Commentary Magazine

Treasury for the Free World, edited by Ben Raeburn

Freedom is Freedom is Freedom

Treasury For The Free World.
by Ben Raeburn.
New York, Arco Publishing Co., 1946. 417 pp. $3.50.

“The material in this book, now enlarged and revised, originates from the files of Free World, the publication which has become a focal point for the ideas of international leaders and statesmen on the urgent problems of our time,” says the editor. The volume contains the expressions of some sixty-odd writers—political leaders, prominent intellectuals, movie producers, poets, journalists and experts of different kinds. Among others, the following names appear: La Guardia, Wallace, Croce, Tito, de Gaulle, Bertrand Russell, Darryl F. Zanuck, Einstein, Juan Negrin, Gunnar Myrdal and Carl Sandburg. The book is divided into thirteen sections that deal with such subjects as the international policy of the United States, science, the problems of the great political areas of the world, the question of a free press, group prejudice, and so on. The over-all subject of the volume can be identified as the problem of freedom in the world that is to be built on the victory of the United Nations. But the true unity of these writings (if there is any) consists in a mode of thought and an attitude toward politics and historical development.

What sets the tone for this unity is the conflict the majority of these writers have in common. Their statements are conditioned by two contradictory assumptions—that the world of the United Nations is free, and that it must become free. Different writers weight these assumptions differently. But this can be said in general: the more they lean on the first assumption, the more wordy and vacuous are their pronouncements concerning the second. The collection opens, very appropriately, with an essay by William O. Douglas entitled “Freedom From and Freedom For.” To set up notions of positive and negative freedom is, of course, the most natural way of dealing with the basic contradiction of the assumptions. But the value of these notions is seriously compromised by the fact that freedom from is freedom for; or, a solved problem is a solved problem.

The main result, in any case, is Fourth-of-July rhetoric. In a number of the articles, the writers begin by affirming the value of freedom, liberty, etc.; then they say we have had enough talk about freedom, liberty, etc.; then they proceed to talk some more about freedom, liberty, etc. This rhetorical strain, this inability to analyze the world except in terms of moral abstractions, reaches its lowest point in the article by Orson Welles, who says that “A free world means just that. . . .”

Another element that unifies this collection is that many of the writers reduce all problems to one problem—the problem of international cooperation. The logic of this maneuver is that there are no wars without enemies, therefore let us have no enemies. Full, workable and thoroughly democratic cooperation among nations would certainly solve all of our problems, but that would be because the very presence of such cooperation would proclaim that all of our problems had already been solved. The whole is no better than the parts that make it up (some would say that in social affairs it is always worse). If, in the present period, we do not have an international organization reflecting the problems of its memberstates, then international organization will be useless. One way or the other, only the solution of these internal problems will avert another war; the mere creation of an international organization will not.

And what are the primary problems in the world today? Most of the writers in Treasury for the Free World are candid enough to admit that the chief questions concern Russia, America and their mutual relations. As regards the creation of a free world, Russian totalitarianism and capitalist property-forms in America are the two greatest issues. And they are the least discussed in the whole book! Due mention is made of the powerful economic potential of the Soviet Union; and the book is literally overburdened with holiday references to America’s democratic traditions. But property-for-profit and totalitarianism are discussed only by a few socialists—Pierre Cot and Wou Saofong, for instance.

The best articles are those of factual content; or those having the greatest specificity of analysis. Hugo Fernandez Artucio presents with simple, factual force the ugly picture of education in Argentina. The portrait of Julian Zugazagoitia, hero of the Spanish Civil War, is written with genuine feeling by J. Alvarez Del Vayo. Koshi Katayama offers an interesting réumé of the history of the liberal tradition in Japan.

The most brilliant article is Gunnar Myrdal’s analysis of the American Negro. The most embarrassing piece is by Darryl F. Zanuck, who proposes that the film corporations of the United Nations take over the German film industry (because movies have become as important as munitions, he says). The best writing is in Thomas Mann’s “The Tragedy of Germany.” An example: “The mechanized romanticism called Germany. . . .” Julian Huxley’s article on the future of colonies is the most disappointing. He very intelligently deals with everything but the essential aspect of the question, which is the compulsion of capitalist nations to exploit the colonies economically.

Judged by any reasonably high standard of critical, penetrating thought, this volume as a whole must be termed a failure. That is because, as long as man remains a stranger to freedom, talk about freedom will never be anything more than—talk about freedom. Hope or good will alone will not build a new or a free world; they will only lead us a little more sedately—and sedatively—to the abyss.

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