the Industrial Revolution. At this time, the wealth of the country was becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer individuals, most often corporate and political bosses. In the text, Croly lays out a plan to regain a political and economic balance through strong federal regulations and social programs.
He argues that only programs administered by the federal government can truly help pave the way for America to fulfill the promise of a positive and fair democracy for the greatest number of citizens. Croly's theories were influenced by his parents, who were both political journalists, and by the philosophers with whom he studied at Harvard. Promise was read by President Theodore Roosevelt , who was a proponent of its theories.
The term "New Nationalism," which Roosevelt used as the label for his political reforms, was taken directly from Croly's book. Although Promise did not reach a wide readership, it was read by some very wealthy and influential people, including Willard and Dorothy Straight.
They were so impressed by Croly's political theories, they contacted him and provided the backing to launch a new periodical of progressive thinking which became The New Republic , a periodical still in circulation today. It is said that some of Croly's proposals were an influence on Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs. His interest in journalism and politics was definitely influenced by his parents.
They were both journalists and highly interested in political and economic issues. Croly received his early schooling at J. In September he enrolled at Harvard. However, Croly left Harvard in June due to his father's failing health. Croly moved home to serve as his father's secretary until his father died in April Upon his father's death, Croly inherited a share in the Real Estate Record and Builders' Guide, a publication co-founded by his father in Croly served as editor of the guide for the next two years.
In , Croly joined the staff of the newly created periodical Architectural Record. In May of , Croly married Louise Emory, a young woman from an upper middle-class Baltimore family whom he met while at Harvard. As they decided that it was time for Croly to finish his studies, he returned to Harvard later that year, concentrating on philosophy and economics, as before.
During this time, Croly honed his political philosophy and paved the way for the writing of The Promise of American Life , which was published in Even by the time of the book's publication, Croly had not yet earned his bachelor's degree. The degree was finally granted in in recognition for his work on the book. In , Croly published his second book.
He also published another book of political theory in late Progressive Democracy, which furthers Croly's musings on Progressivism.
In this work, he updates the theories put forth in The Promise of American Life to make them more viable and actionable. In , the New Republic was launched with Croly at the helm. The periodical became very popular and influential and is still in existence today. Croly remained active as a journalist and political theorist until his death on May 17, , in New York City. In the first chapter of The Promise of American Life Croly argues that America has no tradition of strong nationalism as is often present in older countries.
He notes that the nation will have to become an active participant in the fulfillment of its democratic promise, and that it is dangerous to assume that the promise of a better future will fulfill itself. He lists the many achievements of America thus far, but cautions that an unequal distribution of economic and political power threatens to derail the nation. Here Croly begins a review of American political ideas and practices. He provides an account of the political theories of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.
Croly compares and contrasts Hamilton's call for strong federal regulation with Jefferson's push for extreme individualism. While Croly discloses that his preferences are "on the side of Hamilton," he posits that the ideal for political reform is actually an amalgam of the two positions.
Croly claims that the Whigs "renewed a Hamiltonian spirit and interest in national cohesion. Croly also discusses Andrew Jackson 's political career. He sees Jackson's policies as dangerous because they were based on conciliation and compromise. He notes that while Jackson's pioneer spirit was very appealing to the general public, his policies harmed the nation because they promoted selfish individualism. This chapter gives an in-depth look at how the problem of slavery divided the nation.
Croly lists five major factions that came about as a result of the controversy: The Abolitionists, the Southern Democrats, the Northern Democrats, the Constitutional Unionists and the Republicans. After briefly outlining the platform of each of the above parties, Croly launches into a discussion of Abraham Lincoln.
Croly holds Lincoln up as the quintessential statesman. He provides a brief summary of Lincoln's political background and praises him for his self-discipline and his ability to subordinate his own interests to those of the nation. He praises Lincoln for confronting the nation's contradictory practice of allowing slavery to flourish while claiming to be a democracy. Croly begins this chapter by discussing the period of activity and prosperity that occurred after the restoration of peace following the Civil War.
