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When America Spoke With One Voice - Ralph Raico, New Individualist Review 
New Individualist Review, editor-in-chief Ralph Raico, introduction by Milton Friedman (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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When America Spoke With One Voice
(The following is reprinted from the front page of the Book Review Supplement of a prominent American metropolitan newspaper, with the kind permission of the original publishers. Due to technical inadequacies, we are not able to reprint the illustration accompanying the review. It was a reproduction of the Picasso mural, “Guernica,” set in the middle of the first page, with the caption: “That it might not happen here . . .”)
Fascism in Retreat, by Harold Forstman (New York, 1966). 278 pp. $4.95.
THROUGH THE AGES, commentators on the human scene have sadly observed that men find it difficult, if not impossible, to learn from experience. (Santayana added that those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat its errors.) A glorious exception to this rule, however, occurred two years ago, appropriately enough in the United States (a nation whose whole history demonstrates that its only deeply-rooted tradition has been the tendency to break with all tradition). At that time, society, recalling the way in which the Nazi Party had gained control of a powerful nation and used it to further its own diabolical schemes, decided that it would simply not be permitted to happen here. It is this episode which Mr. Forstman has set himself to chronicle, with the meticulous scholarship and engaging prose style which are his trademark.
Fascism in Retreat concerns, of course, the Great Sedition Trial of the three young would-be Hitlers, arrested, tried and executed in New York, in 1964. But primarily it deals with the public reaction to this seditious conspiracy, and, in this way, it serves as a vindication of the proud claim of democracy: a pluralistic society, in time of crisis, is ready and willing to learn from the evident successes of closed societies—it can and will summon forth the unanimity which alone insures national survival in the modern world.
Since it is a commonplace that the newspaper headlines of today are virtually obliterated from memory, once they give way to the headlines of tomorrow, it might be well to recapitulate the chief events of the Great Sedition Trial. The facts, briefly, are these:
It was on December 31, 1964, that death came to John Williams, 22, Hugh Marlowe, 21, and Richard Phillips, 17, in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison. (Polls indicated that the execution, the first to be shown on television, had an audience of 79 million, a record for the industry.) The executions climaxed a series of trials and appeals which had been the focus of world attention. The youths, you may remember, were indicted on January 16, 1964, for plotting a war against society and the United States Government, and conspiring to violate the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. During the lengthy trial the prosecution established a well-developed conspiracy of sixteen youths between the ages of 12 and 25, with the long-range purpose of exterminating Catholics, Jews and Masons throughout the country. To implement the conspiracy, they had procured Nazi arm-bands, blank membership cards and records of Hitler speeches. Annotated copies of Mein Kampf, The Merchant of Venice, and Oliver Twist were found in Williams’ room, where the meetings were held.
One of the most encouraging aspects of this whole story is the part played by the American judiciary, which renounced a sterile, and, in any case, impossible, “impartiality,” in favor of a forthright and courageous defense of democratic society. By a six-three decision, the Supreme Court refused to grant the appeal of the Fascist leaders. (A motion for the impeachment of the dissenting Justices was introduced in the House by the senior member of the Brooklyn delegation.)
1 An especially interesting sidelight in connection with the Court’s decision was that Justice Clerk, writing for the majority, for the first time in judicial history employed a quantifiable formula, utilizing higher mathematics in order to arrive at a verdict. Thus, he has shown that American law will not permit itself to fall behind in the grand movement aimed at converting jurisprudence into a branch of bio-physics. His formula was an improvement of the rule devised by the Second Circuit in the Dennis case:
Since with the aid of a team of mathematicians and cyberneticists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a BUM 70707070 computer, Justice Clerk found the relevant partial derivative to be well in excess of zero, he concluded that there was obviously no constitutional problem.
Justice Hamburger, in a concurring seventy-nine page opinion, which represented an expression of true judicial statesmanship, pointed out that English law had permitted similar proceedings in the past, notably in the reign of Charles I. He demonstrated, by citing his own concurring opinions in previous cases, that the ordered liberty prescribed by the Constitution allowed interference with government action only when our civilized conscience was shocked, and he further pointed out that he wasn’t shocked at all.
