In the Course of "Human Events"

The memoirs of a famous journalist of the classical liberal tradition.


The evening of Japan's surrender, my wife and I sat on the terrace of our home, overlooking Washington, watching the sporadic display of fireworks which shot up in the gathering dusk from the enthusiastic metropolis below. Presently she broke our silence. "Will there be any 'Return to Normalcy' this time?" she asked.

"Impossible," I replied, somewhat sententiously. "Our children will have to confront a wholly different and chaotic world. But I suppose we'll eventually get stability on a new basis—in about 50 years I guess—say by the year 2000."

I then voiced the thought which, a few weeks later, I would print in Human Events. "The United States has a great role to play in the post-war world. But we shall not fill that role successfully; we shall, on the contrary, complete the disintegration of humanistic civilization, unless leaders of American thought can recapture the searching approach to political problems which we once had, and of which our Constitution is one memorial."


At the close of 1945, Human Events was already well-established as a small but vigorous supporter of the classical liberal tradition. Launched nearly two years earlier, by Frank Hanighen and myself, it had at first addressed itself to "the absolute necessity" for "a really constructive peace." Our first issue, on February 2, 1944, featured an article by William Henry Chamberlin asserting that Stalin's designs on Poland only suggested his plans for Communist control of all Eastern Europe. On March 1, 1944, in a promotion circular signed by Chamberlin, Hanighen, and myself, we wrote: "True Liberalism will survive neither subordination to a despotic bureaucracy at home, nor entanglement in any Balance-of-Power system directed from abroad by those over whom American public opinion has no control."

Some long-range thinking, therefore, lay behind my seemingly offhand prediction that a half a century would be needed to stabilize postwar society. What I had in mind was the advent of a generation which could realize the intangible values, entirely aside from lives and property, destroyed during the war period. And by this I meant the years from 1914 through 1945.

As a Rhodes Scholar in England from 1919 to 1922, I had seen at first hand how deeply the First World War had shaken Britain's economic and social structure, undermining the Empire which then still hung precariously together. The same disorientation was apparent in France, and most of all in Germany, where the humiliation and draconic nature of the Versailles Treaty exacerbated the anguish left by the enormous human losses. Speaking the language, I then spent my vacation periods in Berlin, in Quaker relief work, and watched the imposed inflation steadily weaken the capitalist middle class. Lloyd George had promised that he would "squeeze Germany until the pips squeaked." He did not foresee that the squeak would swell into the raucous roar of Nazi defiance.

It was at this time that I first read War and Peace and was impressed by Tolstoi's thinking on the inability of popular leaders to control events. That Napoleon's seemingly successful drive into the heart of Russia had gained him nothing was clear in retrospect. Yet Hitler, for all the unquestioning obedience he could arouse, was later unable to grasp that simple lesson. And this peculiar myopia among "great men" was widespread. In time I would see it exhibited by Chiang Kai-shek in China. Franklin Roosevelt seemingly never realized his personal responsibility for building Communism into a world force bitterly hostile to the American way of life. Winston Churchill grandiloquently proclaimed that he "did not become His Majesty's First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire"; yet that is what happened under his leadership.

Nevertheless, new definition does emerge from major unheavals, even though its shape may bear no relation to the will of those who believe they are in control. The collapse of the Roman Empire did not destroy the heritage of Roman law nor the discipline of a Church strong enough to civilize the barbarian tribes of Europe. The excesses of the French Revolution encouraged reasonable nationalism and representative government, developed in the shadow of the guillotine. Something constructive might, like the phoenix, rise from the ashes spread by the contiguous wars of my lifetime. To play even a tiny part in such a resurrection was a worthy purpose.

This sense of mission in regard to Human Events was strengthened by a background of extensive reporting and intensive study of the forces let loose by the opening of Pandora's box. Among these, the appeal of communism, though sedulously discounted in the United States, was clearly the most menacing. While studying in England, I had noted this in free-lance articles for the Baltimore Sun, which led to my employment by this then-outstanding newspaper in the summer of 1922. In the winter of 1925/26 the Sun sent me to China, where again I was surprised to find that communism, promoted by the exactions of the Western powers, was dominant in native academic circles. In the summer of 1928 I was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to make a constitutional study of the League of Nations, and the Sun graciously permitted me to serve simultaneously as its Geneva correspondent. Switzerland has long admirably exemplified Jefferson's opinion that "the government that governs least governs best." And it was also the ideal base for examining Communist penetration in the adjacent countries, together with the strong-arm Fascist, Falangist, and Nazi reactions. All too clearly, these conservative movements envisaged a "defensive" war with Russia.

