FELIX FRANKFURTER AND HIS TIMES by Michael E. Parrish

FELIX FRANKFURTER AND HIS TIMES

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A full and responsible (if not inspired) life of Felix Frankfurter through his 1939 Supreme Court appointment--the first of two volumes. Here, indeed, is an alternative to H. N. Hirsch's psychological reconstruction (The Enigma of Felix Frankfurter, 1981)--and, of most immediate moment, a means to put into perspective Bruce Allen Murphy's allegations of impropriety, or worse, in The Brandeis/Frankfurter Connection (p. 326). Professor Parrish (History, UC, San Diego) has no particular interpretive viewpoint or special focus. In that sense, his book has little to offer the person acquainted with Frankfurter's career: Vienna birth; upwardly mobile New York boyhood; City College; academic and social take-off at Harvard Law; Progressivism via Henry Stimson, one of several ""surrogate fathers,"" and TR; first Washington stint, under Stimson, and intellectualizing at the ""House of Truth""; Harvard Law faculty (as against private practice); Zionism, via Brandeis; The New Republic, with Herbert Croly; Brandeis' stand-in with the Consumers League, and other reformer-litigants; WW I labor mediator (the blistering Bisbee report, the Mooney case); return to Harvard Law; the Red scare; the 1920s break with Law school Dean Roscoe Pound (""handicraft"" vs. ""factory-model"" legal ed); agitation for federal court reform; Sacco-Vanzetti; FF & FDR; early New Deal triumphs; the Court-packing flap; Supreme Court appointment. And Parrish is not a galvanizing writer: every description is a catalogue of traits; almost every assertion is set off from the next by a qualifying or balancing ""but."" This is not just a writerly tic, however: Parrish is striving for a rounded, balanced view--which also emerges as a consensus of contemporary and historical judgment. ""During the war years, the basis of a durable Frankfurter legend took shape, rooted in the fevered imagination of his many enemies, the uncritical praise of admirers, and sometimes in the tangled record of events themselves."" This is at once valid--and neither aggrandizing nor diminishing; it is also slightly equivocal. On specific questions, though, Parrish clearly sees the yea and nay. Frankfurter, he writes (on the same, WW I page), ""shared with many of his friends on The New Republic an exaggerated belief in the possibilities of social reform through national mobilization."" His record during the Red scare ""was not as radical as most conservatives claimed, nor as glorious as his own memoirs later suggested."" The ""extraordinary academic demands [he placed] upon Jewish students"" may have been realistic and well-intended; but still reflected a ""double standard"" (as well as ""the psychic wounds inflicted by anti-Semitism""). A just book, then--characteristically but not crudely warts-and-all.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1982
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan