Almost lost among the bicentennial celebrations of Lincoln’s and Darwin’s births is the centenary of Herbert Croly’s The Promise of American Life, a child of theirs and one of the truly evil books of the twentieth century. Not evil in the theological or even moral sense (although a case could be made for that, too) but in the older usage, from the Middle English evel, “overstepping accepted limits,” “harmful” (as in evel laws), “pernicious,” “destructive.” His ideas especially harmed what was left of the American republic.

The Promise of American Life had a simple and compelling thesis. Croly’s friend Walter Lippmann would later call it “the dominant dogma of the age.” Croly’s conviction was that government, national government, has the ability to make us happy. He believed that the Constitution was a living, growing thing, “capable of development chiefly as the instrument (my emphasis) of positive political ideas.” National “purpose” trumped individual rights, locality, religion, and tribal heritage. Hard-headed planning by a “disinterested” elite would bring the “promise” to fruition.

The promise was what Charles Forcey called in 1961, describing Croly’s impact on American politics, “The prevailing faith of most Americans” — democracy and equality. Since neighborhoods and congregations and (especially) families didn’t seem to make us egalitarian democrats rapidly or completely enough, an instrumental Constitution interpreted by a strong national executive had to step in and complete the job.

As a political idea a strong national state with the power to make us all happy and equal was not particularly original. Marx had a better idea. But Croly caught the American Progressive moment, the instant that Alexander Hamilton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, and John Dewey (and/or William James) all connected. We can also add the names of the English Fabians and the powerful mothers of feminism, Jane Addams and Margaret Sanger.

The late Robert Crunden got to the heart of Progressive faith when he discovered that almost all American Progressives were raised in Calvinist homes and, under the influence of some combination of the men and women of Croly’s moment, lost their Christianity and replaced it with some form of what they thought of as “science.” Democracy, activated through science, became what religion once was. Seeing a world that had changed so much since about 1850 — Henry Adams said that a boy born in 1850 was born closer to the year zero than to 1900 — and a generation that had conquered the night (electricity), geography (trains and automobiles and airplanes) and even nature itself, which was for the first time vulnerable to the whims and ambitions of human reason, Progressives had some grounds for their optimism about their belief in “mastery” as opposed to “drift,” as Walter Lippmann put it.

But here’s the interesting — and tragic — thing: Croly and all his fellow Progressives found that they needed to give up not only Christianity (Croly had no problem with that — he was actually baptized in the “Religion of Humanity”), but also the authority of tradition, locality, and family. In fact, they had to minimize, maybe even destroy, any authority that competed with the national state and its leaders. They had to make the national state the center of a new religion. They needed “democracy” and “equality” to be, as Crunden said, “far more than a form of government,” but rather a “political structure having divine sanction,” or as Dewey put it, the “means by which the revelation of truth is carried on.”

The autodidact curmudgeon Albert Jay Nock called him “Crolier than thou.” Edmund Wilson said that in an earlier age Croly would have founded a religious order. H. L. Mencken believed that he was one of the “kept idealists” of the new age. All of the Progressive publications (and many of the traditional ones) of the twentieth century needed keepers; in Croly’s case the keeper was the family of Doris Whitney Straight, whose son Michael would become a communist casualty of the English Cambridge group.

Croly was the sanctimonious Progressive’s progressive. He cofounded the New Republic with Walter Weyl and Walter Lippmann in 1914 and remained its guiding spirit until his death in 1930. One reads the first decade of the New Republic’s issues as a Progressive archive. Croly wanted it to a primer of the “arts” as well as politics, but it turned out that everything was political, and that Progressives never produced any literature worth remembering. They couldn’t; they had no sense of irony, and no sense of humor. In fact, there was no major literary figure of the Progressive century who was Progressive. Not one.

That some people who call themselves “conservative” look back with honor on Teddy Roosevelt, who acknowledged Herbert Croly as the first great political philosopher of the twentieth century, shows how evil The Promise of American Life was. Another Teddy, the journalist Theodore White, discovered in the 1950s that almost all stories worked their ways back to Washington. Homer, Aristotle, Aquinas, Dante, Tocqueville, and Russell Kirk would find that unfortunate.