What I sought to learn most precisely, during my two and a half years at Geneva, was whether the League of Nations possessed the reconstructive promise that Woodrow Wilson had seen in its Covenant and that he sacrificed his life in promoting. Except for its disastrous linkage with the Treaty of Versailles, this president's dream of a rational world order might well have been at least partially realized through the League. But the intolerable and unworkable terms of the so-called peace treaty always took precedence over the revisionary possibilities of the Covenant. And so Woodrow Wilson joined the long list of leaders who have confirmed Tolstoi's thesis that "historical characters and their commands are dependent on the events."


Does the course of human events have any detectable meaning, or is it merely fortuitous? Geneva was an excellent forum for the discussion of such abstractions, which were embarrassing rather than stimulating for most Americans of my generation. The Secretariat of the League, small and compact by contrast with that of the United Nations, was for the most part composed of thoughtful experts from some 40 member states. This was less true of the resident newspaper corps. Once I asked the Associated Press man how he selected the news he would put on the wire. "Only what I think would interest my old father," he replied, "in his rocking-chair on the porch of the family farm in Missouri."

That was not the criterion of the correspondent of Tass, the official Russian news agency. His surname was Romm, and I saw much of him during his periodic visits to Geneva and later in Washington, where he turned up as a press attache of the Soviet Embassy when I was editor of the Washington Post. For a Communist, Romm was exceedingly outspoken, which I believe was why he was recalled to Russia and, I fear, liquidated shortly before the outbreak of World War II.

My friendship with Romm began when he suggested that we have a beer together at the modest tavern that Lenin had frequented during his exile in Geneva. The place was almost empty, and I teased my companion by saying I had thought it would be a shrine for all communists visiting the seat of the League. No more so than Geneva as a whole, he replied, since this very conservative Swiss city was the birthplace of Rousseau, author of The Social Contract. That slim book, Romm thought, had been more influential in the development of communism than any of the more-publicized writings of Karl Marx.

In my political studies I had, of course, read Le Contrat Social, but Romm's endorsement led me to consider its thesis anew. All depends on whether one accepts the premise that in every independent community there is such an instinct as La Volunte Generale—the "General Will" to which every mature mind in the community naturally conforms. Conservative English thought has always denounced this theory, so dominant in the development of the French Revolution. Edmund Burke attacked it as "chaff and rags and paltry blurred shreds of paper about the rights of man." Nevertheless, in this country there have been many instances of social contracts—beginning with the one made by the emigrants on the Mayflower—all of which assume conformity to a General Will. Indeed, such obedience is implicit in the assertion that "We the People" agree to the Constitution of the United States. And such common phrases as "the American way" or "un-American activities" are meaningless unless supported by some form of General Will.

On the other hand, as Rousseau failed to note, any General Will must in practice be voiced and made instrumental by a small group, or even a single dictator, possessing unlimited police power. Antagonism to this General Will, as proclaimed ex cathedra, is then at best captious and at worst treasonable. There is no room for individual dissenters or for the organized minorities specifically protected by our Bill of Rights. There is no place for what the English happily call "His Majesty's Loyal Opposition," since to oppose the General Will is of itself disloyal.

Such a concept is fundamentally hostile to any doctrine of individual "rights" and therefore to parliamentary government as a mechanism to establish and enlarge such "fancies" in the interest of log-rolling minorities or ethnic groups. Romm was an able advocate. With Rousseau, he argued that the General Will is the mortar holding society together and must not be undermined by "specious emphasis on allegedly democratic process." He even cited the hoary issue of the right to cry "Fire" in a crowded theater. Only chaos and disintegration, he maintained, can be expected if human rights are regarded as more important than social stability. (It all came back to me as I followed the Carter-Brezhnev controversy on this subject.)

Of course, I was aware that anything I said might be reported to Moscow. But as I knew no military secrets, there were none that I could divulge, and I am convinced that Romm's major interest was in sharpening his very keen wits against the argument of an old-fashioned liberal. On only one occasion that I recall did he discuss the war, which was even then beginning to loom as possible. There were theoretical communists, with whom he disagreed, who thought that such a disaster must benefit the Russian system, regardless of the battlefield results. Capitalism would be weakened, and Communism advanced, by the centralization of power and disregard of property rights inherent in large-scale warfare. I was naturally deeply impressed when Igor Gouzenko, the defecting cipher clerk in the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, made much the same statement under oath before a Canadian Royal Commission at the close of World War II. Roughly the sequence of this school of Soviet thinking was said to be: (a) The First World War successfully placed Communism in the Russian saddle: (b) the second war established Communist domination from the Elbe to the Yellow Sea; (c) a third major conflict, especially if fought with nuclear weapons, would mean a Communist world, even though in the United States the system might euphemistically be called "participatory democracy." This would be a dreadful road to triumph, however, and an all-out race in modern weaponry might well bankrupt the delicately balanced American system as effectively.

