Lippmann Helps to Establish Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Designed to stimulate liberal Progressive reform, The New Republic became an important vehicle for young Walter Lippmann’s evolving public philosophies.

Summary of Event

When it first appeared on November 7, 1914, The New Republic loosed a stream of liberal social, political, and cultural analysis and criticism that continued into the twenty-first century. The inspiriting force behind inception of the journal, which was swiftly to become the flagship of American moderate liberal commentary, was the seemingly unlikely pair of Willard and Dorothy Straight. Each was wealthy and each was identified socially with the old-style capitalist establishment that their journal would seek to restructure. Willard Straight’s wealth and notoriety came from his association with the House of Morgan, then the premier banking firm in the United States, as well as from his subsequent diplomatic service in China. Despite their wealth, the Straights’ political dispositions were generously liberal. Accordingly, from its conception, The New Republic was bounteously subsidized by the Straights. New Republic, The (magazine) Magazines;The New Republic[New Republic] [kw]Lippmann Helps to Establish The New Republic (Nov. 7, 1914) [kw]New Republic, Lippmann Helps to Establish The (Nov. 7, 1914) New Republic, The (magazine) Magazines;The New Republic[New Republic] [g]United States;Nov. 7, 1914: Lippmann Helps to Establish The New Republic[03660] [c]Publishing and journalism;Nov. 7, 1914: Lippmann Helps to Establish The New Republic[03660] Lippmann, Walter Straight, Willard Croly, Herbert Weyl, Walter

Walter Lippmann.

(Library of Congress)

New York-born, a Harvard University graduate, and by 1909 renowned for his polemical The Promise of American Life, influential Progressive author Herbert Croly provided the executive and intellectual linkage between the Straights and The New Republic’s editorial and writing staff. Croly immediately enlisted the writing and editorial abilities of a fellow Harvard graduate and New Yorker, Walter Lippmann. Young, brilliant, idealistic yet practical, already widely traveled and well connected, Lippmann was steeped in the political, cultural, and intellectual currents of his age: Croly’s “New Nationalism” (which became the battle cry of Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressivism), William James’s pragmatic psychology, John Dewey’s programs for social and educational reform, Henri Bergson’s intuitive philosophy, Friedrich Nietzsche’s affirmation of the will, H. G. Wells’s scientific utopianism, and the novel and exciting theories of Sigmund Freud. In sum, Lippmann had creatively exploited every advantage afforded him by his birth and education among the elite of New York’s cosmopolitan Jewish community.

When he agreed to join Croly on The New Republic, Lippmann already enjoyed the esteem won him in intellectual circles by his A Preface to Politics (1913), Preface to Politics, A (Lippmann) and he further augmented that reputation with Drift and Mastery: An Attempt to Diagnose the Current Unrest Drift and Mastery (Lippmann) in 1914. Both works reflected Lippmann’s admiration for Theodore Roosevelt’s brand of political Progressivism and his perception of Roosevelt himself as a model statesman.

Like Roosevelt, Lippmann favored strong political leadership, the fostering of a sense of civic responsibility, sympathetic address to the plight of labor and of the poor, and extensive federal regulation of the country’s great corporate enterprises. Although Lippmann’s reformism was heady stuff, he also shared with Croly and many other Progressives a more conservative interest in deflecting what were depicted as the nation’s revolutionary currents. Avowedly contemptuous of Victorian traditions, disdainful of popular sentimentality about the political wisdom of majorities, dubious about the efficacy of electoral reforms, skeptical of the touted glories of free competition on one hand and of socialist orthodoxies on the other, the acute and eclectic Lippmann championed reform and governance by scientifically trained experts who could seize control of events and then set and guide the public agendas at home and abroad.

Lippmann’s informed enthusiasms were held in common not only with Croly but also with a host of prominent Americans and Europeans who reveled in the prospect of peacefully revolutionizing society. Lippmann was to be one of The New Republic’s conduits to these political reformers, artists, poets, professionals, and assorted intellectuals. Always ambitious, he was assiduous in effecting personal exchanges with prominent people whose views mattered. Among those he found to be weighty presences in the United States were muckraking reformers such as Lincoln Steffens and Walter Weyl; politicos such as Cleveland’s Tom Johnson and the new and relatively unknown president, Woodrow Wilson; jurists such as Learned Hand, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and Louis D. Brandeis; social workers, principal among them Jane Addams; and presidential advisers such as Colonel Edward House and ascendant cabinet officers such as Newton Baker.

