A Perennial Adolescent
I was sitting in the sitting room of my modest—but roomy—residence off the campus of the University of Chicago. It was an early June day in 1949. The phone rang. The caller was one of those great men who do not deign to identify themselves when they call. "Is it true," said the caller, "that a Jew will do anything for money?"
"I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people," I said. "It is true, however, that this Jew will do anything for money. What is your best offer?"
"You have an unoccupied room in your house," said the caller. "I'm bringing a Nazi physicist and his wife to the university for six months. He needs a room, and his Aryan colleagues won't take him in. Will you?"
"If the price is right."
It was, and a few weeks later there arrived on the Mayer doorstep, without much luggage, the "Nazi physicist," an apple-cheeked man and his tall, handsome wife (the daughter of a Swiss general). The physicist was both renowned and notorious. He was renowned for his 1939 discovery (at twenty-seven) of the nuclear chemistry of solar energy and the publication, in 1948, of his masterful Theory of Nature . He was notorious (if only in America) as the wartime associate of the Nobel Prize-winning Werner Heisenberg at the University of Strasbourg. Presumably the brilliant Heisenberg group had been charged by Hitler with developing an atomic bomb. Some of their American colleagues believed they had done their Nazi best and failed for want of the crucial ingredients; some, fewer, believed they had pretended to try but had sabotaged the project.
The Nazi physicist (who wasn't a Nazi, but an anti-Nazi) was Professor Doctor—and soon to be Baron—Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker. His notoriety did not depend on his wartime work in nuclear physics. It was
assured—and, largely, generated—by his being the eldest son of the Baron Ernst von Weizsäcker.
The Baron von Weizsäcker, descendant of a distinguished line of theologians, diplomats, and naval officers, was a career ambassador who elected to remain in Nazi Germany (and accept an honorary generalship in the Hitler SS) as State Secretary in Joachim yon Ribbentrop's Foreign Ministry. In spite of the testimony of leading Allied officials and church men, he was convicted in 1948 on circumstantial evidence by the two-to-one verdict of an all-American tribunal at Nuremberg. The Norwegian underground hero Bishop Primate Eivand Berggrav characterized him as "one of the noblest men of our generation"—but his official signature appeared on documents ordering the deportation of Jews from France. (He was sentenced to an anomalous seven years in prison, but the US High Commissioner for the Occupation of Germany soon pardoned him.) Like his father, the physicist Carl Friedrich was a diplomatic man. When the anti-Nazi Professor von Laue boldly mentioned the forbidden name of the Jew Albert Einstein in connection with relativity, his friend Weizsäcker suggested that he protect himself by saying that the "Aryans" Lorentz and Poincaré had formulated the theory before Einstein. The fearless von Laue rejected the suggestion—and survived in Germany. But the anti-Nazi Heisenberg did not hesitate to give the "Heil Hitler" greeting, and, like his associate Weizsäcker, to continue to work in Germany throughout the Nazi period in order to try to hold German science together and rebuild it after the war. Largely unsophisticated Americans—including largely unsophisticated American scientists and judges—had a hard time understanding such behavior. They were unaware, on the whole, that the Hitler regime regarded all theoretical physics—which alone could develop the bomb—as contemptibly Jewish.
The University of Chicago physics department refused to accept Weizsäcker as a visiting professor; he was appointed to the university's Committee on Social Thought (which had independent funds raised by Hutchins). At the university he delivered a distinguished series of lectures. Returning to Germany after a successful university tour of the United States—and his residence in the Mayers' back bedroom—he joined with a dozen fellow physicists in refusing to do further nuclear research, even though the German Federal Republic was committed not to develop atomic weapons. In 1957 he accepted a professorship of philosophy at the University of Hamburg, and in 1970 he was invited by the greatest research institution in Germany to establish the Max Planck Institute for the Study of the Preconditions of Human Life in the Modern World. He remained a lifelong associate of Hutchins in the latter's Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions.
Hutchins' invitation to Weizsäcker was part of his one-man mission—yet another iron in the fire—to reintegrate German culture into the life of the postwar world. Immediately after the German surrender in 1945 he had called, and would continue to call, for generous and constructive treatment of the defeated nation and the distinction between its people and its wanton leaders. But he had not waited for the end of the war to begin his missionary work. The German surrender was predictable by the end of 1944, when he wrote to the presidents of Columbia, Harvard, Cornell, and Princeton, and the universities of California and Wisconsin, asking if each of their institutions would undertake, as soon as hostilities ended, to send two faculty members to Germany and accept two German professors. Travel costs and wage supplements for the German visitors would be met by the American hosts. But the American universities declined to participate; the scheme was "premature," though refugee German scholars in America had urged that it be made ready to activate as soon as hostilities ended.
