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The Promise of American Life

The Promise of American Life

Herbert Croly
With a new foreword by Franklin Foer
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 616
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  • Book Info
    The Promise of American Life
    Book Description:

    The Promise of American Lifeis part of the bedrock of American liberalism, a classic that had a spectacular impact on national politics when it was first published in 1909 and that has been recognized ever since as a defining text of liberal reform. The book helped inspire Theodore Roosevelt's New Nationalism and Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, put Herbert Croly on a path to become the founding editor of theNew Republic, and prompted Walter Lippmann to call him twentieth-century America's "first important political philosopher." The book is at once a history of America and its political ideals and an analysis of contemporary ills, from rampant economic inequality to unchecked corporate power. In response, Croly advocated combining the Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian traditions and creating a strong federal government to ensure that all Americans had a fair shot at individual success. The formula still defines American liberalism, andThe Promise of American Lifecontinues to resonate today, offering a vital source of renewal for liberals and progressives. For this new edition, Franklin Foer has written a substantial foreword that puts the book in historical context and explains its continuing importance.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5123-2
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Foreword
    (pp. xv-xxxiv)
    Franklin Foer

    When Theodore Roosevelt vacated the presidency in the spring of 1909, he also vacated the country. After nearly eight years in the White House, Roosevelt chose to restore himself with a bit of big game hunting. He journeyed across the savanna of British East Africa, then up the River Nile. His trip, financed by Andrew Carnegie, had an explicit purpose: collecting specimens for the Smithsonian Institution. But there was a salutary side effect to disappearing into the bush. It permitted him only periodic contact with news from home, allowing him to clear his mind of politics. Attention had to be...

  2. 1. What Is the Promise of American Life?
    (pp. 1-32)

    The average American is nothing if not patriotic. “The Americans are filled,” says Mr. Emil Reich in his “Success among the Nations,” “with such an implicit and absolute confidence in their Union and in their future success that any remark other than laudatory is inacceptable to the majority of them. We have had many opportunities of hearing public speakers in America cast doubts upon the very existence of God and of Providence, question the historic nature or veracity of the whole fabric of Christianity; but never has it been our fortune to catch the slightest whisper of doubt, the slightest...

  3. 2. The Federalists and the Republicans
    (pp. 33-63)

    The purpose of the following review of American political ideas and practices is, it must be premised, critical rather than narrative or expository. I am not seeking to justify a political and economic theory by an appeal to historical facts. I am seeking, on the contrary, to place some kind of an estimate and interpretation upon American political ideas and achievements; and this estimate and interpretation is determined chiefly by a preconceived ideal. The acceptability of such an estimate and interpretation will, of course, depend at bottom upon the number of important facts which it explains and the number which...

  4. 3. The Democrats and the Whigs
    (pp. 64-88)

    The first phase of American political history was characterized by the conflict between the Federalists and the Republicans, and it resulted in the complete triumph of the latter. The second period was characterized by an almost equally bitter contest between the Democrats and the Whigs in which the Democrats represented a new version of the earlier Republican tradition and the Whigs a resurrected Federalism. The Democracy of Jackson differed in many important respects from the Republicanism of Jefferson, and the Whig doctrine of Henry Clay was far removed from the Federalism of Alexander Hamilton. Nevertheless, from 1825 to 1850, the...

  5. 4. Slavery and American Nationality
    (pp. 89-122)

    Both the Whig and the Democratic parties betrayed the insufficiency of their ideas by their behavior towards the problem of slavery. Hitherto I have refrained from comment on the effect which the institution of slavery was coming to have upon American politics because the increasing importance of slavery, and of the resulting antislavery agitation, demand for the purpose of this book special consideration. Such a consideration must now be undertaken. The bitter personal and partisan controversies of the Whigs and the Democrats were terminated by the appearance of a radical and a perilous issue; and in the settlement of this...

  6. 5. The Contemporary Situation and Its Problems
    (pp. 123-172)

    It is important to recognize that the anti-slavery agitation, the secession of the South, and the Civil War were, after all, only an episode in the course of American national development. The episode was desperately serious. Like the acute illness of a strong man, it almost killed its victim; and the crisis exposed certain weaknesses in our political organism, in the absence of which the illness would never have become acute. But the roots of our national vitality were apparently untouched by the disease. When the crisis was over, the country resumed with astonishing celerity the interrupted process of economic...