He notes that with peace came the the Industrial Revolution , which created many problems as well as increased opportunities. Croly claims that a lack of powerful federal control has allowed special interests to flourish and that these interests are gradually weakening the national promise. There is also a discussion of how lawyers, political bosses, and industrialists have exploited the system for their own gains and that the inefficiency of central government has contributed largely to this state of affairs.
Of the four, Croly puts most of his hopes in Theodore Roosevelt, whom he says has "revived the Hamiltonian idea. Croly says that reformers must combine intellect and morality in order to be effective, and that most have failed because they are not "team players. Croly provides an analysis of the meaning of democracy. He notes that democracy is often thought of as a system that dispenses with restrictions. He claims that this is a problem, however, because the "ultimate responsibility for the government of a community must reside somewhere.
The answer lies in "constructive discrimination. Selected individuals must be "obliged constantly to justify their selection.
In this chapter Croly presents a summary of the way in which modern European national states originated. He focuses on England, France, and Germany. He presents them as examples of different kinds of democratic experiments, and shows how the national idea of each country has influenced its formation. Croly proposes that in all cases citizens must be willing to subordinate their own special interests for the good of the country.
He also warns that nations must not seek to destroy others for, "[A] nation seeking to destroy other nations is analogous to a man who seeks to destroy the society in which he was born. Here Croly proposes that, in order for a nation to remain strong, a national principle must emerge.
He urges that American democracy must become loyally nationalistic. Croly sees a danger in leaving too much power in the hands of state and local governments because they are inefficient and prone to supporting special interests. He calls for an increase in centralized power and responsibility.
In this chapter Croly discusses America's increasing emergence as an international player. Croly notes that America can no longer remain isolationist. He urges that America adopt a strong, clear national policy in relation to the other nations of the world. He cautions against the aggressive tendency put forth by the Monroe Doctrine , but also warns against too rigid a policy of isolationism.
He notes that the United States must work to secure a peaceful and stable American continent, being particularly wary of Canada and Latin America. Moreover, he calls for better relations with Canada so that the threat of European intervention can be minimized. In addition, Croly discusses the possibility of American intervention in foreign wars. Croly states that public opinion must be converted to a better understanding of its national responsibilities. Here, once again, Croly discusses the inefficiency of state governments and calls for a reorganization.
He says that the people should have the power to initiate legislation, and moreover, that no important laws should be passed without their direct consent. He notes that institutions have failed the people and that legislatures have become increasingly corrupt, working primarily on behalf of special interests. To remedy this situation, Croly states, stronger federal controls must be put into place.
Finally, he notes that the rights of recall and referendum must be available to the people in order to remove corrupt government officials and policies. In this chapter, Croly explains how allowing each state government to control its own commerce makes it very difficult for the railroads and corporations.
He calls, instead, for controls by the federal government. However, he does not support the Sherman Anti-Trust Law because he believes it is ineffective.
He does not believe that corporations should be prevented from making large profits. Rather, Croly calls for systems that would disperse huge corporate profits for the widest public benefit. Ultimately, the answer is taxation. Here, Croly sums up his arguments. He notes that education is the key to all of his foregoing proposals. Croly believes that education will provide the means for the American people to better themselves and their communities. He feels that individual improvement and achievement will strengthen nationalism and lead to a better society, as well as to a better democracy.
In his section on European history, Croly discusses the contribution of German chancellor Otto von Bismarck. He sees him as a fine example of a leader, a man who was able to balance his own beliefs with what was best for his country. This gave von Bismark almost complete control of foreign and domestic affairs. He opposed the socialists in Germany and, in order to weaken their influence, instituted a program of sweeping social reforms.
He passed laws providing for sickness, accident, and old age insurance; instituted controls on child labor ; and established maximum working hours. Croly praises his strong leadership and in his discussion of German nationality notes:.
Thus the modern German nation has been at bottom the work of admirable leadership on the part of officially responsible leaders; and among those leaders the man who planned most effectively and accomplished the greatest results was Otto von Bismarck.