My grudging appreciation of the latent power of Communism was confirmed when I became editor of the Washington Post in 1933. As the war clouds gathered, I felt it important to be in contact not only with the British, French, German, and Italian embassies but also with the envoys of the secondary powers spread like a flimsy barrier between the Nazi and Communist dictatorships. Without exception, I found these minor ambassadors, from Finland to Turkey, afraid of Germany but terrified of Russia. Hitler may temporarily occupy our territory, they said, but Stalin would rule it permanently. Munir Erteguin, the very able Turkish ambassador, was particularly fearful that the United States, under British and Jewish influence, would become so anti-German as to lose sight of its own national interests.

It was my conviction that the earlier betrayal of President Wilson's Fourteen Points and the Anglo-French refusal to modify the intolerably punitive clauses of the Treaty of Versailles were the basic reasons for the rise of Hitlerism and the renewal of the European war. Since the Senate had wisely refused to sanction this treaty, I could see no legal or moral reason for our involvement in the derivative hostilities, even with full realization of the Nazi tyranny. Equal disregard of "human rights" was apparent in Soviet Russia, and the idea of an alliance with either regime seemed to me anathema. If the Nazis were depicted as the more dangerous to us, it was largely because the Communist system was more subtle and competent, as well as being viewed sympathetically by President Roosevelt and most of the self-styled "liberal" commentators. As for the Japanese militarists, their antagonism was focused on the rising tide of Communism in China and, to my mind, was never primarily anti-American. Distasteful as were both German and Japanese policies, it seemed obvious that the overthrow of those governments must also result in removing the barriers that hemmed in communism, from West and East. As the clouds gathered, I went to the British Embassy to talk this over with Sir Ronald Lindsay, a keen-minded friend and the last prewar British ambassador in Washington. I could not see how Britain could reasonably go to war with Germany to prevent Dantzig, more than 90 percent German in population, from reverting to German sovereignty. My reasoning was good, he thought, but "too intellectual" for popular acceptance, at least in England.

Eugene Meyer, the publisher of the Post and Jewish by descent, was also distinctively an "intellectual" who trusted me and for a long time endorsed my objective editorial policy. But the pressures on him to align his paper for war with Germany were becoming increasingly strong. This I had recognized by the spring of 1940, when Hitler's vicious anti-Semitism and his military predominance in Europe were both unmistakable. By pure coincidence, my alma mater, Haverford College, chose this moment to offer me its presidency.


The choice was supremely difficult, not less so because there was no financial advantage involved. I enjoyed Washington, where my family was happy, where we had built an attractive home and had a host of interesting friends. And I liked my arduous work, which had brought me a Pulitzer Prize and had made the editorial page of the Post respected, influential, and widely quoted. But I also knew that newspaper writing in wartime can come close to intellectual prostitution, and I was sure that Roosevelt was steering the country toward war. Moreover, I knew I could do what Haverford's trustees wanted, which was to bring the school out of a pleasant backwater and closer to the mainstream of revolutionary events. So, after much struggle with uncertainties, I separated from the Post on August 8, 1940. I had been its responsible editor for nearly seven exciting years.

Haverford, on the western outskirts of Philadelphia, was (and continues to be) on the whole an excellent small college, well endowed and controlled by the orthodox branch of the Society of Friends, of which I was at least nominally a member. I reasoned correctly that this Quaker background would give free play to my somewhat pacifist tendencies. With less prescience, I thought that it would be easy to stimulate interest in American government in what I wrongly assumed would be a restful academic atmosphere. The failure of our colleges to maintain the country's original interest in political thought concerned me greatly. Politics, for the average college student no longer pertained to theories of government, but only to the personalities of politicians. Communists whom I had known had all been deeply and actively interested in political theory. Unless young Americans took equal interest in the ideas on which our much more complicated government was founded, its chance of survival, in anything like the original form, would be slim. So I was disturbed to find the department of government at Haverford almost indifferent to the spirit, as distinct from the form, of our political institutions. Few students even read the Federalist Papers, without which a clear understanding of the thinking of the Founding Fathers can scarcely be obtained.