  7. 6. Reform and the Reformers
    (pp. 173-215)

    Sensible and patriotic Americans have not, of course, tamely and ignobly submitted to the obvious evils of their political and economic condition. There was, indeed, a season when the average good American refused to take these evils seriously. He was possessed by the idea that American life was a stream, which purified itself in the running, and that reformers and critics were merely men who prevented the stream from running free. He looked upon the first spasmodic and ineffective protests with something like contempt. Reformers he appraised as busybodies, who were protesting against the conditions of success in business and...

  8. 7. Reconstruction: Its Conditions and Purposes
    (pp. 216-263)

    The best method of approaching a critical reconstruction of American political ideas will be by means of an analysis of the meaning of democracy. A clear popular understanding of the contents of the democratic principle is obviously of the utmost practical political importance to the American people. Their loyalty to the idea of democracy, as they understand it, cannot be questioned. Nothing of any considerable political importance is done or left undone in the United States, unless such action or inaction can be plausibly defended on democratic grounds; and the only way to secure for the American people the benefit...

  9. 8. Nationality and Democracy: National Origins
    (pp. 264-325)

    Whatever the contemporary or the logical relation between nationality and democracy as ideas and as political forces, they were in their origin wholly independent one of the other. The Greek city states supplied the first examples of democracy; but their democracy brought with it no specifically national characteristics. In fact, the political condition and ideal implied by the word nation did not exist in the ancient world. The actual historical process, which culminated in the formation of the modern national state, began some time in the Middle Ages—a period in which democracy was almost an incredible form of political...

  10. 9. The American Democracy and Its National Principles
    (pp. 326-354)

    The foregoing review of the relation which has come to subsist in Europe between nationality and democracy should help us to understand the peculiar bond which unites the American democratic and national principles. The net result of that review was encouraging but not decisive. As a consequence of their development as nations, the European peoples have been unable to get along without a certain infusion of democracy; but it was for the most part essential to their national interest that such an infusion should be strictly limited. In Europe the two ideals have never been allowed a frank and unconstrained...

  11. 10. A National Foreign Policy
    (pp. 355-385)

    The logic of a national democratic ideal and the responsibilities of a national career in the world involve a number of very definite consequences in respect to American foreign policy. They involve, in fact, a conception of the place of a democratic nation in relation to the other civilized nations, different from that which has hitherto prevailed in this country. Because of their geographical situation and their democratic institutions, Americans have claimed and still claim a large degree of national aloofness and independence; but such a claim could have been better defended several generations ago than it can to-day. Unquestionably...

  12. 11. Problems of Reconstruction: Part 1
    (pp. 386-430)

    In the foregoing chapter I have traced the larger aspects of a constructive relation between the national and democratic principles in the field of foreign politics. The task remains of depicting somewhat in detail the aspect which our more important domestic problems assume from the point of view of the same relationship. The general outlines of this picture have already been roughly sketched; but the mere sketch of a fruitful general policy is not enough. A national policy must be justified by the flexibility with which, without any loss of its integrity, it can be applied to specific problems, differing...

  13. 12. Problems of Reconstruction: Part 2
    (pp. 431-489)

    Any proposal to alter the responsibilities and powers now enjoyed by the central and the state governments in respect to the control of corporations and the distribution of wealth involves, of course, the Federal rather than the state constitutions; and the amendment of the former is both a more difficult and a more dangerous task than is the amendment of the latter. A nation cannot afford to experiment with its fundamental law as it may and must experiment with its local institutions. As a matter of fact the Federal Constitution is very much less in need of amendment than are...

  14. 13. Conclusions: The Individual and the National Purposes
    (pp. 490-558)

    Hitherto we have been discussing the ways in which existing American economic and political methods and institutions should be modified in order to make towards the realization of the national democratic ideal. In course of this discussion, it has been taken for granted that the American people under competent and responsible leadership could deliberately plan a policy of individual and social improvement, and that with the means at their collective disposal they could make headway towards its realization. These means consisted, of course, precisely in their whole outfit of political, economic, and social institutions; and the implication has been, consequently,...