Abroad, Lippmann numbered many productive contacts among Great Britain’s fractious socialists such as Graham Wallas, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, and John Hobson, in company with additional hosts of the most vital personalities among Great Britain’s artistic, literary, social, and intellectual elites. Nearly a fourth of The New Republic’s early articles, commentaries, and reviews were to spring from this remarkable reservoir of British talent.

For The New Republic’s staff, Lippmann in addition corralled a number of his former Harvard friends. Hiram Moderwell provided contributions on music, Lee Simonson contributed on the fine arts, and Kenneth Macgowan furnished commentaries on the expansive new art form of film. Alfred Kuttner was invited to write on the latest revelations afforded by psychoanalysis, and leftist John Reed, soon to be made famous by his observations on the Russian Revolution, explored the plight of the poor.

The quality of its overwhelmingly liberal staff and of its domestic and foreign essayists, commentators, and reviewers made The New Republic an important publication. As Ronald Steel, Lippmann’s ablest biographer, has noted, the journal was first among the forums “for the most serious and original minds writing in English.”

Significance

The appearance of The New Republic and the burgeoning careers of Lippmann, Croly, and other staffers were synonymous with an era marked by exuberant cries for cultural and political change. Such reformist urges manifested themselves in Europe during the 1880’s and 1890’s—a decade before they became apparent in the United States—and, although not destroyed, were thrown into disarray by the cataclysmic events of World War I. American progressive reform was later to develop and was more parochial than its European counterparts; thus, superficially, it appeared more timid. However, the movement was in full flood in 1914 as The New Republic went to press. Progressive movement

The provocative journal was almost instantly successful. Anticipating fewer than a thousand subscribers, the eager staff watched circulation rise to twenty-five hundred within a few months and to more than forty thousand by the end of World War I—by which time American progressivism also was entering into a conservative eclipse. Although Lippmann had hoped that The New Republic would stimulate a series of minor insurrections, and although the journal was to the left of the American liberal consensus, its general tone was restrained and responsible, whether its subjects of discussion were the arts or politics.

Explanations for The New Republic’s successful reception lay both in the spirit of the times and, most assuredly, in the quality of the magazine’s contributors. Unquestionably, the timing of the journal’s introduction was propitious. Late nineteenth century architectural, artistic, musical, and political forms were being altered in response to new visions and styles. In architecture, for example, Barcelona’s Antonio Gaudí had designed seemingly bizarre structures that laid the basis of Art Nouveau; in Germany, the seeds of Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus school had been sown in the first decade of the twentieth century. Radical departures in the fine arts were evidenced by Wassily Kandinsky’s abstractions, Georges Braque’s and Pablo Picasso’s cubism, and the avant-garde contributions of Marcel Duchamp and others to New York’s 1913 Armory Show, an exhibit that regaled Americans with striking new emotional and visual perceptions.

In similar fashion, the new music of Gustav Mahler, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Aleksandr Scriabin, Arnold Schoenberg, and Edward Elgar, among others, was paving the way for fresh tonal and compositional creativity. The growing motion-picture industry had also begun transforming recreational patterns and opening vast prospects for artistic communication. In nearly every sphere touching people’s daily lives—from cheaper newspapers to novel understandings of the composition or character of humankind, matter, and the universe—fresh precepts, approaches, and techniques were demanding the attention of thoughtful publics.

A principal function of The New Republic was to initiate thinking Americans into considering the latent possibilities opened by these and analogous developments. Attainment of that goal rested on the shoulders of a staff and contributors whose collective quality and brilliance were unprecedented in American journalism. In addition to the contributions of Lippmann, Croly, Weyl, and other insiders, essays and comments featured during the journal’s first year of publication were signed by some of the finest intellects in the Anglo-American world. Historian Charles Beard addressed the task of placing history at the service of society. James Harvey Robinson reviewed major Western intellectual currents. Social philosopher and educator John Dewey dealt with the pragmatic breaking of traditional educational molds. In his ruminations, Dewey was joined by Harvard’s great philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist George Santayana. Van Wyck Brooks, Ralph Barton Perry, and Randolph Bourne variously dealt with literary matters, and their work sometimes appeared together with that of George Bernard Shaw and Rebecca West.