  1. _National “purpose” trumped individual rights, locality, religion, and tribal heritage._

    Perhaps historians have already written about it thousands of times, but it would be interesting to see the connection between the Progressive Movement and the earlier doctrine of “Manifest Destiny” by which our country justified its embarking on a westward expansion that had it running roughshod over other countries and people.

    Russia seems to have (and have had) a similar mentality. You now have Nashi types talking in blogs about how Ukraine, the Baltics, etc. really belong to Russia. Russia once had a huge progressive movement of its own, but I’m not sure it has one now.

    –The Spokesrider (aka The Reticulator)

  2. […] Read it. The late Robert Crunden got to the heart of Progressive faith when he discovered that almost all American Progressives were raised in Calvinist homes and, under the influence of some combination of the men and women of Croly’s moment, lost their Christianity and replaced it with some form of what they thought of as “science.” Democracy, activated through science, became what religion once was. Seeing a world that had changed so much since about 1850 — Henry Adams said that a boy born in 1850 was born closer to the year zero than to 1900 — and a generation that had conquered the night (electricity), geography (trains and automobiles and airplanes) and even nature itself, which was for the first time vulnerable to the whims and ambitions of human reason, Progressives had some grounds for their optimism about their belief in “mastery” as opposed to “drift,” as Walter Lippmann put it. […]

  3. Mostly a good piece, and a good subject to bring up. However, Mr. Willson falls for the standard FPR oversimplification, which is to associate Hamilton and Lincoln with the Progressives. Some people do this because they are neo-Confederates and engage in the intellectual laziness of associating all the evils of the modern world with the opponents of the two Jeffersons (Thomas and Davis). More often, in the case of the better-educated FPR contributors, it’s due to the fact that both men spoke of an energetic national government (and specifically a strong executive). However, to class Hamilton and Lincoln’s vision of American society with Croly’s is absurd upon more detailed reflection.

    A government “energetic” in exercising its constitutional powers (or even, in the case of war emergencies, pushing their boundaries) is not the same as a government abandoning the Constitution entirely in an attempt to solve all the problems of society. Likewise, favoring a strong executive is not the same as favoring the executive co-opting legislative and judicial authority. Tellingly, Croly rarely if ever cited Lincoln, and his attempt to make Hamilton into a Progressive hero forced him to portray a man who bore little if any resemblance to the actual gentleman from New York (his portrayal of Jefferson is likewise ludicrous).

    The reason for this was that Hamilton, despite leaning more in a pro-national direction due to his experience with the failures of the Articles of Confederation, was one of the principle proponents of the Constitution, federalism, and the federal separation of powers. And Lincoln was the only major political spokesman in the mid-19th century for the natural law arguably articulated in the Declaration of Independence. Hamilton excoriated the abandonment of traditional authority by the French revolutionaries, and Lincoln criticized what he saw as the subordination of natural law to a totalitarian “localism” by the Southern states.

    Croly hated both the idea of permanent truths and the idea of traditional government, and consequently disliked the ideas of both Lincoln and Hamilton. If one wishes to find the historical influences of Croly, one must look at the leaders of the French and German social revolutions (Robespierre and Bismarck, and ultimately Rousseau), not the favored punching bags of agrarianism.

    I’ve written more on Croly’s sources in this recent article published by The Heritage Foundation:

  4. “Sanctimonious progressive” may be a redundancy. The movement from Calvinist to progressive is a good illustration of Weber’s thesis about Calvinism. The good Calvinists among us will jump on me for saying this and they are justified in doing so, but it seems to be that there are only two possibilities for the Calvinist: either one loses one’s religion, which is bad, or one doesn’t, which is worse.

  5. Good. Thank you, Mr. Brown, for your thoughtful response. I read your “First Principles” article immediately, and it seems to me to say in many more words essentially what I have said. I like it. As far as I can see, we agree completely about Croly. Now, as to your attempts to take Hamilton and Lincoln out of the Progressive tradition and separate them from Croly, more needs to be said.

