American Dissidents

Felix Morley and Henry Regnery reflect on their lives in American publishing


For the Record, by Felix Morley. South Bend, Ind.: Regnery/Gateway. 1979. 480 pp. $15.00.

Memoirs of a Dissident Publisher, by Henry Regnery. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1979. 260 pp. $12.95.

To read the memoirs of dissenters is always a welcome task for a historian. It is particularly so when the dissenters are individuals who, in one way or another, have gone against the grain of conventional thought, for such writing can often cut through what is pedestrian or banal. Both of these books offer some healthy demythologizing and in the process show that what is commonly seen today as liberalism has no monopoly on either learning or literacy.

Felix Morley is the undisputed elder statesman of the classic form of American liberalism, or what Morley himself refers to as "libertarianism." A man of rich experience, Morley has been a correspondent for the Baltimore Sun, director of the Geneva office of the League of Nations Association, staff member of the Brookings Institution (which awarded him an earned doctorate), and chief editorial writer of the Washington Post (in which capacity he received a Pulitzer Price). During World War II he was president of Haverford College, and after the war he helped found Human Events, was broadcaster for Three-Star Extra, and wrote voluminously for Barron's and Nation's Business. His scholarly books, such as Power in the People, are still appreciated by professors and laymen alike, while his personal advice and reflections have long put statesmen, historians, and political commentators in his debt.

The Morley family, stemming from merchant Quaker stock, is a gifted one. Felix's father was a prominent mathematician at Haverford and Johns Hopkins. One of his brothers, Frank, was a noted publisher. The other, Christopher, was a famous dramatist and critic.

Felix was educated in a genteel and learned Quaker tradition, first at Baltimore Friends and then at Haverford. From the Society of Friends he undoubtedly received his distaste for war and his belief in voluntarism. From the distinguished theologian Rufus Jones he discovered that all philosophy must be grounded in ethics. And throughout his book Morley continually calls for the type of traditionalist education he received as a youth; he once told the dean of a new school of journalism that its curriculum should center on math and the classics.


Yet Morley's education soon involved more than books, and his service in World War I in particular was something of an initiation. While an ambulance driver on the Western front, he witnessed carnage at the towns of Loos and Ypres, and his descriptions of it are most moving. True, he was soon dissatisfied with "a Quaker pacifism which pallidly ignored all differences between the warring camps and often seemed to view political aspects of the struggle as immaterial." Yet he already doubted whether militarism and brutality were "unique characteristics of the German people." and rumors of a vindictive Allied peace led him to see little positive emerging from the struggle. He was especially appalled by American intolerance, evident in the jailing of Socialist leader Eugene Victor Debs and in George Creel's "prototype of Dr. Goebbels' Ministry of Public Enlightenment."

Morley was sympathetic to the Bolshevik desire "to stop the slaughter on the eastern front"; yet he predicted that all such extension of government power—as well as the continuation of the war itself—would limit human freedom far more than a much-maligned capitalistic system. "The workers," Morley writes, "certainly would not gain by substituting public for private exploitation of labor. The future lay in the general prosperity to be achieved by disarmament, elimination of trade barriers and other obstacles to international cooperation for which a pretentious nationalism, not capitalism, was fundamentally to blame."

Much of Morley's education, of course, came through journalism, and here his experience was unusually rich. As a Rhodes scholar, he edited a Labour Club monthly—the New Oxford—supported Anglo-German reconciliation, and investigated conditions in such strife-torn areas as Essen and Dublin. He was a strong critic of the French occupation of the Rhineland, noting how more than 100 German civilians were shot for protesting the billeting of Algerian soldiers. While working for the Baltimore Sun, he was able to discuss an impending coal strike with labor leader John L. Lewis, Atlantic federation with journalist Clarence K. Streit, German inflation with foreign minister Gustav Stresemann, geopolitics with German geographer Karl Haushofer, minority problems with Czech president Eduard Be?es, and Nazi ambitions with British foreign secretary Anthony Eden.

In the mid-1920s, Morley was a first-hand observer of Soviet penetration of China, Japanese imperial designs on the Asian mainland, and Philippine frustration with US occupation. To hear German foreign minister Walter Rathenau on the dangers of State socialism, Japanese foreign minister Baron Shidehara on Nippon's prerogatives in Manchuria, British foreign secretary Arthur Henderson on European unity, American diplomat Stanley K. Hornbeck on Japanese moves in Asia—all were part of the daily routine of a perceptive reporter whose energy had once impressed Woodrow Wilson. Indeed, there was hardly a Western leader with whom Morley did not have personal contact.


