Review of the Book
Fugitive Essays: Selected Writings of Frank Chodorov
[Fugitive Essays: Selected Writings of Frank
published by Liberty Press, 1980. This review by Felix Morley
appeared in Reason, July 1981,
reprinted from Fragments, July-December 1985]
Editors' Note: A few months before his death in
1952, Felis Morley wrote to FRAGMENTS: "I hope you will
keep up your very refreshing little publication. Perhaps you may
be interested in a review of Frank Chodorov's essays which I
recently wrote fot Reason magazine. That seems to be easily the
best of the group which has sprouted on the West Coast."
Since Frank Chodorov was one of the founding editors of
FRAGMENTS, and Chuck Hamilton is a good friend. we were
pleased-and honored-by Fells Morley's suggestion, and obtained
permission to reprint his review. It is here reprinted, with
permission, from the July, 1981, issue of Reason. Copyright ©
1981 by the Reason Foundation, 1018 Garden Street, Santa
Barbara, California 93101.
In the original sense of fugitive, it is an unseemly adjective for
the title of this important political study, There was certainly
nothing of the runaway either in Frank Chodorov or in anything he ever
wrote. Only in the derived meaning of "scattered" or "occasional"
is fugitive applicable.
Frank Chodorov (1887-19661 was of that type of journalist who will
never subordinate talent to ordinary reporting. Like Henry L. Mencken
in this respect, he took from the stream of circumstance only what
interested him, commenting thereon without fear or favor. Mencken had
the force to dominate a big metropolitan newspaper and thus assured
his caustic line on politics relative immortality. Chodorov was the
better historian and philosopher but published for the most part in
offbeat media with little circulation. This LibertyPress reprint
should help to redress the post-mortem balance in his favor.
The book is divided into 11 parts, each concerned with varying
samples of Chodorov's writings on themes as disparate as communism,
education, isolationism, militarism, natural rights, political
mentality, and taxation, One section comprises essays on Jefferson,
George Mason, and Thoreau, as instances of a now vanishing American
individualism, An earlier sketch is concerned with Robespierre. with
whom "The desire to do good turned Into the desire for power to
do good, and so he did no good at all." The whole is bound
together with a biographical introduction by Charles H. Hamilton, As
this is deficient for a period about which I have inside knowledge, I
venture to supplement it here. Dates are important. My diary records
that I first met Chodorov on September 1,1949, as I was leaving for
Europe to do some broadcasting and, incidentally, to promote Human
Events, of which I was then president and, in effect, editor. I had
closely studied Chodorov's well-named personal broadsheet, analysis,
and concluded that it would be advantageous to both if the two small
publications were merged. That which Frank Hanighen. Henry Regnery,
and I had incorporated was deficient in the background where Chodorov
excelled. As he was to write, in the final essay included in the
present volume, "Only a historical expert can trace the New Deal
of modern America to the New Deal of ancient Rome, or recognize Sparta
in Moscow." At our initial meeting, in New York, Chodorov met my
overtures halfway, and it was agreed that he would join Human Events,
in Washington, as soon as we could cover his modest living expenses.
Unfortunately a policy rift between Hanighen and myself had developed
sharply during my seven weeks in England, Germany, and France, when he
necessarily exercised full editorial control. We had been as one in
emphasizing the dangers in Roosevelt's alliance with Soviet Russia,
since the Kremlin never made any secret of its desire to see "free
enterprise" undermined in the United States. But when Russia had
won, establishing Communist satellites throughout Central Europe, we
would have to accept a highly unwelcome outcome largely of our own
making. "The moving finger writes and having writ. moves on
Just because we had blundered did not mean that we could now revise
history to our own taste. The mission of Human Events should have been
to discover some reasonable modus vivendi between the United States
and the USSR. That outlook, I had ascertained, was also strongly held
in Western Europe.
Hanighen. on the other hand, believed that it would be both
justifiable and and profitable to swing Human Events into a clearly
anti-Soviet orbit, even though this meant more "entangling
alliances," militarization, and centralization of government,
which we had heretofore opposed. Argument against steering a collision
course with Russia was met with the "soft on Communism"
rebuttal. In retrospect I see this as the first premonitory break in
what had been a united and fundamentally isolationist Conservative
front. This "New Right" seemed to me, and very much to
Chodorov, to lean in the direction of National Socialism and away from
the restoration of the balanced Federal Republic to which we both
aspired. Goering's "guns versus butter" issue was up again.
Anyway, the policy of Human Events had to be clarified, So, on
February 14. 1950, I called a meeting of its stockholders to decide
whether or not the editorial direction should be unified. In effect,
as he was well aware, this was a request to Henry Regnery to decide
whether Hanighen or myself should henceforth play second fiddle,
Regnery voted against unification, telling me later that he did not
think I would in any case continue to run the publication
indefinitely-a not improbable assumption considering the heavy strain
of having to support my family by separate remunerative work.
(therefore resigned as president and surrendered my stock while
agreeing to continue editorial supervision until June 1 to give
Hanighen time to reorganize. The whole affair was handled with a
minimum of ill feeling for nobody wanted to see an end to the project
on which we had all worked so hard.
Our clientele had respected the closely reasoned and objective
argument which had distinguished Human Events, So it was natural for
Hanighen to invite Chodorov to fill the vacancy caused by my
departure. As I knew nothing of this in advance, I could not warn
either that an impasse would result.
It came with Chodornv's remarkably prescient article, "Warfare
Versus Welfare," printed in the Human Events of January 10,1951,
and reproduced in the LibertyPress symposium. This essay starts with
the assertion that "the welfare state is headed for the
mothballs." It concludes that "in the immediate future thc
direction of the American state will be toward the acquisition of
power for war purposes, not eleemosynary purposes. The tendency will
be more and more toward totalitarianism. That is unavoidable."
This stark forecast was highly unwelcome to the New Right and quickly
led to Chodorov's suppression as an independent writer, But it has in
no way diminished his standing as a prophet.