    Neither Hamilton nor Lincoln were LOCATED. You must know that Hamilton was not an American, wanted to abolish the states, and didn’t really care what kind of national government the country had as long as it was strong. He was a constitutionalist only as it fit his plans. He may have hated the French style of revolution, but he was the consummate revolutionary, in the sense that he did not like what his country was, but only what it could be, and he almost pulled it off.

    Lincoln, for all his rhetorical genius, also had no home, no conviction of where his country really was. He relied on the progressive abstraction “equality” and the Whig abstraction “development.” Croly saw that in him (read carefully pp. 85-99 and 427 of PAL) and understood a kindred spirit. The true centralizers are always the true revolutionaries, whatever their excuses are, or however lofty their goals.

    This spoken, by the way, by a twelve-generation Yankee, reasonably well educated, taught the “Founding” for four decades, all-in-all pretty humble and willing to talk.

    John Medaille, I think I love you!

  6. John Willson, I’ve got tears in my eyes. Your riff on Honest Abe is spot on, dead on, brutally accurate…and why wasn’t I taught that in high school?
    Sure wish I’d had you to teach me American History! Please do something on the “late unpleasantness” and get some stuff started!
    Honest Yankees fight for freedom!

  7. Kent (MC): Whitman probably was a progressive. Can you give me an example of something he wrote that is worth remembering? I’m not being a smart-ass; I’ve read Whitman, as all of us are required to read Whitman, and I still want to know what is worth remembering.

  8. To paraphrase Ed Abbey, …whenever I hear the phrase “National Purpose”, I get a hankerin to reach for my knife. Not , mind you because I believe there is no purpose to the life of the lapsed Republic…. but because I know that these things like “National Security” and “Homeland Security” and “Manifest Destiny/ National Purpose” are slogans invented by a Government interested in one thing and one thing only: Aggrandizement in Service to Those Cashing the Biggest Checks. Generally, the ammunition for the “National Purpose” Huns are the lives of the individual citizen and the quality of their locale….sacrificed on the altar of that dry rot of our Constitution: “a living constitution”.

    The first thing out the door of any Proud Progressive is Order. Disorder naturally results of course, the bigger the disorder the better because then everyone can share in the confusion and its endless parade of offspring: The Non-stop Stadium Wave of Government Bureaucracy. How funny it is that these crusading types who abjure Jefferson for his intemperate respect for the individual then produce centralized and tyrannical governments whose chief role has been the War Effort and a slow erosion of individual identity for all but the State. The individual becomes only as good as his State and inasmuch as the State appears to be an entropic construct, decay is the overall program.

  9. Mr. Willson, thanks for your cordial response. I’m glad you liked my essay. You are certainly right that Hamilton did not have the sense of place typically prized by Porchers, although I hope you did not mean what you appeared to mean when you accused him of not being an American merely because he was not born here.

    Your further explanation of your views on Hamilton and Lincoln helps me better understand why you placed them in the chronology you did, but I’m still inclined to think you oversimplify.

    I’m skeptical of your cynical view of Hamilton, as I believe various biographers from MacDonald to Chernow have well documented the man’s principles and personal honor. Your interpretation of Lincoln is, I think, more easily defended (though still certainly debatable), but I think you still make the mistake I sought to point out originally, when you mention that he “relied on the progressive abstraction ‘equality.’”

    As you know, Progressivism as a political movement did not exist until the late 19th century (100+ years after the term equality came into common usage). Any attempt to link a historical figure to a future movement requires a detailed analysis of the characteristics of that movement. You seem to have boiled down Progressivism to “a love for revolution,” and you indict Hamilton and Lincoln on this count.