When in 1933 Morley became editor of the Washington Post, he hoped to make it an American version of the Manchester Guardian. "That is to say," he writes, "its outlook should be international; its philosophy independent and liberal in the classical sense of the word; its foreign correspondence informative and impartial; its editorials well written and forceful; its adherence to strictly Constitutional government unquestionable." In some of these aims, Morley succeeded. As the historian of the Post, Chalmers M. Roberts, has recently noted, "Felix Morley had firm principles and a deft pen. He gave the editorial page elan and distinction and made it a topic of conversation, its pieces widely quoted."

With his background, Morley became a moderate internationalist—one who adhered to a modified federalism. His Society of Nations, published in 1932, quickly became a classic, so much so that it was used (not always with success) in drafting the UN Charter. He had favored Hoover for president in 1928 and 1932 but in 1936 cast his vote for the interventionist Roosevelt. In 1939 FDR himself praised Morley's editorial pledging the US to halt Fascist aggression. (Morley goes so far as to say that Roosevelt acted in part on his editorial when the president sent personal messages to both Hitler and Mussolini.)

Much of Morley's internationalism, however, depended upon the recovery of Germany into an economically integrated Europe. Indeed, collective security and revision of the Versailles Treaty went hand in hand. Western recognition of Germany's illegal rearmament, he declared, "might spill the wind from Hitler's sails." "The Fuehrer's strength depended on the rankling sense of injustice among all elements of the German people. Let them see that they were no longer regarded as pariahs, give their diligence more chance to improve their economic condition, and the menace of the Nazi movement might well fade away."

A distinction was to be drawn, he insisted, between German occupation of its own Rhineland and such deeds as Italy's aggression against Ethiopia and Japan's invasion of China. After the Munich pact was signed, Morley saw a chance for a new European system, one based upon Franco-German accord and backed by the United States. He blamed the Poles for refusing to make concessions over Danzig, then the Germans for secretly dividing Poland with the Russians, and finally Britain for jeopardizing the very existence of her empire "in order to restrain Germany from regaining an almost wholly Germanic city."


Given such views, Morley soon tempered his interventionism. American participation in a European war, he believed, would lead to confiscation of private property, brutalize the populace, centralize power, and thereby alter "the structure of a federal republic constitutionally dedicated to the dispersion, division and localization of power." He saw "more than a chance that such pressures would undermine the basic institutions of the United States, no matter who won or lost on fields of battle."

Less than two months after Hitler invaded Russia, Morley's anti-interventionism was strengthened, for he was visited by Adam Von Trott, a German diplomat active in the Resistance and a man later executed by the Nazis. Von Trott told him how the Kreisau Circle, led by Leipzig mayor Karl Goerdeler, could overthrow Hitler, make a truce, and democratize Germany. Morley put Von Trott in contact with such leading State Department officials as George S. Messersmith and Sumner Welles, "but somewhere along the line channels to the White House were blocked."

Hence the man whose editorials had backed Republican Spain, sought nonrecognition of Italy's conquest of Ethiopia, and attacked the neutrality acts, became an anti-interventionist. Although he declined invitations to join the America First Committee, he drafted a petition—signed by prominent Republican leaders—opposing an undeclared war. He writes:

Whether under Nazi or Communist dominance, there was going to be a new Mittel-Europa, in which neither Britain nor France would any longer be influential and where Wilsonian theories of self-determination would play no part. If there were a split between Berlin and Moscow, then only one brand of dictatorship would eventually come to domination in Central Europe. In this case, by throwing its great power to the Russian side, the United States could doubtless tip the balance in favor of Communism. But could anyone with liberal instincts regard such an outcome gladly?

Morley's opposition to Roosevelt extended to the administration's Pacific policy. A close Japanese friend, diplomat Ken Harada, told him late in 1939 of possibilities for peace in Asia. "Japan," Morley learned, "was getting bogged down in China and there was a good chance that liberal leadership would regain control in Tokyo, if the United States did not now take a provocative attitude." Morley, who had earlier wanted to guarantee China's territorial integrity against Japanese onslaught, passed Harada's plea on to Secretary of State Cordell Hull, who—as Morley notes—was "pardonably skeptical." Late in 1941 he heard that Hull had demanded Japan's withdrawal from all China and Indochina, but "nobody could have expected those then in power in Tokyo to accept these orders from Washington."

