The Promise of American Life

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The Promise of American Life is a book published by Herbert Croly, founder of The New Republic, in 1909. This book opposed aggressive unionization and supported economic planning to raise general quality of life. After reading this book, Theodore Roosevelt adopted the New Nationalism.

The book is said to "offer a manifesto of Progressive beliefs" that "anticipated the transition from competitive to corporate capitalism and from limited government to the welfare state."

For Croly, the individualistic, libertarian America of the agrarian 18th and 19th centuries was gone, swept away by the forces of the industrial revolution, urbanization, centralization and modernity. He advocated a new political consensus that included as its core nationalism, but with a sense of social responsibility and care for the less fortunate. Since the power of big business, trusts, interest groups and economic specialization had transformed the nation in the latter part of the 19th century, only the embracing of a counterbalance to this power would serve the society of the future. Croly pressed for the centralization of power in the Federal Government to ensure democracy, a "New Nationalism."

In Croly's view, "the traditional American confidence in individual freedom has resulted in a morally and socially undesirable distribution of wealth." He argued for a national government that was more rather than less powerful than it had been, as a bulwark against what he regarded as overbearing self-interest, greed, corruption, and unchecked power. At the same time, Croly valued the individual motivated by civic virtue and "constructive individualism" and urged all to pursue this objective.

Positive Reviews[edit]

After reading The Promise of American Life, former President Theodore Roosevelt wrote the following:

In Mr. Herbert Croly's 'Promise of American Life," the most profound and illuminating study of our National conditions which has appeared for many years, especial emphasis is laid on the assertion that the whole point of our governmental experiment lies in the fact that it is a genuine effort to achieve true democracy—both political and industrial.[1]

Negative Reviews[edit]

(this section copied from the Wikipedia article on "Herbert Croly") The Promise of American Life has received criticism from a number of angles. Many feared the underlying tones of totalitarianism or fascism. Others worried that Croly’s plan would make America socialist—a criticism Croly foresaw in his book and attempted to combat by labeling his government as nationalistic rather than socialistic. Even those who believed Croly’s government could be democratic had concerns that Croly’s vision for the country was clouded by a Republican prejudice. His writing contained several criticisms of the Democrats but almost none of the Republicans. Croly’s book was also criticized for its lack of national focus. It focused almost entirely on problems that were of interest to those living in cities but not to rural America. The tariff, conservation, currency, banking, and agriculture all were only mentioned in passing, if at all. Connected to that was an argument that Croly’s plans were unrealistic and detached from the reality that many Americans were living. By Croly’s death in 1930, only 7,500 copies of The Promise of American Life had been sold.


  1. ^ Roosevelt, Theodore (January 21, 1911). "Nationalism and Popular Rule". The Outlook (New York). pp. 96–101. 

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