So Chicago went it alone, or rather, Hutchins did, supported by some humanists and social scientists on the faculty and by a few natural scientists. The exchange between Chicago and Frankfurt's Johann Wolfgang Goethe University was set up in 1946, the first of its postwar kind, with the involvement, at the Chicago end, of Arnold Bergstraesser, professor of German cultural history, and Professor G.A. ("Antonio") Borgese, the historian and critic. "The Frankfurt-Chicago arrangement was so successful that I went to Germany to take credit for it."
Invited to address the National Assembly of that country on the centenary of the democratic revolution of 1848, Hutchins spoke solemnly in German, focusing on the role of the universities in the achievement and preservation of self-government. It seemed to him that the political realities of occupied Germany made the outlook for democracy more forbidding now than it had been a century earlier. What was wanted was high moral purpose and hard intellectual work, "and the place for the hard intellectual work which must be done if democracy is to be instituted and to endure is the universities." The present was so grim that one might ask if there was going to be a future. Man's science, his technology, his weapons, and his machines have turned upon him. We are accustomed to thinking of history as a struggle for power: "If that conception is correct, history is about to close, for the struggle for power now leads fatally to war, which can have no end except in annihilation. Half mankind is starving; the other half, not excepting my own country, is afflicted with great fear.
"The totalitarian animal, the man with the machine gun, appeared in the world because of a profound degradation of the ideas of man and the state, of justice and liberty. . . . The questions before us are of this order:
whether there is some way in which modern man will be able to live without becoming daily less and less human; whether it is possible to organize economic life so that the needs of the community take precedence over the profit of individuals; whether it is possible to accommodate the legitimate demands of the society and the imprescriptible rights of the human person. . . . These are intellectual questions. . . . They are not German questions or American questions. They are world questions. The world is now one. . . . Whether we have one good world or one bad one will depend in large part on the leadership that the intellectuals of the world are prepared to exert."
In the 1940s Walter Paepcke, a German-descended industrialist in Chicago, acquired a great deal of land around the village of Aspen, Colorado, with a vague view to establishing a ski area and a still more vague view to establishing a cultural center in the mountains. He had discussed these visions with Hutchins, on whose university board he sat, and in 1948, with the stimulus of the Frankfurt exchange and his efforts to restore Germany to the intellectual world from which it had been isolated by Nazism and the war, Hutchins picked up the possibility of celebrating the bicentennial of Goethe's birth in 1949. Again Bergstraesser and Borgese took the lead and, with another one of Hutchins' blue-ribbon committees headed by that most elder statesman, Herbert Hoover, they organized the three-week Goethe Convocation at Aspen, an event which featured Albert Schweitzer, Thornton Wilder, José Ortega y Gasset, and Hutchins as speakers, and a concert series by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra under Dmitri Mitropoulos. The Goethe bicentennial was an international triumph, and it played a considerable role in the restoration of Germanic studies in the United States. On its foundation Paepcke established the cultural center he had had in mind—the subsequently famous and fashionable educational and artistic center known as the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies.
With the usual plethora of irons in the fire—too many, said those who accused him of superficiality—Hutchins was doing other things besides restoring Germany to the community of nations. And the other things he was doing had some serious effect on the pro-German entourage he had acquired before, during, and after the war. Most of these people were political and, especially, economic conservatives. He, on the other hand, was growing more radical all the time. Across the land he went, calling for rapprochement with the Soviet Union and denouncing the militarism and rearmament programs at home. But nearly all of his pro-German admirers were violently anti-Soviet and anti-Communist. They could not but see Hutchins as soft—the powerful Chicago Tribune was constrained to
vituperate him as "a perennial adolescent"—and little by little the allegiance and financial support of his pro-German admirers withered.