    This presents two problems. The first is the fondness both men had for their inherited political traditions. Hamilton loved the English system of government and forcefully argued for the American one to imitate it as closely as possible (drawing the ire of his anti-English colleagues who wanted a more radical break with the past). Lincoln, whether right or not, considered the Southern leaders the revolutionaries for breaking apart the Union (after this point, all his decisions were colored by the exigencies of war, which makes them harder to judge in the terms we’re using). Revolutionaries do not seek to preserve and build on the old order as both Hamilton and Lincoln tried to do – that is the mark of a conservative.

    The second, I think more significant problem is that Progressivism was more than a desire to change the social order. It was a desire to change it to a totalitarian administrative state, in which tasks previously handled by townships and private associations would be handled by federal experts en masse. Neither Hamilton nor Lincoln ever advocated (in practice or in private) anything of the sort (and no, the stock exchange is not tantamount to the welfare state). One can make the case that the men were revolutionaries, though I believe it is difficult. In my opinion, to make the case that they were Progressives (or even pre-Progressives) requires forgetting the nature of Progressivism.

  10. I’ll have to second Mr. Smith on Hamilton. A federalist? He wanted to abolish the states as states, and give the feds veto power over their legislation. Separation of powers? Yes, to the extent that he wanted the other branches to keep hands off the executive power. He was eager to go to war to teach those tax resisters in western Pennsylvania a lesson, and was disappointed when it ended so easily.

    And yes, there are a lot of neo-Confederates who criticize Abraham Lincoln for his power grabs, but as a railroad lawyer he was busy breaking down the transportation barriers that once gave us a sense of place.

  11. “The fondness both men had for their inherited political traditions.” That’s precisely my point. Hamilton’s was, indeed, English (how many bureaucrats did we have at the end of Washington’s first administration, and where were they employed?); Lincoln’s was, indeed, abstract. A good friend of mine once said that the Declaration of Independence was either true for everybody at all times or for nobody at no times; and I agree. Lincoln (read, really read his wartime speeches) made it into an ideology, and that makes him a progressive, if not a Progressive.
    I guess I’m old enough now to say this in public, but I’ve always wondered for what purpose Lincoln was willing to let about 650,000 men die. We think we know about Stalin, Hitler, etc.; but we call Lincoln a “Redeemer President” and other such things. But for what purpose? I know that I would have to have a powerful reason to let ONE person die; but upwards of three quarters of a million, in a population of about 35 million? For “Union?” For “equality?” Really, and I couldn’t be more serious, for what?
    Maybe the political traditions they thought they inherited were really invented. Hamilton, I agree, was probably an honorable man. My good friend Forrest McDonald thinks so. About Lincoln I’m not sure. Croly, I think, was probably an honorable man, as many Progressives were and are. But that isn’t the point about the evil they do.

  12. Lincoln not an honorable man? In what way could he not have been?

    He didn’t start out by saying he was going to kill 350,000 men for the sake of progress. That’s not the way war works. He started out by insisting on keeping the union together, and by not giving in to southern intransigence on slavery. From there the stakes kept getting higher and higher.

  13. I agree, Spokesrider. Mr. Willson, by that logic, we should abhor Robert E. Lee as a war criminal and an evil person–after all, if he had led McDowell’s army in 1861 (or Burnside’s in 1862 or Hooker’s in 1863, etc. etc.), the war in all likelihood would have been over almost immediately. Your argument is an argument for exceptionless pacifism, not an argument uniquely against Lincoln.

    I’ve read Lincoln extensively, and while he certainly treated abstract principles into ideologies, this was a tradition he inherited from Enlightenment thinkers including (and perhaps especially) Jefferson. It doesn’t make him evil.

  14. To the main point, though, you still seem to be hanging onto the idea that progressive=revolutionary. But Progressivism is a very specific, complex ideology that was to be taken as a whole or not at all. The fact that Hamilton liked running things himself doesn’t erase the fact that he was probably the least revolutionary of the Founders in terms of the continuity of political structures he wished to preserve (in contrast, the Progressives wanted to break with continuity almost entirely). The fact that Lincoln was an idealist (not an ideologue) doesn’t erase the fact that the ideals he loved were the ideals of the American Founding (in contrast, the Progressives disdained the past in general and the Founding principles in particular).

