The Journalist Philosopher
Oscar B. Johannsen
[Reprinted from Fragments, July-December
England's three Bronte sisters' literary talents are matched by
America's three Morley brothers' writing aptitudes. Christopher
Morley, the oldest and the most famous of the three brothers, was a
romantic novelist; Felix, the middle one, was a journalist; Frank, the
youngest, was a mathematician whose literary attainments did not
suffer by comparison with his brothers'. Among their many
accomplishments is the fact that they are the only three brothers in
America who obtained Rhodes Scholarships.
The trio's parents were cultured and intelligent expatriates. Their
father, Professor Frank Morley, a Quaker and mathematician of note,
had emigrated to America to teach at Haverford College. Their mother,
who had come to America with their father, was an excellent violinist.
Her musical talent was evidence of her artistic taste, which happily
included literary skill that was passed on to her children.
Today's generation is probably better acquainted with the Bronte
sisters than with the Morley brothers. This is regrettable, for an
understanding of their work cannot help but give a better perspective
on life, not only of its problems but possibly some of its answers.
A measure of what any one of this troika has to offer may be gleaned
from For the Record, Felix's autobiography, on which much of this
essay, dealing only with Felix, is based.
Felix's reflective ability led to his becoming and remaining at heart
a journalist, but one with a broad philosophical as well as a common
sense outlook. He also devoted part of his life to being an educator.
As editor of The Washington Post, he elevated it from a mere
local city newspaper to one of national and international
significance. Later, as president of Haverford, the nation's
preeminent Quaker hall of learning, he enlarged its scope and guided
it through World War II days, saving it from a demise threatened by
the vicissitudes of the war.
While at Haverford, he became one of the organizers and editors of
Human Events, a weekly newsletter analyzing in an unusually candid way
the problems of the day. Frank Chodorov, one of the founding editors
of FRAGMENTS, subsequently became, for a time, the associate editor of
Felix was blessed in his wife, Isabel, the mother of his four
children. Apparently she bore, with greater equanimity than most women
would, the innumerable changes in the positions he held and the
inevitably long absences which his roving journalistic endeavors
Paradoxically, while Felix viewed with apprehension the growth of the
American State and warned against its garnering ever-increasing power,
nonetheless he favored such organizations as the League of Nations and
the United Nations. In his behalf, it must be stated, however, that he
wished them to be tied down with restrictions, to prevent them from
becoming George Orwell's Big Brother. But it is doubtful if a world
organization ever gained any real power that its deadly growth could
Morley looked with concern upon his generation's failure to attain
the political wisdom necessary to keep pace with the extension of
knowledge brought on by such amazing inventions as the automobile,
airplane, telephone, radio, and television. He decried the ardent
nationalism so prevalent in his day as well as ours, noting that the
airplane minimizes State boundaries. Logically, it would appear that
such an invention should weaken nationalism through the advancement of
international trade, but such has not been the case.
Morley assumed that tremendous technological advances made political
integration necessary. However, in this assumption he probably erred.
If anything, the ongoing technological revolution has made necessary
the disintegration of state, national, and international political
organizations. Just as a pilot of a jet plane is forced to rely on the
automatic controls which fly the plane almost independently of him, so
the advancement of technological knowledge requires the automatic
controls of the natural laws of economic and social action, with
political control, like that of a pilot's, reduced to a minimum.
The complexities of modern life are simply too great to admit the
blundering controls of mere man acting as a politician. In the
political field, the most he might be able to do as far as politics is
concerned would be at the lowest possible level-something on the order
of the New England townships. Even here, with the exception of ad hoc
measures which might be necessary from time to time, the extent of
political action would be limited to the leasing of land in the
community and the distribution of economic rent thus obtained among
the area's inhabitants.
Felix Morley's philosophical bent led him to metaphysical ponderings
on the meaning of that extremely mysterious fourth dimension, Time. He
appears to have adopted the same view of Time as Augustine, who said,
"God did not foster the world in time but with time." To
Felix, this suggested that "we are all caught in a stream of
currently-moving action on a huge stage where the props can be shifted
quickly but the setting remains at least relatively permanent in
structure and design." This might appear to indicate that his
philosophical underpinnings were deterministic, but his whole life
gave the lie to such a belief. He was constantly engaged in activities
which he hoped would be for the betterment of all and which were
predicated on a belief in the dignity and liberty of the individual.
Too much credit cannot be given him for his recognition that the
essential element which makes life worth living is "virtue."
To him, this meant humility, patience, charity, self-denial, and
modesty. While few of us can hope to practice all these at any one
time, they certainly represent goals worthy of our efforts.
It is impossible in the short space available in FRAGMENTS to give
the true flavor of the work of the three Morley brothers. It is to be
hoped that the articles about them will kindle a desire in our readers
to examine their works. They are powerful defenders of the individual
against the State. But they are human, so they err, as Felix did in
his advocacy of organizations like the League of Nations. That only
adds piquancy, however, to their work. Of course, even in his
advocacy, Felix, for example, wanted to circumscribe such an
organization in the hope that it would not become a menace.
Essentially, the work of these brothers was to attempt to stop the
growth of the State. Too many of today's intellectuals, with a few
honorable exceptions, lack any really sound philosophical basis for
their thinking. When problems arise, their unconscious bias is such as
to cause them to look to the State for solutions. To them, whether
they realize it or not, God is the State, the State is God.
England has long basked in the glow of having the Bronte family of
three sisters as stars in its firmament. If and when the Morley
brothers are better known, America can rest content that it too has a
family of three luminaries lighting up the vault of its heaven. The
sooner the Morley brothers become household words, the sooner will
there be a better appreciation of the value and importance of the
individual as opposed to the ubiquitous State.