Shaping Modern Liberalism
Herbert Croly and Progressive Thought
Edward A. Stettner
American ideals—liberty, equality, democracy, national unity—are bandied about by liberal politicians as a package deal, inseparably intertwined. But the words often flow together better as rhetoric than they mold together in theory. But, as Herbert Croly and his turn-of-the-century contemporaries found, jelling these appealing yet often conflicting concepts into a liberal philosophy was not nearly as easy as embracing them in a campaign speech.
In this first full-length study of Herbert Croly's political theory, Edward Stettner analyzes Croly's writings and examines the events, experiences, and people who influenced Croly's thinking. In the process, he reveals Croly's significant influence on modern liberalism as classical liberal theory merged with progressive philosophy.
“Stettner has written a concise, intelligent, and highly readable study of the thought of the American political philosopher and editor, Herbert Croly. This book is a skillful and worthy addition to the literature on this important and influential American thinker.”
—American Historical Review
“Well worth reading.”
—Perspectives on Political ScienceSee all reviews...
“At a time when liberalism seems questioned on every side, this lively book on Croly, who as much as anyone developed the progressive creed of Wilsonianism and the New Deal, is particularly welcome. It brings out the reasoning behind many premises and plans of twentieth-century progressives—and also the difficulties and doubts that came to cloud Croly’s own hopes.”
—Robert K. Faulkner, author of The Jurisprudence of John Marshall
“By far the best study of Herbert Croly as a political and social philosopher. Stettner illuminates the origins, evolution, and expression of Croly’s thought, with insightful reference to Croly’s personal life and involvement in larger affairs. Inasmuch as Stettner succeeds in establishing Croly’s overweening significance as a liberal thinker, he has written a book with exciting contemporary resonance at a time when America and the world are struggling to define the focus of humane politics in the post–Cold War, post-socialist era.”
—John Milton Cooper, Jr., author of Pivotal Decades: The United States, 1900–1920See fewer reviews...
Croly, founder of The New Republic, expounded on issues from the nationalization of railroads to the Espionage Act in his search for a middle way between socialism and capitalism. Stettner illustrates how Croly's political theory influenced the editorial position of one of the leading liberal journals and how his thought in turn was modified in reaction to national and world events, such as presidential elections and World War I.
Stettner portrays Croly as a modest and conscientious intellectual who wholeheartedly came to embrace the progressive movement and consequently helped establish the framework for modern liberalism. In doing so, Stettner emphasizes how Croly's philosophy evolved and how Croly was drawn to the conclusion that a strong national government and individual rights could indeed coexist—if not always serenely—in a democratic society.