PERSPECTIVEnThe Broken Promise of American LifenT he better future which Americans propose to build isnnothing if not an idea which must in certain essentialnrespects emancipate them from their past. American historyncontains much matter for pride and congratulation, andnmuch matter for regret and humiliation. On the whole, it isna past of which the loyal American has no reason to feelnashamed, chiefly because it has throughout been madenbetter than it was by the vision of a better future; and thenAmerican of today and tomorrow must remain true to thatntraditional vision. He must be prepared to sacrifice to thatntraditional vision even the traditional American ways ofnrealizing it.nAlready in 1909 the future founding editor of the NewnRepublic, Herbert Croly, was telling Americans that tonrealize The Promise of American Life (the title of his book)nthey were going to have to sacrifice all that was distinctive inntheir way of life. What Croly actually knew of American life,nit is hard to tell. His parents — an Irish immigrant father andnan English feminist mother — were both journalists whonspent their life in New York, which even then was a city thatnhad lost its American accent.nCroly spends much of his book exploring Americannhistory to justify his “preferences … on the side of Hamilton”nagainst Jefferson. On his interpretation, the UnitednStates was an organism gradually realizing its destiny byncentralizing its political, social, and economic structures.n14/CHRONICLESnby Thomas Flemingnnn”To be sure,” he concedes, “any increase in centralizednpower and responsibility … is injurious to certain aspectsnof traditional American democracy. But the fault in that casenlies with the democratic tradition; and the erroneous andnmisleading tradition must yield before the march of anconstructive nahonal democracy.” He denigrates the viewsnheld by the defenders of “an individualist and provincialndemocracy” as “the inevitable attitude of the traditionalnBourbon.”nIn foreign policy Croly pretended to praise the traditionalnAmerican policy of isolationism. This policy could not,nhowever, “persist in its present form,” because Americaneventually had to take its place with Europe, China, andnJapan “in a world system,” and in the years to come no onenbeat the war drums more sanctimoniously than the editor ofnthe New Republic and his loyal employee Walter Lippmann,nalthough when war actually came Lippmann used allnhis influence to keep himself out of the conflict. For Crolynand his editors, “the promise of American life” could onlynbe fulfilled by tearing down the old America, based onnindividual liberty, free markets, local government, provincialnculture, and isolationism, and replacing it with a new modelndemocracy based on a collective sense of social responsibility,neconomic planning, centralized power, nahonalizednculture, and aggressive internationalism.nThe political conflict between New Republic liberalismn