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Croly, Herbert


Herbert Croly (18691930) was a writer and editor best known for founding the politically influential journal called the New Republic. The magazine became the voice of the "New Nationalism" and was instrumental in delaying the entry of the United States into World War I (19141918). Croly also wrote books outlining his views for a strong central government.

Herbert Croly was born January 23, 1869 in New York City to a family of writers. His mother, Jane Cunningham Croly, was a successful writer and editor, and his father, David Croly, was an abolitionist and editor for the New York Daily Graphic. The Crolys sought a good education for their son. Herbert Croly first attended J.H. Morse's English, Classical, and Mathematical School for Boys. At the age of fifteen he enrolled in the City College of New York. Two years later Croly moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to attend Harvard University. His success at Harvard was mixed, and he was enrolled there on and off for fourteen years.

In 1888 Croly left school to work as his father's secretary. He then took a job as the editor of the Real Estate Record and Guide, a magazine issued to help real estate agents keep up with the rapid changes occurring in New York. Three years later, Croly switched jobs to work on the staff of the Architectural Record. In the same year, Croly married Louise Emory, the daughter of a moderately wealthy family. Croly returned to Harvard in 1892, where his studies were interrupted when he suffered a nervous breakdown. He and his wife then traveled to Europe for a year so that Croly could recover. He returned to Harvard again in 1895, studying philosophy. His classes introduced him to inspiring thinkers, such as psychologist William James and educational philosopher John Dewey, whose ideas would later influence Croly's writings.

In 1899 Croly again left Harvard to edit the Architectural Record. He demoted himself to associate editor in 1906 and worked part time so that he could write a book about his views on society and politics. The late 1800s were a time of great change as the United States became an industrialized society. Croly believed that the growth of big business needed to be guided by the government, and he supported a system with a strong and organized federal government. By 1909 Croly had written a 450-page book, The Promise of America, outlining his views on U.S. history. Croly explained in his book his belief that the years between the war of the American Revolution (17751783) and the American Civil War (18611865) were dominated by a pioneering spirit. When the wild frontier began to disappear people in the United States began to search for ways to put their country and their lives in order. As the country grew it was difficult for U.S. citizens to protect their interests under the weak central governments of Presidents Thomas Jefferson (18011809) and Andrew Jackson (18291837). The promise of America was being threatened by the closing of the frontier, powerful corporations, organized labor, and the growing role of the United States in world politics. The answer to this problem was a revival of U.S. nationalism and a government that served the people. A strong government would ensure that big business served national interests, preserve international peace, and redistribute wealth equitably among U.S. citizens.

While Croly's book was not a bestseller, it appealed to a number of intellectuals and politicians, including President Theodore Roosevelt 19011909). Roosevelt's "New Nationalism" reforms were strongly influenced by Croly's work. Due to the book's success, Croly was finally awarded a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard in 1910. Four years later, Croly joined Willard and Dorothy Straight in the creation of a new magazine dedicated to exploring the ideas outlined in Croly's book. Croly became the editor of the New Republic, which published its first edition on November 7, 1914, the day World War I began in Europe. Croly hired talented writers such as Walter Weyl, Walter Lippmann, and Felix Frankfurter, who were already well known champions of socialism. The provocative journal was an instant success and circulation reached 40,000 by the end of World War I.

Croly and the magazine became strong supporters of Woodrow Wilson's (19131921) presidency, and the magazine influenced Wilson's decision to delay the United States' entry into World War I. Despite this rapport with the president, Croly, in an editorial published by the magazine, denounced the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the war. This controversial position cost the New Republic half of its circulation.

Croly became very pessimistic about the policies and economy of the United States after World War I. He eventually left the New Republic to write independently and became a political advisor. In the last years of his life Croly moved away from politics altogether and devoted his final years to studying religious and metaphysical questions. He died on May 17, 1930.

See also: Publishing Industry, Socialism


Dorreboom, Iris. The Challenge of Our Time: Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Croly, Randolph Bourne and the Making of Modern America. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1991.

Levy, David W. Herbert Croly of the New Republic: The Life and Thought of an American Progressive. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1985.

O'Leary, Kevin C. "Herbert Croly and Progressive Democracy." Polity, 26, Summer 1994.

Pearson, Sidney A. "Herbert Croly and Liberal Democracy." Society, 35, July/August 1998.

Stettner, Edward A. Shaping Modern Liberalism: Herbert Croly and Progressive Thought. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1993.

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