A Reviewer's Notebook - 1979/8
AUGUST 01, 1979 by JOHN CHAMBERLAIN
When in 1940, Felix Morley decided to leave a prestigious and influential position as editor of Eugene Meyer’s Washington Post to become president of Quaker-supported Haverford College, he did it in all humility. Rufus Jones, who had taught him philosophy at Haverford in the early part of the century, said he should take the job "not because thee is a good Quaker but because further exposure to Quakerism will do thee good." Felix Morley accepted the kindly admonition in good grace. "I was," he said, "indeed already keenly aware that my life was deficient in spiritual values and that I had need of them."
Felix Morley’s recollection of his conversation with his old professor comes on page 347 of his fascinating memoirs, For the Record (Regnery Gateway, Inc., South Bend, Indiana, 472 pages), and it strikes one with considerable surprise. The truth is that Morley seldom did anything in his life for a purely materialistic advantage. He was born practically on the Haverford campus, where his father, a gifted mathematician from East Anglia in England, had settled with a supreme indifference to anything but his scientific specialty.
There were three Morley sons—the eldest was Christopher, the poet. Felix, the middle one, became a journalist and educator, and Frank, the youngest, had a triple career as mathematician, historian and publisher. Not a single member of the family ever seemed to care particularly for what ordinarily passed for success in materialist circles, yet, in following their various bents, all of the Morleys did well enough in a worldly way. The point is that they cared more for the doing than for the rewards thereof. That, in itself, is a kind of spirituality, whether Quaker or not. The whole of For the Record is about such spirituality.
Seeing and Knowing
The young Felix made some tentative gestures toward becoming an imaginative writer in the mode of his brother Christopher, but it soon became apparent to him that his main interest was in seeing and knowing as a prelude to philosophical understanding. For a moment he thought he might become a marine architect (he loved the graceful lines of ships), but, as he confesses, he never did understand the calculus he studied in deference to his father. By necessity he gave up engineering aspirations. Like John Dos Passos, he had a fling with an ambulance corps in the early years of World War I. Europe was as much home to him as America—his family, always more English than American, had taken Kit and Felix abroad for a particularly long sabbatical in England and at Gottingen in Germany, where Felix developed his natural ear for his first foreign language.
Coming home to America after his experience with the Quaker ambulance service, Felix tried to become an officer once Woodrow Wilson had elected to take us into a war that the Quakers deplored. He didn’t make it as "officer material" because his "attitude," which included a sarcastic view of bayonet drill as sticking effigies that would be using revolvers if alive, was deemed deficient. Again, one is struck by the parallel to John Dos Passos’ experience—"Dos" got into trouble as a prospective soldier because he couldn’t hate his enemy as an all-inclusive abstraction.
A Rhodes Scholar
Felix Morley did his cub newspaper work in Philadelphia and in Washington, but he yearned for wider horizons. Like both of his brothers, he managed to get a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford. Because of wartime mixups, the Rhodes authorities waived the provision that only bachelors were eligible to accept appointments, and so Felix and his wife Isabel were off for a long sojourn in Europe that included much incidental journalism in Ireland, Germany, France and Britain as well as a period of study at the London School of Economics. During this period Felix made himself an authority on the British labor movement.
Curiously, it was through English editors that he was recommended as an editorial writer to John Haslup Adams at the Baltimore Sun. Since Isabel was pregnant, and Baltimore was home to all the Morleys after their mathematician father had transferred from Haverford to Johns Hopkins, Felix jumped at the opportunity that was offered to him to become assistant to a great editor.
But, as always, the Morley interest was philosophical—he wanted to write about foreign affairs with a hope that he might be contributing to the understanding of the prerequisites to peace, which was certainly a Quaker objective.
In the back of his mind, Felix Morley hoped he might become the Baltimore Sun correspondent in London. But his new employers had other ideas. They sent him off to the Far East to learn something about Japan, China and the Philippines in the yeasty period in which Chiang Kai-shek was endeavoring to push the Communists north of the Yangste and consolidate his position as the successor to Sun Yat-sen. Morley took all this as experience. The Asian interlude made him avid for an international listening post, so, after publication of his book, Our Far Eastern Assignment, he was off to Geneva, where he proposed to combine newspaper correspondence with writing a study of the League of Nations. The Brookings Institution eventually brought the study out as The Society of Nations.
Morley liked Herbert Hoover, who had a Quaker viewpoint. Eugene Meyer, who had bought the then moribund Washington Post in the early Thirties, had worked for Hoover. So it was perhaps by a natural affinity that Felix Morley became Meyer’s editor for the period of the New Deal. As always, Morley tried to be the practical philosopher of peace. No isolationist, he wanted to use power to the ends of justice, employing League of Nations machinery to take the sting out of the inept and inequitable Versailles Treaty. Of course, it didn’t work: the punitive victors of Versailles had done their work too well. They had brought Hitler upon themselves, and neither Hitler nor the Nazis were amenable to belated blandishments.
World War II, and After
The war came, and Felix Morley had no desire to write editorials that could not be sharply critical of national policy if the occasion for such criticism arose. So it was off to Haverford, to keep liberal education alive in a period of war stringencies that threatened to turn all our campuses into vocational arms of the Pentagon. It was at Haverford, in his seminar on "The Development of Political Ideas," that Morley gave pointed shape to the convictions of a lifetime. He was obsessed with the dilemma of the modern republics: how to maintain individual freedom when the necessity to arm against barbarians in the technological age demanded a centralization of power that cut across a traditional separation of the powers.
Nevertheless, despite the dilemma, the duty to fight for both freedom and federalism remained. Morley’s post-Haverford books, Freedom and Federalism and The Power in the People, are yeoman attempts to fight the drift to a centralization of power that Morley fears "will eventually destroy our federal republic, if it has not already done so." Most important of all, Felix Morley was a co-founder, with Frank Hanighen, of Human Events, the Washington weekly that tries to balance the claims of a libertarian conservatism with the need for eternal wariness against the totalitarians. Morley differed with Hanighen on emphases, and withdrew from the enterprise, but Human Events is perhaps his most enduring monument.
WHAT MAKES YOU THINK WE READ THE BILLS?
by Senator H. L. Richardson
(Caroline House Books, P.O. Box 978 Edison, N.J. 08817)
Reviewed by Tom Starkweather
A politico who writes with candor, humor and simplicity? The American public can’t accept such a creature—blame it on conditioning, cynicism, sophistication, idealism, pampering, realism or whatever. This national frame of mind will make it difficult to seriously consider What Makes You Think We Read the Bills?
The author of this little gem is a California legislator who has served in the State Senate for 12 years. He is obviously a keen observer and analyst of the political scene. His book is funny. Indeed, it is hilarious. It is educational. Mr. Richardson describes what really happens when our elected representatives get together to spend our money and write our laws.
This book is frightening, for the character traits, the situations, the pressures, the psychology and the neuroses described therein are not peculiar to the Golden State. They are universal in our political environment. The book is also entertaining and that’s appropriate since the media have made politics a branch of show business in recent years.
Those who would complain about government should first be required to memorize Chapter six, "What’s A Seat Worth?" or at the minimum determine their contribution to the problem based on this chapter. This book should be mandatory reading for all who seek public office or exercise their heritage at the ballot box. What Makes You Think We Read the Bills? calls to mind the statement attributed to the 1866 New York Circuit Court: "No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session."