Cold war sentiment was already powerful—and growing—within days after Hiroshima. No respectable individual or organ openly proposed an attack on the half-shattered Soviet Union, but the American diplomat and former governor of Pennsylvania, George H. Earle, in a debate with Hutchins in April 1946, urged that "the Congress of the United States and the President immediately appropriate two billions of dollars per year for the development of our atomic bomb. Then to have great fleets of atomic bombers scattered and hidden over a wide area of the United States and Canada, and the Bolshevists given to understand that as reprisal, following the first Russian atomic bomb dropped on us, we can and will wipe out every city, town, and village in Russia." "While we have the atomic bomb," Hutchins replied, "Russia is defenseless and this force is unnecessary. When Russia has the atomic bomb, we shall be defenseless, too, and this force will avail us little." Dragging the skeleton out of the closet, Hutchins concluded: "If we are going to war, we must go now . . . . If we are not willing to go to war at once, then threats, intimidations, bomb rattling, and vast displays of assorted military power can result only in feverish attempts by Russia to build up her own military strength, to form a bloc of her own as a counterweight to the Anglo-American bloc. . . . Are we willing to launch a Pearl Harbor attack on Russia now . . . ? We have done everything we could to foster the mass persecution complex with which the Russians are afflicted."
The campaign for universal military training—peacetime conscription—was likewise under way immediately after Hiroshima and even before, ardently supported by President Truman and the generals. Along with other eminent educators, Hutchins attacked it as irrelevant after the atomic bomb was dropped, and went on to denounce it during the debate over the next two years: "Peacetime conscription as a substitute for an intelligent program of education, public health, and economic opportunity is . . . ridiculous . . . a military absurdity. . . . In the next war the greatest handicap a country can have will be large masses of men, half trained by obsolescent officers with obsolete equipment. Professor Einstein has estimated that in the next war two-thirds of the populations involved will be killed. This seems a conservative guess. What the combatants will principally need is not soldiers, expensively trained to fight the war before last, but plumbers, electricians, doctors and nurses. This is what Hiroshima needed." The House Military Affairs Committee, which asked him to testify on the conscription bill, was divided in its enthusiasm when he went on to call the proposal "un-American" and "the most useless of all
forms of preparation." He continued, as did several other notables, to speak and write on the issue in a variety of publications and on no end of platforms. A bitterly divided Congress reflected the sentiment of a bitterly divided country and adopted universal military training in 1948.
Just as he had always talked about education no matter what the topic of a lecture was, so now he always talked about world government and the development of a world community to guarantee its acceptance and its survival. Invited by Marquette University to deliver a lecture on the philosophy and theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, he chose to speak on St. Thomas and the World State. "The Catholic tradition . . . points clearly toward the necessity for world government," he said, working hard at his theme. "In the measure that Catholics have had better grounds than have those whose life was more completely immersed in earthly nations for denying sovereignty to nations and for asserting the existence of an international society, and in the measure that Catholics have had St. Thomas' incomparably lucid analysis of positive law for the establishment, maintenance, and progress of any society, Catholics have, then, always been virtually for world government."
His maximalist position, involving the complete surrender of national sovereignty, never changed, nor did he ever give over arguing for it. Twenty-five years after he first took to the hustings in its behalf, and ten or fifteen years after the world-government movement had lost its whole audience, he said, "The nation state is rapidly becoming an anachronism. No nation can now manage its own economy or protect its own people. Hence it can no longer carry out the only purpose it has had. All problems are now world problems. The nation state is an obstacle to their solution. The industrial system, as the multinational corporation shows, is now at odds with the nation state, which now stands in the way of its expansion over the globe and its claim to roam the world at will free of geographical barriers politically imposed. The industrial system now makes the world state necessary."
Necessary, perhaps; but the sovereign nations and their hostile alliances hardened their nationalist attitudes as the years and the decades passed. The hope waned and the anachronistic nation-state waxed, and Hutchins would live to be a lonely voice in the anarchical jungle alive with nuclear weapons whose possessors—all members of the impotent United Nations—would no longer discuss international control. He would ever thereafter remain the Chicago Tribune's perennial adolescent.
The year 1949 may have been the busiest year of the perennial adolescent's life, fighting, as he was, on an assortment of fronts. One of those fronts was not the University of Chicago, where, returned as chancellor, he
maintained a pro forma stance while he continued to be the institution's fundraiser and all-round front man. But all unexpectedly he was dutifully called on, that spring, to stave off another attack on the university by the Illinois legislature—the same sometimes less than august body that had been roundly whipped when it went after the university and Hutchins in the notorious Walgreen affair of 1935. The issue of course was the same; when one of the trustees asked the chancellor, "Are you really teaching Communism in the political science department?" the chancellor said, "We are indeed. And we are teaching cancer in the medical school."
