Herbert David Croly

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Herbert David Croly

An American editor and author, Herbert David Croly (1869-1930) created the political philosophy known as "new nationalism" and was a founder of the magazine New Republic.

Herbert Croly was born on Jan. 23, 1869, into an immigrant but middle-class family. Croly's father was editor of the New York World and the New York Graphic, and his mother wrote under the nom de plume Jennie June. Both parents were civic reformers.

Croly studied a year at the College of the City of New York and off and on for 11 years at Harvard before quitting academia in 1899 without taking a degree. So softspoken that he seemed to whisper, he was inordinately shy among strangers; according to his biographer his shyness approached the pathological. Croly's written words were as laborious as his spoken ones.

In 1892 Croly married Louise Emory of Baltimore, a wealthy socialite. He was editor of the Architectural Record from 1900 to 1913, when he quit to write books.

Croly wrote four books: The Promise of American Life (1909), Marcus Alonzo Hanna: His Life and Work (1913), Progressive Democracy (1914), and Willard Straight (1924), the biography of the banker who helped underwrite the New Republic, a magazine founded by Croly and two other journalists.

The Promise of American Life is the foundation of Croly's reputation. Despite the tortuous sentences, which often left readers confused, it attracted a following, andAmerican Magazine, at the height of the 1912 presidential campaign, hailed Croly as the "man from whom Colonel [Theodore] Roosevelt got his 'new nationalism."' Croly first was attracted to his subject by the "dilemma of the artist or intellectual in an industrial society." He felt "empty individualism had run riot," that merit was measured by cash, and that industrial society was too mechanical. With the frontier gone, "automatic progress" was an end. He theorized that liberty and equality might actually conflict—despite America's heritage and the views of Jeffersonian Democrats. He pointed out that 19th-century "robber barons" cited slogans of individualism while forming monopolies.

Croly wanted "constructive discrimination" that would favor the weak. Equal rights for all, he argued, "merely left the great mass of people at the mercy of strong political and economic interests." He asserted that big government should control big business and big unions and that small businesses and nonunion people should be sacrificed as inefficient or failing parts of his system. Elite saint-heroes, or uncommon common men (like Abraham Lincoln), were to assure honesty of the system that Croly looked upon as "nationalized democracy."

Though he had suffered a paralytic stroke in 1928, Croly was still editor of the New Republic when he died on May 17, 1930.

Further Reading

Charles Forcey, The Crossroads of Liberalism: Croly Weyl, Lippmann, and the Progressive Era, 1900-1925 (1961), is the best study of Croly. See also Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R. (1955). □

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Herbert David Croly

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