Justices Hugo Blank and William O’Doodle both wrote dissenting opinions. Justice O’Doodle noted that, “While this power is now being exercised by a beneficent executive in the best interest of society, it might in the future be used against communists and radicals.” One cannot help but sympathize with the Justice’s concern. When one remembers the McCarthy era, when irresponsible accusations were hurled even at such liberal organizations as Americans for Demogogic Action, the Conspiracy of Industrial Organizations, OGPU and SMERSH, one realizes that the safeguards of freedom for progressive groups cannot be too firmly maintained. Nevertheless, when such liberty is extended to ultra-rightist groups, it seems difficult to avoid the conclusion that it has become a thin veil for license.
THE ACLU EXTENDED help to the defendants. In the aftermath of this action, however, approximately one-third of its membership, including a preponderance in the New York area, switched to a rival civil liberties group, which had, in a unanimous resolution, upheld the decision of the Supreme Court for what it was, “a great landmark in the glorious struggle to protect the legitimate rights of minorities.” The Special Committee to Protect the Feelings of Minorities (SCPFM), composed of New York and Washington civil liberties lawyers, proclaimed that, “Any rational definition of freedom must include the freedom of the members of society to not be subjected to the views of antisocial and racist elements. Racist views are clearly in a different category from views against a class (which are, of course, deserving of protection), for the latter views can be supported by rational arguments.” Meanwhile, liberal students at Berkeley and the University of Chicago postponed protest demonstrations against the flight of refugees from Cuba and East Germany, in order to express their approval of the Court’s action.
The larger perspective of history was opened up on the Conspiracy by William L. Shyster, the noted journalist and historian. After much research, he uncovered and published the fact that three of the sixteen young men involved in the case were of German descent, demonstrating the absolute incorrigibility and congenital degeneration of this race. “The totalitarian mentality of the Germans is an old story,” he declared in an article published in a prominent popular magazine, and later beamed to West Germany by the Voice of America. “It began with Luther and Bach, was carried on by Hegel, Nietzsche, and the mad monster, Franz Schubert, and culminated in the perfect expression of the ‘German soul’: Hitler and Himmler.” When it was pointed out to Mr. Shyster that, of the three youths, two were descended from ancestors who had left Germany after having participated in the unsuccessful Revolutions of 1848, he remarked that this “merely shows the hypocrisy of those people.” To the further observation that there were also in the group two Swedes, four Scotch-Irish and three Armenians, he retorted with his customary humor and verve: “Try to sell that to the Book-of-the-Month Club!”
One of the most surprising outcomes of the Trial was the manner in which certain groups, especially those on the Responsible Right, sided with the majority consensus, and thereby, for the first time, entered the Dialogue. (Certain isolated individuals, like extreme civil libertarian lawyers, left the Dialogue in the course of this episode. Others, such as nihilistic libertarians of the Manchester variety, the Austrian-type economists etc., were, naturally, never within the Dialogue.) The organizational manifestation of this new turn of events was the liaison meeting between the Anti-Fascist Committee of the Americans for Demogogic Action, and the newly formed League to Protect Virtue, headed by Helbent Moselle and Wantmore Kindling (the famed authority on subversion and the disposal of heretics). The joint statements that were issued by these groups indicate that, although there were still certain differences in regard to substantive matters, surprisingly little disagreement existed as to form. Both groups agreed that while freedom in the abstract might be desirable,2 any doctrinaire absolutism on this issue would lead to the breakdown of the consensual framework without which social life is impossible. Abridgments of freedom in the abstract are indispensible, in order to protect freedom in the concrete. One of the practical consequences of this agreement was rather interesting, as an example of the spirit of give-and-take which must govern the actions even of ideological antagonists in a democratic society. In return for a brilliant editorial in the nation’s leading conservative journal, which castigated the supporters of acquittal for the Fascists for being guilty of no less than eleven Christian heresies, the liberal organization agreed that, in the media of mass communication which it controlled, the term “responsible right” would be used three times for every one reference to the “ultra-right.”