This deficiency seemed the more pronounced because at Haverford instruction in the other human studies was generally excellent. But when it came to clarifying our own political system—there was almost a vacuum. And in discussing the problem with other college presidents, I found the same complaint. As an attempted remedy, I introduced and conducted a seminar course, "The Development of Political Ideas," starting with Aristotle as the seedbed. The students who responded did so avidly, and I was hard-pressed to keep my research abreast. Evidently these young minds had no prejudice against the type of abstract thinking that was prevalent at the birth of our Republic.

Gradually two convictions, both contrary to popular appraisals, formed in my mind. One was that technological training alone, no matter how proficient, would not be adequate for the postwar period. After Pearl Harbor I had been appointed to the advisory committee of the Army Specialized Training Program. Periodic sessions at the Pentagon revealed more flexibility in the military mind than I had expected. Nevertheless, the essential drive was always toward vocational education—more pleasingly called "career development"-at the expense of the so-called liberal arts. I began to feel that these "two cultures," as C.P. Snow would later call them, were perhaps equally deficient. Neither of them really exposed young minds to our philosophy of government, with which both technical and humanitarian education should be in step.

My other, associated, conviction is perhaps even less generally acceptable. It is that, while politics is underplayed, economics is actually overemphasized in most of our colleges. After making a fairly substantial study of "the dismal science," I concluded that it had been a mistake to change the old descriptive term: "political economy." The adjective is as important as the noun, since a political bias can be found at bottom in nearly every economist. In mathematics, a real science, one cannot speak of a capitalist or communist approach. Euclid stands as straight in the Kremlin as on Wall Street. But economics can be, and is, twisted to meet the service of either a free or managed market. With the help of calculus and computers, a scientific statistical veneer can be applied by either school. But it is only a coating. The fundamental response of economics, as with misnamed "political science," is to human actions and emotions and not to immutable law. There can be a scientific approach to the so-called social sciences, but that is all.


That being so, and in accord with Aristotle's dictum that "man is a political animal," it seemed to me important that politics, and especially those political ideas woven into the fabric of our own government, should be examined in more depth. I saw the educational opportunity when Frank Hanighen came to Haverford to discuss collaboration in the newsletter that I named Human Events. The small Foundation for Education in American Citizenship, in Indianapolis, had been thinking along similar lines; and for a time, knowing how active English Quakers had been in the promotion of liberal journalism, I thought that my college could properly sponsor the undertaking. Anyway, as the war drew toward its end, the project seemed worthwhile to all with whom I discussed it. So I encouraged Frank to go ahead, from his base in Washington, which he courageously did while I was still president of Haverford.

This position I resigned as of July 11, 1945. Thanks largely to cooperation with the army, the college had come through in good financial shape. I was past 51, very tired of taking flak from both prowar and pacifist positions. I had an excellent assistant who could readily handle the transition to novel peacetime problems.

The reasons for my eventual departure from Human Events, after five years of effort in riding several horses, were very involved. Even now I cannot be sure that I list them in order of influence. To maintain solvency, the undertaking could pay me only a trifling wage, which I was forced by family responsibilities to multiply in several time-consuming ways. Yet to maintain its unquestionably high quality, the little publication demanded continuous personal attention, more so because Hanighen and I had come to differ over its policy. He thought, correctly, that to achieve financial success we would have to push our paid circulation well above the 5,000 mark where it had seemed to settle. To do this, he wanted to exploit the popular mistrust of Russia that was daily becoming more apparent. I argued that this line could only encourage militarization and further centralization of power in Washington. It would run counter to our agreed purpose of seeking to reanimate the country's original political thought. I was the more determined because of the flattering reception given to my book, The Power in The People, published early in 1949. (Its companion volume, Freedom and Federalism, issued by Regnery a decade later, was already in mind.) Unease at Human Events was increased when Representative Richard M. Nixon, as he was then, sought our aid in his ad hominem attack on Alger Hiss. I told him that our interest was in clarifying political ideas and not in denouncing individuals, whether or not justifiable. Here Hanighen thought that we were missing an opportunity to gain publicity.

