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 Science
See all 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.

About the Author

Edward A. Stettner (1940–2013) was Ralph Emerson and Alice Freeman Palmer Professor of Political Science, Emeritus at Wellesley College, where he taught for more than forty years. He was the editor of Perspectives on Europe.

Additional Titles in the American Political Thought Series