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The Ideas Behind the Progressive Party Platform of 1912

Croly_PromiseAmerLifeToday is the 145th birthday of Herbert Croly, whose book, The Promise of American Life, was a major influence on American progressives in the early 20th century, including Theodore Roosevelt, who derived from Croly his idea of a “new nationalism.” Published in 1909, this book tried to devise a way of infusing Hamilton’s vision for a strong and effective central government with Jefferson’s vision for democratic rule. Croly proposed a synthesis that downplayed individualism and elevated a communalism that, he hoped, would promote the welfare of all citizens. This would require, he thought, the nationalization of large corporations and the strengthening of labor unions. It would require a strong central government headed by a strong leader.

One sees these ideas in the Progressive Party Platform of 1912, which invokes the name of Jefferson in its opening paragraphs. Whether Jefferson would have seen the platform as consistent with his own understanding of democracy remains a subject of debate.

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