Our disagreement rose to crisis with the collapse of the Chiang Kai-shek regime and the easy triumph of Chinese Communism during the spring and summer of 1949. To Hanighen, this was a tocsin for rallying American strength behind the Nationalist government, in its enforced exile on Taiwan. To me, the disaster was the logical result of the foreign-policy blunders so shrewdly analyzed by General Stilwell and of the widespread Communist strength that I had myself observed in China almost a quarter century earlier. With our active assistance, Communism had now become dominant over the great Eurasian land mass. A lengthy visit to West Germany, where we were still dismantling factories and giving machinery to the Russian satellites, assured me that this sad development must be accepted, in Europe as well as Asia. In my journal I quoted: "The moving finger writes and having writ, moves on.…" Policy now must be defensive—to save the American way at home. So, in the oversimplified jargon of the times, I became isolationist while Frank Hanighen moved to interventionism.

The split thus made inevitable came early in 1950. I was president of Human Events, but when we incorporated we had agreed to divide the stock evenly between Hanighen, Regnery, and myself. But circumstances now demanded that one person take full command of editorial policy, and I called a stockholder meeting to say so. If I were chosen, I would drop other work to fulfill the trust; if it were Frank, I would resign my office and turn in my stock at cost. This put it up to Regnery, who decided against me, telling me later that he did not think I could confine my energies to Human Events, while Frank could. Very likely this was sound judgment. Anyway, in this manner, on February 14, 1950, my connection with the undertaking was terminated, though I consented to keep transitional editorial control until that summer. There was a minimum of ill-feeling, considering the fundamental difference.

In retrospect, I see this episode as symptomatic of that which has come to divide the conservative movement in the United States. Frank and Henry, in their separate ways, moved on to associate with the far right in the Republican Party. My position remained essentially "libertarian," though it is with great reluctance that I yield the old terminology of "liberal" to the socialists. I was, and continue to be, strongly opposed to centralization of political power, thinking that this process will eventually destroy our federal republic, if it has not already done so. The vestment of power in an HEW is demonstrably bad, but its concentration in the Pentagon and CIA is worse because the authority is concealed and covertly exercised. Failure to check either extreme means continuous deficit financing and consequent inflation, which in time can be fatal to the free enterprise system. As a recent Federal Reserve Bulletin puts it, with refreshing candor, "One of the primary benefits of inflation is the revenue it produces for the government."

To believe that such a nexus of problems can be confronted by preparation for nuclear war with Russia is close to madness. The tragedy of our ill-judged intervention in Vietnam is a clear warning. Simply because communism is such a primitive political system, it flourishes in the ruins caused by war. Opposition to detente clearly reveals the obscurantism of our far right. It must delight the shrewd men in the Kremlin, who have shown that they know how to deal with a National Socialism trying to masquerade as conservative.

Furthermore, it is to my mind doubtful that conservatism can successfully take political form unless there is a unified establishment to give it focus and rallying point. All the conservative parties of Western Europe had such a foundation: that of the landowning class, of an established Church, of a court circle, of the military leadership, or of all of these united. Monarchy could be made constitutional, and representative government made possible without revolution, only where and when the directive power of the elite remained essentially unshaken.

But in the United States, as a federal republic, only the usually self-effacing military has been able to claim establishment as an elite on a national basis. Business could not do so as long as it remained decentralized and competitive. So there seems little prospect of building a politically potent conservative foundation here, now that the basis of privilege has been swept away in the countries of its origin. We no longer hear the old slogan "noblesse oblige," as contrasted with the popularity of "no discrimination."

Consequently, it is not surprising that the right-wing effort to make the Republican Party a conservative agency has been a dismal failure, with leaders from Goldwater to Reagan falling short in every nationwide electoral test. As shown by the number of voters who jump party lines, American politics is still mechanistic and not ideological. Within my own memory, nobody expected the Democrats of Mississippi and Minnesota to have the same political principles, and there was equal differentiation between the Republicans of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Presidential elections were only the sum of state elections, at first not even held simultaneously. They gave no reliable index to national thinking on philosophic grounds, which is appropriate under a Constitution with the major objective of reconciling freedom and order. It is the former that is, and always has been, most threatened by centralization of power.

Because the conservative malaise is so largely the fault of extremists, there is now the greater opportunity for libertarians, who are disposed to pay heed to our government's basic principles and to think our problems through rather than to act as zealots. Required reading is F.A. Hayek's important essay, "Why I Am Not a Conservative," meaning, of course, in the narrowly political sense. "The task of the political philosopher," he says, "can only be to influence public opinion, not to organize people for action." That was the honorable purpose of Human Events. Where it failed, others will succeed.

Mr. Morley has had a long and distinguished career in American journalism.