By this time Morley had left the Washington Post to become president of Haverford. Rufus Jones urged him to return to his alma mater "because further exposure to Quakerism will do thee good." Unfortunately for a man of Morley's educational vision, World War II soon drew off much of the student body, and the Quaker institution resorted to housing various army programs in order to remain solvent.

During World War II Morley warned of Communist advances, sought a negotiated peace, and defended the neutrality of Sweden. He advocated a regional form of international organization linked together by a common council and secretariat. Japan, in his scheme, would remain an Asiatic leader, while a Western European federation could, he hoped, offset both Russian and American power. Herbert Hoover endorsed Morley's proposals, claiming that decentralization would lessen the need for military alliances and therefore "greatly relieve American anxiety lest we be constantly involved in secondary problems all over the earth."


Even before he left Haverford in 1945, Morley joined journalist Frank Hanighan in founding the Washington newsletter Human Events. In subsequent years, he held a host of other positions, including the foreign editorship of Pathfinder and Washington bureau chief of Barron's. Through such groups as the Mt. Pelerin Society, the Volker Fund, and the American Enterprise Institute, he was able in the postwar years to meet leading exponents of classical economic thought, among them F.A. ("Fritz") Hayek. Seeing that economic liberty and political freedom are clearly linked, he criticized many Cold War involvements. "National security," he writes, "was defined in terms that meant the loss of individual freedom."

Such views led in 1950 to a split within Human Events, one important in tracing the course of American conservatism. Morley wanted to recognize Communist domination of Eastern Europe as a fait accompli, downplay the Communists-in-government issue, and abandon the Kuomintang regime on Taiwan. Frank Hanighan leaned in the opposite direction and, with the support of publisher Henry Regnery, was able to buy out Morley's share of the journal.

Morley, however, has stuck by his guns. The strains of total war, he argues, would make the survival of capitalism difficult. Preparing for nuclear conflict with Russia "is close to madness," while Vietnam was simply the most recent evidence that Communism thrives on war. In Morley's eyes, the Republicans favor almost unrestrained military expenditures and have swung toward "imperialism." Yet the Democrats "demand that every sort of social need be sponsored, liberally financed and supervised from Washington." Either way, the nation loses its federalist moorings, becoming a centralized and socialized power.

For the historian, it is regrettable that Morley did not discuss in greater detail his relationship to such people as Rufus Jones, H.L. Mencken, Robert A. Taft Albert J. Nock, and Frank Chodorov. And he leaves unsatisfied curiosity about other elements of his life and thought. Why did he leave the Society of Friends to become an Anglican (the tradition of his mother)? And how does he analyze the transformation of American conservatism into a far more globalist ideology than was generally the case in the '30s?

In summary, however, Morley's book often reveals the man's grace and erudition. He seeks to recover the Roman concept of "virtue" in an age that glorifies violence, to restore dignity in a time that romanticizes saturation bombing and guerrilla warfare. In truth, his near-pacifist values are ones of a more civilized era. Early in life, perhaps as early as World War I, he realized that he could not hope to change broad historical currents. Yet, taking his leaf from Richard Hooker, whom he calls "the persuasive Elizabethan divine," he writes, "Though for no other cause than for this: That posterity may know we have not loosely through silence permitted things to pass away as in a dream." It is a fitting comment.


Henry Regnery's memoir turns up similar views on some matters, differences on others. Both Regnery and Morley, for example, express appreciation of Joseph Schumpeter and F.A. Hayek, were extremely critical of Roosevelt's wartime diplomacy, and pushed hard for German rehabilitation after World War II. Regnery knows Morley well, published his book Freedom and Federalism, and regards him as one of the nation's leading conservatives. The two men, however, undoubtedly differ on the nature of Communism and how best to contain it, with Regnery taking the more strident position.

Regnery is generally associated with the publishing house that bears his name, and it is illuminating to learn something of the man himself. He begins by telling of his German and English ancestors, his upbringing in Hinsdale, Illinois, and early travels in such cities as Bonn and Cologne. His descriptions of Hitler's Reich are one of the most fascinating parts of the book. Interestingly, for a man later so suspicious of State power, Regnery at first admired the New Deal. In fact, he once worked for the Resettlement Administration, a federal bureau.