Politics, inclusive of foreign affairs, solicited the observations of a galaxy of intellectuals and insightful polemicists: Great Britain’s rising leftist economist Harold Laski; the former British ambassador to the United States, and distinguished author of The American Commonwealth (1888), James Bryce; and England’s leading socialists, such as Norman Angell, Graham Wallas, and H. G. Wells. Rising stars of poetry and literature were also given exciting exposure: Amy Lowell, Robert Frost, Alan Seeger, Edwin Arlington Robinson, and Conrad Aiken, along with Theodore Dreiser.

While The New Republic brought American intellectuals into close contact with one another as well as with their foreign counterparts, its contributors—Lippmann notably—had some immediate effect on the nation’s politicians and political discourse. Although Lippmann was enamored of Theodore Roosevelt, neither he nor Croly avoided criticism of the former president. In fact, Roosevelt, who had been one of the journal’s staunch fans, acerbically broke with its editors when they rebuked him for overreacting to Wilson’s intervention in Mexico. Similarly, although the editors had generally supported Wilson, they likewise challenged his “New Freedom,” believing that it represented a throwback to the nineteenth century; their stance was much the same in regard to Wilson’s Mexican adventure as well as to the president’s version of World War I neutrality.

Watched closely by other opinion makers throughout the United States and abroad, The New Republic quickly developed a formidable stature and voice. After seven years, Lippmann, well-established as a major publicist, left the journal to pursue his own evolving career of public commentary.

The New Republic continued to publish into the twenty-first century. Although it remained a voice for the American left, its editorial focus gradually moved somewhat to the center, so that it commanded a moderate left-of-center position in American political life, stating policy preferences that were more business-friendly than in the past and more hawkish in the arena of foreign policy. New Republic, The (magazine) Magazines;The New Republic[New Republic]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Blum, D. Steven. Walter Lippmann: Cosmopolitanism in the Century of Total War. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984. Concentrates on synthesizing Lippmann’s theoretical writings, which were aimed at devising a cosmopolitan public philosophy appropriate to twentieth century problems. Very interesting and informative; scholarly, yet eminently readable. Includes notes and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lippman, Walter. Public Philosopher: Selected Letters of Walter Lippmann. Edited by John Morton Blum. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1985. Arranged chronologically by a distinguished historian, these letters—in company with the editor’s informative introduction, identifications, and annotations—provide fascinating insights into Lippmann’s intellectual evolution. Lippmann’s own writings are as good as anyone’s writings about him. Includes chronology and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rauchway, Eric. “A Gentlemen’s Club in a Woman’s Sphere: How Dorothy Whitney Straight Created The New Republic.” Journal of Women’s History 11, no. 2 (1999): 60-85. Examines the role that Dorothy Straight played in the founding and running of The New Republic, making use of new research findings.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Steel, Ronald. Walter Lippmann and the American Century. 1981. Reprint. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1999. Deservedly the standard biography of Lippmann. Interesting, scholarly, and intelligently critical, in addition to being a pleasant read. Affords a fine three-dimensional picture of Lippmann’s personality and career. Includes photos and illustrations, a brief chronology, extensive notes, a short bibliographical essay, and a detailed index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wellborn, Charles. Twentieth Century Pilgrimage: Walter Lippmann and the Public Philosophy. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969. An insightful effort to define Lippmann’s view of “political realities” as consisting of tensions between the human condition and what he understood as a world of underlying essences. Lippmann’s impressive publications allow such analysis. Footnotes throughout; select bibliography and a detailed index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wright, Benjamin Fletcher. Five Public Philosophies of Walter Lippmann. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973. Intelligent, scholarly, and readable study proceeds on the assumption that Lippmann’s estimates of the world and its changing realities inevitably caused adjustments in his public philosophy. Provides details on the origins and aims of The New Republic. Includes footnotes, a select bibliography, and an extensive index.

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