As the distinguished columnist, Marx Larner, pointed out at the time, however, the rightest intellectuals still appeared wedded to certain of their former inconsistencies. In particular, they were guilty of the time-worn fallacy that persecution of Communists is as justified as persecution of fascists! While applauding the new amalgamation, Larner went on to warn that, “Such reactionaries are, unfortunately, still unable to recognize the essential difference between fascism and communism, just as they cannot see the difference in kind between, on the one hand, the mad-dog mass murders of the Nazis, and, on the other hand, the—admittedly regrettable and inexcusable—elimination of millions of kulaks under the pressure of economic necessity.”
WHILE THE CONSENSUS in favor of the convictions was well-nigh unanimous as concerns each and every respectable group in the nation, there were, of course, certain scattered lunatic fringe elements which were shrill in their frenzied opposition. The tiny Society of Christian Soldiers, for instance, announced that the executions (which they claimed had been engineered by the Council on Foreign Relations) were symbolic re-enactments of the Crucifixion, designed to return us to the era before Christ. The chief journalist among the unreconstructed Roosevelt-haters proclaimed in his column that the conviction “marks the complete triumph of Warren, Myrdal, Stalin and Freud. They are now able to destroy physically, as well as economically, the best of the native patriotic forces which offer hope of salvation from alien cosmopolitan enslavement.” On a self-consciously more “sophisticated” plane, the handful of allies which these hate-peddlers have at various universities worked the tired old cliché about “rule of law” into the ground. And so on, ad nauseam. It should be obvious that there was nothing either new or correct in the reactions of these few persons. They are the same ones who have opposed TVA, Social Security and the dismantling of American industry for shipment to India. In perusing their polemical outbursts, one cannot help agreeing with modern psychology, sociology and astrology, which have all conclusively proven that mental imbalance and latent social status tensions are at the base of such extreme right-wing positions.
This then is the story Mr. Forstman tells in his new book. He tells it with compassion, humor and philosophical detachment, e.g.: “No one will ever convince the American people that such Fascist scum have a right to life.” It remains only to sum up the more long-range significance of the episode of which Mr. Forstman has shown himself the able historian.
I would say that its greatest significance is this: another victory was won in a great age-old battle. The contenders have changed in each generation: Galileo against the Inquisition; Milton against a government which claimed the right to license presses; Voltaire, Zola and the American Establishment in their defenses of Jean Callas, Alfred Dreyfus and Alger Hiss, respectively. And I insist that the Great Sedition Trial represented a victory in this very struggle. It might appear superficially that what was at stake in these contests were some metaphysical dogmas, “freedom” of speech and belief, or protection of certain individuals and minorities against the arbitrary power of the rest of Society (as if any individual or group could exist outside of Society!). But in fact the real issue has always been reform or reaction, or, as it used to be put in my student days, in the Thirties (before the present-day intellectual sterility and political apathy set in), “the Revolution vs. the Counter-Revolution.” The Sedition Trial, and the magnificent way in which the American people responded to its challenge, prove again that the great American promise, as exemplified in Jefferson, Lincoln, the Knights of Labor, and Chester Bowles, can survive and flourish in the modern world.
[* ] Mr. Mouchner, a Professor of Thought and Civilization at Brandeis University, is an authority on the history of ideas, and a frequent contributor to this Book Review Supplement. His most recent book, Radicalism from Francis of Assisi to Karl Marx, was reviewed here last week by Harold Forstman.
[1 ] Where:
If the first order partial derivative of CL* with respect to ip exceeds zero, the decision is constitutional; if zero or less, it is unconstitutional, provided of course that det[Dfp] is positive definite.
[2 ] Mr. Moselle had waged an unsuccessful fight to have the statement read, “might or might not be . . .”