Recently, several articles in the general press have referred to Walter Lippmann as the founding editor of The New Republic which began publishing in 1914. While we have nothing against Lippmann’s contribution to the esteemed periodical, the founding editor was actually a former staff member of Architectural Record, Herbert Croly (1869-1930). Croly had been born into journalism, so to speak, as his biographer, David W. Levy, points out in Herbert Croly of the New Republic (1985.) Herbert Croly’s father, David Croly, was a city editor of New York World and founding editor of Real Estate Record and Builder’s Guide (RERBG) and his mother, Jane Croly, was a journalist and editor of Demorest’s Illustrated Monthly. In 1886, the younger Croly entered Harvard College where he studied English and philosophy, but in 1888, with his father ill, he took leave from school to work at RERBG. [see links to blogs, Architectural Record History I and II, below].
When the publisher of Real Estate Record and Builder’s Guide, Clinton Sweet started up Architectural Record in 1891 as a quarterly, Herbert Croly also began to work for it as well, under founding editor Harry Desmond. Croly returned to Harvard, a year later, but re-joined Record in 1900 as an editor, having finally left Harvard without a degree. Record benefitted from the younger Croly’s reappearance: the magazine began coming out on a monthly basis in 1902, and Herbert Croly wrote numerous articles, including ones under the pseudonyms of A.C.David and William Herbert.
Around 1905, Croly began working on a book, The Promise of American Life, devoted to a reform-oriented, progressive political philosophy, which was published in 1909. Although he continued to work part-time at Record, his book got the attention of a larger audience of public intellectuals with its cogent argument for a more centrally organized government of educated leaders advancing the general good. Later, when Croly died at 61, the afore-mentioned Walter Lippmann wrote Croly had been “The first important political philosopher that appeared in America in the 20th Century.” After Promise, Croly published two more books on politics, including Progressive Democracy (1914). By this time Willard Straight, a wealthy investor who, incidentally, had studied architecture at Cornell University, sought out Croly to edit a magazine he was starting up, The New Republic. Croly, as David Levy wrote, showed an “obvious sympathy with the disadvantaged and its call for leadership by a new and educated elite”—traits that attracted Straight and his wife Dorothy Whitney Straight.
In putting together his staff at The New Republic, originally based in New York City, Croly enlisted a board of editors that included Walter Lippmann, Walter Weyl, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Philip Littell, among others. By the 1920s, Croly brought in Lewis Mumford to write on art, architecture, and culture for the young journal. Even while editing The New Republic, Croly wrote for Record until 1928. Although his architectural articles did not startle readers with their trenchant criticism, he placed the discussion of the work of architecture within a social, cultural, and economic milieu. His writing for Record was measured in tone and emphasized “propriety” as an architectural value. Generalizing the term from its architectural usage, one could see why Croly’s definition of propriety implied a civility in manners, not only for urban dwellers, or the well-bred, well-educated men he believed should be running the country, but for buildings and cities as well. The term, like his use of “integrity “ or “fundamental correctness,” tied architectural principles to political and behavioral orientations.
It may be surprising (or perplexing) to some that both Croly, and Straight, one, the founding editor, the other, the founding publisher of one of the most influential cultural and political journals in the U.S. should come from architectural backgrounds. Yet as Croly pointed out in Promise, the architect provided the model for his idea of a political leader who was independent and authoritative, and could build support for his ideas.