Herbert Croly’s One Little Book – Part 3

By June 3rd, 2014

Herbert Croly’s One Little Book – The Promise of American Life – A Blog Essay by Mack W. Borgen – Part 3; Fact of the Day – Status of Teacher Tenure Laws and Policies Amongst the States

Blog No. 42


Part 3 of Blog Essay

June 3, 2014

by Mack W. Borgen

The Relevance of Reason– The Hard Facts and Real Data About the State of Current America

Book One – Business and Politics(July, 2013) (408 pp)

Awarded First Runner-Up, Best Business Book of the Year 2014 Los Angeles Book Festival

Selected As Finalist (Political Science Category) – ForeWord Review’s 2013 National Book Contest

Book Two – Society and Culture(October, 2013) (438 pp)

Selected As Finalist (Popular Culture Category) – ForeWord Review’s 2013 National Book Contest

NEW: Awarded Top 10% Finalist, Eric Hoffer 2014 Book Award 

Available at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, SummerlandPublishing.com and some local bookstores. Bookstores and academic and public libraries can obtain copies through Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Quality Books, or Follett


Part 3.

 (Author’s Note: Because of the length of this essay about Herbery Croly’s One Little Book (The Promise of American Life), this essay has been presented in three sequential Blog postings :Blog 40 (Part 1 – Posted May 6, 2014); Blog 41 (Part 2 – Posted May 17, 2014), and now the final part — Blog 42 (Part 3 – June 3, 2014). Part of this essay is based upon a Personal Newsletter which I wrote about a number of years ago.The essay has been substantially modified and updated, but with some regret, Croly’s thoughts remain stubbornly relevant to the nature, the style, and in many respects even the subjects of our current American conversation.


 The Concept of a National Community

          As we now 314,000,000 Americans keep bumping into one another, it’s time to understand and accept that “the sanguine notion that if we pursue our own self-interest, we will, perforce, serve the general interest” is — and this is my word, certainly not Ayn Rand’s or Herbert Croly’s — baloney. To the contrary, all ideas and actions eventually have to be judged by their consequences. In too many situations and affecting too many Americans, reliance upon some variant of blind and optimistic fatalism will not work.

          One of the touching aspects of Croly was his displayed love of this country, his notion that citizens must be loyal to something greater than themselves, and his insistence upon a sense of loyalty to the nation itself. Obviously, this type of appeal was common and this type of logic was easy during the tragic, but unifying, years during World War II. However, the advisability (and even the achievability) of such national unity were challenged decades ago by the divisiveness of Vietnam and Watergate, by the pain of the assassinations of John and Bobby and Martin, by the painful revelations of civil and other rights movements, by the rise of political acrimony and partisanship, by the unduly simplistic suggestion that the government is the problem not the solution (suggest this to the millions of GI Bill Americans and their families whose lives were transformed by that act of federal legislation), and by the relentless and divisive stream of culture wars – seemingly coming one after another. More recently, America has had to absorb the self-prophecies resulting from our own lack of civility towards one another, from the dissonant arguments of our own political theatre, from the fears and sadnesses which arrived on 9/11, from the decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and from the daily effrontery of television which has contributed to obscuring the need for national loyalty.

          Increasingly, the already weak homogeneity of the American people has given way. In its place  the primary loyalties of many Americans have been delivered unto naively isolated “sub-groups”  — political parties, religious groups, Tea Parties and gun lobbies, progressive organizations and gun-control lobbies, and on and on. Others have taken a different, but equally dangerously consequential course. Broken, but not bad, many Americans have withdrawn in exhaustion, disgust or resignation. Possibly worst of all, many of the uber-rich have taken a different course — they live behind their tightly gated communities and view the world from a uniquely Darwinian, winner-keep-all perspective.

           Old Herbert Croly would insist that the common nexus of America must be more than the shared grief which followed 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombings, more than the shared sorrows of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, more than the shouts and applauds of the Superbowls and the Oscars, more than the common watching of American Idol and Duck Dynasty, and more than this country’s celebrity-tracking of Taylor Swift’s latest tour and Kim Kardashian latest whatever. I am from some pretty remote country up in Montana, and sometimes I, too, find it a shame that America’s needed social democracy and Croly’s “Promise of Americans Life” cannot be achieved “by wholly negative means” — that is, by leaving the individual alone. Maybe I wish it could, but it can’t.

           There are great dangers for us in allowing anyone or any institution the use of unscrupulous power or in bending to the will or the money of the fanatically committed. Croly, better than anyone I have ever read, laid the intellectual and critical basis for exposing the absurdity of leaving the definition and the caring of our national purpose to others.

           In closing, it has got nothing to do with “inside” or “outside” DC’s beltway. National issues should not be evaluated by which party or person wins or loses. Elections matter, but my, and I believe Croly’s, point is simply that despite our frustrations, we must continue to care. Despite the smallness of our voice, we must continue to speak. Despite the reach of our influence, we must continue to both participate and lead. It is time we again vote the idea (and not the person). It is time we again vote the idea (and not the party). It is time that we again vote for what is best for the country (and not only and always that which is in our own self-interest).

           My apologies to Darwin and to all the convenient followers of social and economic Darwinism, but unless you’re willing to retire to central Nevada or withdraw behind a thick door with deadbolt locks, your neighbor’s welfare remains your own as well. It is just not that far from the South Side of Chicago to the suburbs of Atlanta; from the streets of Compton to the lawns of Beverly Hills; from the run-down Projects in the Bronx to the locked-up estates in the Hamptons. I know it doesn’t feel like were of one community. But we are. Just ask Croly. He wrote all about it in his One Little Book. 

 Copyright © M. Borgen, 2014. All Rights Reserved.


Fact of the Day

Education – Status of Teacher Tenure Laws and Policies Amongst the States

 Many proponents of education reform believe that revoking, eliminating or at least significantly limiting the tenure of teachers in our public schools is necessary for the improvement of our public schools. However, tenure and seniority are not federal preogatives, and the use of tenure and seniority varies considerably between the states. Similarly, the interplay between performance and tenure and the use of tenure and seniority in making layoff decisions varies greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Even amongst those states which still grant tenure rights, the weight given to teacher performance as a pre-condition to the granting of tenure (as opposed to, for example, the nearly automatic vesting of tenure after a designated number of years) varies considerably. The following is a summary chart of the patchwork status of such state laws as of May, 2014.

                            Description of Varying State Laws                                        Number                Percentage

                                                                                                                               Of States                 of States

Absolute Prohibition of Use of Tenure or Seniority                                               10                            20% 


Teachers’ performance ratings is component of granting teacher tenure                     15                          32%

Teacher performance primary consideration (above tenure                                    

                                 and seniority) in making pay-off decisions                                 11                         22% 

Teachers returned to probationary status in event of unsatisfactory performance        7                          14%

Tenure repealed, being phased out or limitation of due process provisions                   4                           8%


ecs.org, May 30, 2014 (Education Commission of the States). For a relatively comprehensive state-by-state summary of such state tenure laws, see ecs.org.

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