There is undoubtedly more than a touch of self-effacement when he writes, "Armour Institute of Technology convinced me that I would never become an engineer, M.I.T. that I would never become a mathematician, Harvard Graduate School that I would never become a scholar, my father's business [textiles] that I would never become a businessman. Because of my good fortune in being the son of a successful and wise father, I did become a publisher."

From the beginning, Regnery's press sought to challenge what he calls "the governmental and intellectual establishment." The firm began publishing pamphlets from a small office above a Hinsdale drugstore. In the first pamphlets, Karl Brandt, professor of agricultural economics at Stanford, warned against Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau and his plan to partition and deindustrialize Germany; Robert Maynard Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago, opposed a harsh peace and use of the atomic bomb; and Felix Morley wrote a critique of the UN Charter.

The words of Hutchins are particularly haunting, and Regnery is wise to quote them. "So we call Japanese soldiers fanatics when they die rather than surrender, whereas American soldiers who do the same thing are heroes. We prove that all Germans are murderers and all Japanese apes, and at the same time insist that we are going to have one world in which all men are brothers.…And the new day dawns by the light of the burning homes of Tokyo and Yokohama."


Other authors followed, including Quaker theologian Douglas Steere, essayist Clare Boothe Luce, historian John U. Nef, publisher Oswald Garrison Villard, religious journalist Harold E. Fey, and political scientist Raymond Aron (whom Regnery introduced to this country). The pamphlets covered a variety of issues, among them Russian concentration camps, the failure of high schools, pacifism, the Potsdam treaty, Gandhi, technology, Leninism, and minorities. And they disturbed enough sacred cows to lead Regnery to consider book publishing as a profession.

Many of Regnery's first books dealt with the theme of German rehabilitation, and here his choice of authors was often fortunate. Victor Gollancz, a prominent left-wing publisher in Britain, wrote two volumes on starvation during the early occupation. (Said Time magazine of Gollancz's Our Threatened Values, "Though retaining his Jewish faith and socialist belief, Gollancz has here written a fiery, almost transported plea for a return to the ways of the early Christians.") Then Hans Rothfels, historian at the University of Chicago, wrote the first scholarly account of the German Resistance. Montgomery Belgion, British essayist and critic, branded the Nuremberg trials Victor's Justice, as did British diplomat Lord Hankey in Politics, Trials and Errors. Freda Utley, an English journalist who became an American citizen during World War II, wrote The High Cost of Vengeance, a less temperate attack on all features of the Allied occupation, ranging from the dismantling of German plants to arbitrary arrests and confinement. Little wonder that it was Regnery's firm that Konrad Adenauer chose to publish the American edition of his memoirs.

Perhaps Regnery's greatest early coup involved publishing the memoirs of General Hans Speidel, a man who had commanded German forces when the Allies invaded Norway. Speidel claimed that a sustained Allied drive would have ended the war in the west in the summer of 1944, for the Germans were too disorganized to resist. Regnery also published the memoirs of Adolph Heusinger, German chief of staff during the Russian campaign.

Much of Regnery's concern with Germany is rooted in his own family background, for his grandfather was born of Roman Catholic stock near the Roman city of Trier. But much concern is rooted in his dismay at the results of the Allied bombing raids, results that he personally witnessed in the fall of 1949. Noting that there was hardly an undamaged building in the cathedral city of Cologne, he writes that the city "offers graphic evidence that the Allied air raids were largely directed at civilian rather than military or industrial objectives. In contrast to the destruction inflicted on this old city, with its many treasures, a great power station beyond the city limits, which is one of the largest in Europe and can be seen for miles, was undamaged." It is therefore quite understandable that Regnery took much delight in publishing Max Picard's Hitler in Our Selves, in which the Swiss writer of Jewish background found National Socialism a warning of what could happen to any people.


World War II revisionism is another topic in which Regnery pioneered. He offers summaries and defenses of leading revisionist works, including some that were published by other firms. Regnery's own contributions included William Henry Chamberlin's America's Second Crusade, Charles Callan Tansill's Back Door to War, and the account of Admiral Husband Kimmel, offering a defense of the naval commander at Pearl Harbor. His portraits of Tansill and revisionist historian Harry Elmer Barnes are particularly helpful to the historian, and Regnery concedes that "Tansill doubtless opened himself unnecessarily to criticism by the rather strident tone his book sometimes assumes." Although few historians today accept Regnery's brand of revisionism, his books did much to crack official history, pointed to dangerous illusions concerning China and the Open Door, stressed the constitutional limits upon presidential war-making, and pointed out the conscious and calculated deception by the nation's highest leadership.