    In short: Hamilton and Lincoln would both have disagreed strongly with the Progressives on most of their key tenets. A coincidental similarity of opinion or temperament in one or two areas is not enough to make one a Progressive, with a capital P or otherwise. Otherwise most FPR contributors would be Progressives, for disliking individualism and heartless capitalism. And, as Tocqueville carefully recorded, virtually all Americans to date would be Progressives for believing that they could make their nation progress to something better. If Hamilton and Lincoln are “Progressives” in these terms, then so were most Americans, making them unremarkable and the term meaningless.

    However, I think the term is far from meaningless. It refers to a specific “worldview” if you will, which includes not only a belief about what is wrong with the world but what to do about it. If we use it to refer to every idealist, revolutionary, unelected official and evil person, we render it devoid of political significance. At a time when Progressivism is dominating our national politics as it hasn’t in decades, I think that a very foolish move.

    P.S. Mr. Cheeks: the war is over.

  15. Mr. Brown, sir, with all due respect, among free men of good will, among those that love the olde republic, THAT war will never be over!

  16. Darn it, can’t resist the debate. First of all, if Forrest McDonald is right (and I think he is), Hamilton knew precisely what he wanted to do: He wanted to effect a moral revolution in the new country by changing the economic system from land to money-based, and to impose a national political structure which could enforce a land of opportunity. Although he didn’t have any utopian fantasies (Croly always insisted he didn’t, either) he really didn’t like Americans very much, especially lazy drunken farmers. If his schemes weren’t progressive then I would submit to you that the term is meaningless. Teddy Roosevelt is an almost perfect reincarnation of Hamilton, except that he probably didn’t mess around on his wife.
    Second, what DID Lincoln have in mind? If the Gettysburg Address is a true representation of his vision, then he also was a perfect Hamiltonian. Nothing short of being a moral revolutionary (Jacobin?) could cause one to pursue with such single-mindedness what, in their own ways, Hamilton and Lincoln pursued. Croly’s despair in his later years (over his inabliltiy to control events, I think) is also similar to the mental anguish of both Hamilton and Lincoln. Hubris always produces despair. Progressivism, in whatever form, is hubris.

  17. Wholeheartedly agreed on the last point. “Humane Pursuits” has dealt a lot lately with that same subject, for obvious reasons:

    Hawthorne, Hubris and Obamacare:

    The Social Gospel and Eschatological Politics

    Thanks for the discussion, and thanks again for writing the excellent article.

    P.S. I don’t like lazy drunken farmers either….

  18. So what is it that we don’t like about lazy, drunken farmers? That kind of talk sounds suspiciously like Alexander Hamilton’s attempt to smear the tax resisters at the time of the so-called Whiskey Rebellion. No doubt there were a few lazy, drunken farmers among them (not that there is anything wrong with that) but if you only take Hamilton’s word for it, you get a very different picture of who those people were and what their society was like than what you get from more objective sources. Even the term “Whiskey Rebellion” was a propaganda victory for the Hamilton side.

    BTW, the attempts to mischaracterize the tax resisters during the Washington administration are not unlike some of the attempts by those in a more recent administration to mischaracterize the protesters who’ve been showing up at town hall meetings.

    BTW(2), since we’re talking about Hamilton and Lincoln, I should mention that one of the strong supporters of the Lincoln candidacy from my part of Michigan was a Hezekiah Wells, the man who also gave his name to Wells Hall on the Michigan State University campus. (He also saved MSU from becoming a mere sub-campus of the University of Michigan.) Anyway, you have a strong supporter of Lincoln and Union whose granddaddy ran a whiskey still in western Pennsylvania at the time of the Whiskey Rebellion. It would make a fascinating story if it turned out that the grandfather was also one of the rebels back during the 1790s, but unfortunately, I have not been able to determine that he was one of those. Probably he wasn’t.

  19. Mr. Willson, my take on Hamilton is similar to yours. But your ideas about Lincoln still mystify me. You ask, “what DID Lincoln have in mind?”

