Felix Morley:
The Journalist Philosopher

Oscar B. Johannsen

[Reprinted from Fragments, July-December 1985]

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 Human Events.

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 required.

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 be restrained.

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.