Of equal interest is Regnery's concern with the Middle East. Nejla Izzeddin's The Arab World stressed Middle Eastern culture; Alfred M. Lilienthal's What Price Israel? offered a strong critique of the Zionist state; Freda Utley's Will the Middle East Go West? combined her claim that "Israel has earned her right to exist" with a plea for justice to Arabs; Per-Orlow Anderson's They Are Human Too presented a poignant photographic essay on the Arab refugees living in the Gaza strip; and Ethel Mannin's novel Road to Beersheba dealt with the exodus of Palestinian Arabs. Here again Regnery offers some interesting sidelights, noting, for example, that two prominent Jews—Fortune editor William S. Schlamm and Rabbi Elmer Berger—read the Lilienthal manuscript before publication. And Anderson, so Regnery tells us, was visited by the FBI once his book was published.

In many ways the house of Regnery shows a strong rightist bent. Many have been the volumes blaming Soviet expansion upon the diplomacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt, exposing conditions in Soviet and Chinese prison camps, claiming that State Department hands contributed substantially to the Communist seizure of China, and attacking what Regnery calls "the liberal intellectual establishment" for alleged softness on Communism. Other books have narrated the corruption of the Truman administration, called for curbing the power of trade unions, criticized the administration of social security, defended Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and accused the United Nations of being (in the words of Chesly Manly) "a hoax of monumental proportions."


Regnery sees himself as a philosophical defender of conservatism and was most pleased when, at a meeting of the Mt. Pelerin Society in 1957, Russell Kirk took on F.A. Hayek on this topic. Regnery's brand of conservatism transcends, while it endorses, the free market. He always remembers a comment made by Schumpeter who, after a lengthy class discussion on the merits of capitalism and socialism, said, "It all depends on what you want. If I had my choice, I would take the society that produced the cathedral at Chartres." He also quotes approvingly the German economist Wilhelm Roepke, whom he calls "a principled and eloquent supporter of the free market": "The highest interests of the community and the indispensable things of life have no exchange value and are neglected if supply and demand are allowed to dominate the field.…Self-discipline, a sense of justice, honesty, fairness, chivalry, moderation, public spirit, respect for human dignity, firm ethical norms—all of these are things which people must possess before they go to market and compete with each other."

As with his revisionism, Regnery's brand of conservatism (not to mention his views on many events and trends since World War II) would find a host of critics. Still, people of many political persuasions would appreciate his fine pen portraits of prominent intellectuals. He tells of meetings with novelists Wyndham Lewis and John Dos Passos, political scientist Willmoore Kendall (undoubtedly one of the most eccentric people Regnery has ever known), economist Frank Chodorov, political theorist Bertrand de Jouvenal, and theologians Gabriel Marcel and Romano Guardini. With such a group as this, Regnery is confident that "the conservative movement is not on the side of the big battalions, but is a carrier of the traditions and values that have sustained and given substance to Western civilization, and those within it can feel that they have assumed an honorable task and are in distinguished company."

Some of his stories are particularly delightful: Freda Utley telephoning long distance collect to query why her recent book was not on sale in a local Alabama drugstore; poet Roy Campbell Indian-wrestling in a drunken stupor when due at a reception given by Poetry magazine; T.S. Eliot telling Regnery why he should not be ashamed of publishing Edgar Guest; Regnery discovering that the Italians did not want Ezra Pound to broadcast during World War II; Harry Truman personally writing to Regnery to denounce the "untruths" of Chesly Manly; Konrad Adenauer discussing the common market and Gaullist moves.

Again, one wishes for greater detail—on such topics as his father (who was the leading backer of the America First Committee), the Foundation for Foreign Affairs (which his father helped to establish), Modern Age magazine, peace leader Frederick J. Libby, and Regnery's reaction to the varied transformations of the American right.

Yet Regnery's book, like Morley's, is particularly valuable to the historian. Indeed, we need far more memoirs by, and monographs on, individuals who dissented from the ideological orthodoxy that so permeated World War II and its aftermath.

Justus Doenecke is a professor of history at the New College of the University of South Florida. His Not to the Swift: The Old Isolationists in the Cold War Era has just been published by Bucknell University Press.