    1. Usually in wartime, people have different ideas at the end of what it was about than they did at the beginning. They invent their reasons as they go along, and those reasons tend to morph as the war goes on.

    2. I imagine the Gettysburg Address represents Lincoln’s vision as it had developed by July 1863, but I’m afraid I don’t see the Hamiltonian part of it. Government of the people, by the people, etc. seems like an exercise in humility and a rejection of the Hamiltonian attitude.

  20. “I am Walt Whitman, liberal and lusty as Nature”

    an idea that lead the Beat generation, yet it does not properly characterize the man. Whitman was a true conservative American, only progressive as he is arguably the first American Poet, and one of the most important thinkers of the 19th century. He was in no way a progressive or Progressive, he believed and lived by “manifest destiny”.

    He served as a volunteer nurse in Lincoln’s army, and though he knew that slavery was an evil to be destroyed he was uncertain that it should be destroyed at any cost. I think that to most liberals, “by any means possible” rings true in their hearts. And hence, actions speak volumes of this country being build by progressives but not by Progressives, the latter was one of the founding father’s chief fears and our founding documents attempt to protect us from Ballocian Progressives (progress of individualism > capitalism > socialism).

    Lincoln was versed with the founder’s desire to have nobel men occupy the Executive and tread carefully because it held so much potential for Tyranny. Yet, habeus corpus aside, Lincoln effected very little change that was not already in the constitution, nor do I think was he Progressive with his notions that: “a house divided against itself cannot stand”. If doing anything to protect the integrity of the nation as a unified body and to cull the pernicious elements of slavery — in America then and now Labor is too much owned by Property — then he was standing square with the best of the founding fathers who met in Philadelphia to abolish the fast and loose Articles of Confederation. Indeed, I can’t help but think that by your rational anything short of true Democracy (too close to anarchy for the founding father’s tastes) is Progressive.

    What if a contingency of Mondragon decided to actively pursue strong arm tactics to usurp the coop and then “rule” it as an Oligarchical Capitalist endeavor? What if another faction felt too much had come as blessing by the coop, to what end are they justified in protecting their ideals, their families, the well being of future generations?

  21. Appealing to the supposed democratic basis of a government is insufficient to show that one is truly a democrat rather than someone who believes in a centralized authority that knows better.

  22. Pb: Lincoln wasn’t exactly an innovator when he talked that way. Four-score years earlier a founding document said, “We the people of the United States…do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Not we the states, but we the people.

    Mind you, I’m a person who is very jealous for the role of state authority in our federated system. But Lincoln wasn’t ploughing any new rhetorical ground with that speech.

    He did other things during the war that lessened the role of the states: He instituted a personal income tax, standardized the railroad gage, and pretty much put an end to the state militia method of organizing our armed forces. But anyone who wanted to win a war badly enough would have done those things. That sort of centralization and homogenization tends to come with war and is a good reason to avoid war as much as possible. But I don’t think Lincoln went to war with the express purpose of obliterating the states.

  23. Mr. Spokesrider,

    The original document listed the states, but, since the authors of the second constitution of the US could not be sure who would approve it, they substituted the generic ‘we the people of the united states’. It does your argument no good to be totally ignorant of the history of the odd locutions of the preamble, but it does serve to support the notion that the past is fodder for a good legendary retelling. I look forward to your arguments that the second constitution also abolished slavery, established ‘one person, one vote,’ and legalized abortion.

  24. Rhetorical, Mr. halifax, rhetorical. The Gettysburg Address is not a legal document. The preamble to the Constitution does not establish any legal structures, unless you’re one of those who argues that the words “general welfare” override all of the specific restrictions stated throughout those parts of the document in which legal structures ARE established.

    I did not say anything about the history of the phrase, we the people, but about the fact that it was deemed acceptable enough to be put there, four-score years before Lincoln said “we the people”. It’s not as though it’s a completely random phrase. I doubt that the assembled conventioneers would have thought “We the weary visitors in Philadelphia” or “We the oligarchs” would serve in the place of specific information about which states would sign.

