FROM THE DIARIES OF FELIX FRANKFURTER by Joseph P.--Ed. Lash
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FROM THE DIARIES OF FELIX FRANKFURTER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A closely-tuned biography of Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter occupies a good part of this book. Lash does not try to make pretty paradoxes out of Frankfurter's career or his 1911-1948 diary excerpts. Indeed Lash implies a continuity between Frankfurter's early Progressive crusade and his subsequent cold war staunchness. Both were the policies of the most ""enlightened"" Anglo-American elite; as an immigrant of Jewish ghetto descent, Frankfurter was painfully grateful at being accepted, promoted, ""lionized,"" and indeed was advanced for that very reason as well as for his intellectual gifts. Lash indicates that Frankfurter's efforts on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti were no lonely breakthrough but part of an upper-class faction fight over repressive measures. And Frankfurter's later Supreme Court refusals to stop incursions against the Bill of Rights expressed the World War II and postwar policies of his patrons. Lash tellingly juxtaposes FF's serene semi-intimacy with people like Dean Acheson on the one hand against the self-righteous Frankfurter principle of ""judicial restraint"" and his indignation toward the overt politicking of some of his fellow Justices. The scrappy diaries (parts stolen long ago, parts deleted, years skipped, the remainder written with an eye to publication) express Frankfurter's wish for ""bounties of animated spirit and wholesome souls"" which he never found, either among diplomatic types or his Acheson-level associates. FF allows himself to expostulate against Justice Black and his circle, especially William Douglas, ""the most systematic exploiter of flattery I have ever encountered,""--and Frankfurter was a good judge after his own kowtowing to Franklin Roosevelt, as Lash tells it. Far more painful are the diary gaps in 1944-45. Frankfurter moved in the highest Zionist circles and must have known not only about the Nazi death camps but about the refusal of such State and War Department chiefs as his own mentor Henry Stimson to do anything significant about them. The lesson simply made FF all the more devoted to his betters, reinforced by his wife's complaints to others about the hardships of being married to a Jew. In more general terms, Frankfurter exemplified 20th-century liberalism: he always defined issues the way they were presented to him from above, then occupied himself with procedural ruminations. Lash, who has previously but never so frankly exhibited fascination with the subject of ""Jews among the elite,"" has assembled a volume that will attract many sentimentalists, as well as serious readers in history, and throw them all up against unsettling questions.

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 1975
Publisher: Norton