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The New International, Spring 1956

John W. Parris

Books in Review

Statistics and Formulas


From The New International, Vol. XXII No. 1, Spring 1956, pp. 64–66.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Communism, Conformity, and Civil Liberties
by Samuel A. Stouffer
Doubleday and Co., Inc., New York 1955.

Grand Inquest
by Telford Taylor
Simon and Schuster, New York, 1955.

Communism, Conformity and Civil Liberties, by Samuel Stouffer, is a statistical survey – financed by the Fund for the Republic – which attempts to find out the degree of tolerance in this country for unorthodox political and religious opinions.

The following figures arc a sample of the attitudes revealed by some five thousand individuals and selected community leaders: 58 per cent of the cross-section and 84 per cent of the selected community leaders would permit a socialist to talk in their town; 37 per cent of the former and 64 per cent of the latter would allow an atheist to speak. Most revealing, perhaps, was Stouffer’s finding that “The number of people who said that they were worried either about the threat of Communists in the United States or about civil liberties was ... less than 1 per cent.”

One of Stouffer’s conclusions is that:

‘‘A new and searching study ... is needed ... especially to test the allegations that a climate of fear has subtly permeated the executive branch of the government, not only in the State or Defense Department, but even in agencies which are not handling classified materials ... Curbing excesses in the administration of security regulations if such excesses actually occur.” (Italics mine – A.R.)

A very cautious man.

TELFORD TAYLOR, AUTHOR OF Grand Inquest, on the other hand, knows that there is demoralization in the State Department. Former Ambassadors Norman Armour, Robert Woods Bliss, Joseph C. Grew, William Phillips, and G. Howland Shaw have all said so. He knows that there is demoralization among government scientists. Dr. Vannevar Bush and Dr. James Killian, President of M.I.T., have testified to it.

Taylor is concerned with Congressional Committees of the “un-American activities” which, he says, “are an immediate and major cause of the internal crisis of confidence in which the United States is presently gripped.”

The book is an interesting history of legislative investigations in the United States from their origins in England to now, and an examination of their place in our legal system.

Taylor argues that only two ends may be properly pursued by a Congressional committee: gathering information for the purpose of making laws, and investigating the executive branch. The power of Congressional investigation is also limited by the Constitutional guarantee of the right of the citizen to privacy, by the pertinency of the questions to the subject under investigation, by the federal system (some powers are delegated to the states) and by other Constitutional rights of the individual which are found in the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment.

All of these limitations on the investigating powers of Congress are soberly discussed by Taylor with references to appropriate court decisions and official documents.

How have McCarthy and others been able to abuse their powers? Taylor argues that the popularity, in the thirties, of such investigations as the Pecora and Truman probes led to an “illusion of legislative omnipotence” bolstered also by the writings of Frankfurter and Woodrow Wilson during the “New Freedom” era.

It seems to this reviewer, however, that in the cases that Taylor cites the people whose rights the courts protected had one thing in common: their total support of the status quo. But political deviationists were treated as if they were outside the law. Despite some dissenting judicial opinion, most of them went to jail for contempt.

The author falls into an undiscriminating use of the term “the Communist conspiracy”:

“But when in 1951 the constitutionality of the Smith Act came before the [Supreme] Court, the majority justices found the classic language [Holmes’ clear and present danger’ ruling] ill adapted to the issues raised by the world wide highly organized communist conspiracy.”

It would seem, however, that the words of so conservative a judge as Charles Evans Hughes, in 1937, as quoted by Taylor would give pause:

Thus if the Communist party had called a public meeting in Portland to discuss the tariff, or the foreign policy of the government, or taxation, or relief, or candidacies for the office of President, members of Congress, Governor or state legislators, every speaker who assisted in the conduct of the meeting would be equally guilty with the defendant in this case, upon the charge as here defined and sustained. The list of illustrations might be indefinitely extended to every variety of meeting under the auspices of the Communist Party although held for the discussion of political issues or to adopt protests and pass resolutions of an entirely innocent and proper character.”

Taylor offers a new "verbal test” to replace the “inadequate” “clear and present danger” principle. Taylor’s approach is in substantial agreement with Judge Learned Hand’s view that it is necessary to examine “whether the gravity of the ‘evil,’ discounted by its improbability, justifies such invasion of free speech as is necessary to avoid the danger.” Or, as Taylor mathematically diagrams it: “(gravity/improbability) × probability = necessary scope of abridgement [of civil rights].”

According to Taylor, the “gravity” is great; and as Taylor himself talks of the “world wide communist conspiracy,” its probability certainly outweighs it improbability. Therefore the answer to the equation is: a whole lot of abridgement.

Taylor, like all liberals, is flexible. He realizes that one must change with the times. That is why radicals never get anywhere; they are too rigid. So he wholeheartedly endorses this new formula. If things get just a little bit worse, the formula may become even more simplified, perhaps to something like: some abridgement = need for more and more abridgement.

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