  25. Happy day! Dr. Willson is on FPR! I remember my classes with you very fondly, and I look forward to reading more.

  26. Brian Brown, awesome job, you’re my discovery of the month…noble and informed responses to the edgier, nuttier, and yet-made-all-too-plausible-sounding, bits of Mr. Wilson, and also providing a very necessary sharpening of why the Progs were distinct. I hate cheap pissing on Hamilton, even if I admit that when Mr. Wilson says his fear is that F. McDonald had his program all too correctly sussed, he is making an important point. A deep debate there, and I’d expect most FPRers to be against Hamilton in it…fair enough but be fair to Hamilton. Worse is this CRAP about Lincoln…geez…the point about there being a legitimate kinship b/t him and Croly, as opposed to an illegitimate one of Croly’s dreams, could be made, I’m guessing(w/o saying I’d agree with it), without saying the seriously heinous things Wilson does about Lincoln…Stalin? Hitler? these are names to be compared with his?

    Wilson’s essay is good, however, and makes points I haven’t noticed before. Reading Croly can be very interesting…once you get past his penchant for perpetually punting off into vagueness. Tons of quotes that remind one of the One, but more audacious. I prefer Progressive Democracy, however, to Promise of American Life…a very AMERICAN take on those Bismarckian ideas, and take-off into what Deneen calls Democratic Faith. There is also a new Progressive Reader ed. by Pestritto and Atto that has good chunks of Croly, paired with particularly judicious selections from TR and WW.

  27. Yeah, Mr. Scott (by the way, did I spell your name right?),

    I certainly meant to be “edgy.” I’ve been teaching Croly for so long that I’m a bit impatient with his nonsense. But please don’t link me with anybody who compares Lincoln with those bullyboys who made progressivism into brownshirts and commies. I said no such thing, and please don’t accuse me of something that was not even a tangential part of my original essay. It was Croly’s friend Walter Lippmann who pointed out in 1938 that the “Dominant dogma of the age” linked them all together. These posts tend to get off message.

    Every time anybody mentions Lincoln we get off message, and in retrospect I’m sorry I even included his name. But Croly DID love Lincoln, and he DID love Hamilton, and anybody who wants to defend either of them and still recognizes what Croly did to the republic has the burden of proof on himself; it’s not on me.

    Thanks for saying that I made a good point or two. When I originally started to write about Croly’s evil book I thought I would write 10,000 words or so and put it in a “scholarly” journal. I found that I couldn’t do it. Too much effort for too little reward. If I ever write about the Progressives again it will be about their complete lack of literary sensibility. People who can’t write good poetry or novels shouldn’t command much of our time.

  28. “I guess I’m old enough now to say this in public, but I’ve always wondered for what purpose Lincoln was willing to let about 650,000 men die…. For “Union?” For “equality?” Really, and I couldn’t be more serious, for what?”

    A good question, and I bow to Dr. Willson’s great education and erudition, but I think that both Lincoln defenders and opponents tend to conflate two separate questions: A) Were Lincoln’s actions wrong? and B) Were Lincoln’s actions uniquely and unprecedentedly wrong in human history? Opponents who claim to have proved A think this proves B, and defenders who claim to have disproved B think this disproves A, but neither logical leap is necessarily true. In my opinion, proving A is much easier than proving B.

    My answer to the question is that with some exceptions (the dissolution of Sweden-Norway in 1905, the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. in 1991, and the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993) leaders of governments have an instinctive desire to keep their countries together. I don’t agree with the actions of George III and Lord North, for example, but I understand their desire to keep their regime together. I don’t think Lincoln wanted 600,000 to die, but he wanted to keep his country together, and once he started it was hard to stop. This may not have been right, but it was hardly unusual in world history.

  29. Interesting note for the discussion (first seen on Wikipedia, but confirmed from more reliable sources): Croly’s father backed McClellan in 1864 and Seymour in 1868, and in the former campaign he was the co-author of the infamous hoax pamphlet in which the word “miscegenation” was coined.

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