Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ever heard of this guy? (4)

Herbert Croly lived from 1869 to 1930. After editing the "Architectural Journal," he became the author of "The Promise of American Life" (1909). He founded the "New Republic." His metaphor of the foot race - all people need not only to toe the starting line, but need to do so with equal preparation - explains his idea that the government must ensure liberty for all by making sure that some kind of economic equality - "the substantial satisfaction of economic needs" - must exist. Not some kind of "socialistic" perfect equality, but something as close to it as we can reasonably get. And government - through active state liberalism - had to do it.

He understood that back in Jefferson's time, the president's idea of minimal governmental involvement made sense. Space - the frontier - was out there to give opportunity to all who wanted it. But now, in the 20th Century, the frontier was gone. And governmental protection of liberty and equality had become imperative in order to stave off a new rebellion by the country's have-nots against the haves. Government must evolve to meet the new reality, or eventually fall.

After all, sovereignty of kings and such has been rejected. It now lies in the people. All of them. And this means that the "liberty" of some must take second place to the equality of all - at least a kind of fair economic equality that is needed for the foot race to be more than an elitist joke.

This requires government - Big Government - and the resulting welfare state. Croly's thought influenced Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and most importantly, FDR and his New Deal. Many folks, on the right but also on the left, think his arguments are shaky. But, in influencing FDR's response to the Great Depression, Croly answered non-liberal ideas - socialism, communism, rising fascism - with a strong proposal for the defense of the liberal ideas about individual liberty and equality upon which our country was founded.

In a way, especially if you are old enough, you might want to thank Croly's ideas for your Social Security checks and your Medicare coverage. If you disagree with his ideas, do you want to give those benefits up?

1 comment:

  1. You need to quit telling me about all these interesting people, I now *NEED* to read about. I may never have time to read fiction again! ;)