Guest Essayist: Professor Joerg Knipprath, Professor of Law at Southwestern Law School

Herbert Croly was perhaps the most important intellectual of Progressivism, which seems odd, given the tortuous language and convoluted emotive passages that characterize his work. Progressive Democracy was not Croly’s most significant book. That was his earlier work, The Promise of American Life, a book that supposedly so influenced Theodore Roosevelt it is said to have provided the catalyst for Roosevelt’s return to politics as a third-party “Bull Moose” presidential candidate in the 1912 election.

Progressive Democracy is of the same style and substance as Croly’s other writings. It rests on the usual Progressive premises, such as the omnipotent, all-caring, and morally perfect Hegelian God-state that is the inevitable evolutionary end of Progressive politics. It reflects the notion—so common in Progressive and other leftist theory—of stages of human social and political development that have been left behind and whose outdated institutions are an impediment to ultimate progress into the promised land. Hence, Croly’s insistence that the Constitution’s structure of representative government and separation and division of powers needed to be, and would be, changed. Read more

In this book, Croly, a leading Progressive theorist and founder of The New Republic magazine, criticizes the Founders’ fear of tyranny of the majority and rejects their idea that government exists to protect individual rights.


Chapter XII: The Advent of Direct Government

…If economic, social, political and technical conditions had remained very much as they were at the end of the eighteenth century, the purely democratic political aspirations might never have obtained the chance of expression. Some form of essentially representative government was at that time apparently the only dependable kind of liberal political organization. It was imposed by the physical and technical conditions under which government had to be conducted. Direct government did not seem to be possible outside of city or tribal states, whose population and area was sufficiently small to permit the actual assemblage of the body politic at some particular place, either at regular intervals or in case of an emergency. Read more