In 1949 things were different from 1935. Roosevelt was gone, Truman's loyalty-security program was in full spate, and our Glorious Ally was the Red Beast again, this time face to face across the boundary in Berlin. Legislative hearings were on in state after state, and their prospects brightened as the climate of the country worsened. They no longer used innocent druggists who might be had on by nineteen-year-old nieces; for their road shows they now had a stable of professional ex-Communists as interrogators, headed by one J. B. Matthews.
The ex-Communists were tough, but they suffered the disadvantage of being out-of-towners. Publisher Victor Watson and the Chicago Herald-Examiner were both gone, and their owner, the dying Hearst, had lost a great deal of his nationwide clout. This time around, the Red hunters 'turned their biggest guns on the State Department and the army, though the universities were still hammered some. When the Illinois legislature, debating a congeries of loyalty-security bills, was harassed by unruly students from the University of Chicago, it voted another investigation of the institution for subversion. Hutchins informed the new committee that "rudeness and redness are not the same"—and challenged it to find an instance of subversion. He went on to advise the inquisitors that "the policy of repression of ideas cannot work and never has worked. The alternative to it is the long, difficult road of education. To this the American people have been committed. It requires patience and tolerance, even in the face of provocation. It requires faith in the principles and practices of democracy, faith that when the citizen understands all forms of government he will prefer democracy and be a better citizen if he is convinced than he would be if he were coerced."
In his Academic Freedom in Our Time , the Columbia historian Robert MacIver wrote that Hutchins' "statement and subsequent responses to the 1949 committee constitute perhaps the most signal deliverance of the principles of academic freedom that any political investigating body has ever heard—but it obviously had no influence on the committee."  Obviously—yes. But Hutchins was looking beyond the obvious. Here was
another occasion to midwife the Socratic learning process, the long, difficult process of education that requires patience and tolerance even in the face of provocation.
But Board Chairman Swift and Attorney Bell (soon to succeed Swift) had grown older and tireder, and Hutchins, at the advanced age of fifty, was older and tireder still. Déjà vu, déjà dit, déjà entendu . The 1949 investigation flopped sonorously—the committee issued no report, the legislature refused it further funds, and the Illinois loyalty-security bills did not pass. But it was another hard round, and a wearying one for the champion of academic freedom in his role as educator of legislatures. Laird Bell loved Hutchins and knew him well; he knew that the more bored the president was the likelier it was that he would turn to banter to carry him through a long day or a short evening. Back in 1934 Felix Frankfurter had written Franklin Roosevelt, "I am very glad to infer that you are annexing Bob Hutchins"—the inference was mistaken—"He has many admirable qualities, and not the least among them is that he pursues his social purposes with healthy humor." Bell was worried about the healthy humor in a situation of this kind, but, knowing Hutchins, he knew better than to talk straight to him. Instead he offered to bet him twenty-five dollars that he could not get through the hearings without making a wisecrack. Hutchins took the bet.
J.B. Matthews interrogated him on the Communist associations of the faculty.
Q (by Matthews). Is Dr. Maude Slye on your faculty?
A . She was. Dr. Slye retired many years ago after confining her attention for a considerable number of years exclusively to mice.
Q . Dr. Slye was an Associate Professor Emeritus?
A . She is an Associate Professor Emeritus. She was an Associate Professor. "Emeritus" means retired.
Q . She is retired on pension?
A . Oh, yes.
Q . And still has the prestige of the University associated with her name?
A . No way has yet been discovered of stopping being a Professor Emeritus when you are a retired professor. As a professor Dr. Slye was a distinguished specialist in cancer research.
Q . She was studying cancer when she was studying mice?
A . Correct. She was studying cancer when she was studying mice.
Q . Are you acquainted with the fact that Dr. Slye has had frequent affiliations with so-called Communist-front organizations?
A . I am acquainted with the fact that she has had so-called frequent associations with so-called Communist-front organizations.
Q . Is there not such a thing as indoctrination by example?
A . Of mice?
When the 1949 hearing ended, and the universities of America still stood, Bell demurred at paying off the twenty-five-dollar bet. Hutchins wanted to know why—he thought, he said, that his restraint was a real triumph of avarice over art. Bell said that his reply to Matthews' last question had been a wisecrack. Hutchins proposed that they lay the matter before Political Science Chairman Charley Merriam for arbitration. The two parties to the suit, both being lawyers, elected to represent themselves at bar. The case was heard at the bar of the Shoreland Hotel on the Lake front. Merriam took the matter under advisement then and there, and, as the waiter approached with the check, he handed down his judgment in favor of Hutchins. "What about the last answer to Matthews?" said Bell indignantly.
"What other answer could he have given?" asked Merriam.