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Dwight Macdonald

Sparks in the News

(30 May 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 37, 30 May 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Ungilded Lily

It would be gilding the lily to comment on the following “society item” from the N.Y. World-Telegram for May 16:

“Tommy Krock, long-lost member of the Manhattan stag line, turned up with a neatly clipped mustache and a monocle. ‘I’ve lost touch with my New York friends,’ he told Elizabeth Churchill who, with her fiancé, Tom Stoneborough, stopped for a chat. ‘I’ve been fighting in Spain with Franco for eighteen months. I expect to be here till September attending to a few munition deals.’ Mrs. Oliver B. Jennings, her hat composed of two bluebirds diving into two pink roses, accepted a cocktail from Nicky de Molas.”

The Protean Father Sheen

These are bewildering days. The political kaleidoscope clicks into new patterns overnight, the pieces getting all scrambled up again just as one had become accustomed to the old arrangement. The other day, for example, the Reverend Fulton Sheen, associate professor of philosophy in Catholic University, defined a “two-thirds American” as “one who condemns Nazism and Fascism without saying anything about Communism.” He also remarked of Hitler and Stalin: “They are both dictators. They both suppress minorities. They both say that all rights come from the state.” There is nothing remarkable about such remarks coming from a mildly liberal Catholic priest – except that it struck me that these formulations are almost identical with the statements made in the Hook-Dewey manifesto on behalf of “cultural freedom”. Father Sheen also revealed the Man-Behind-Stalin. His name is Satan. Again, nothing so strange in this from a Catholic priest. But, unless I am much mistaken, the priest who is even now giving Heywood Broun his spiritual preparations for his imminent entry into the Church of Rome is none other than this same Father Fulton Sheen. May we shortly expect Comrade Broun to purge the American Newspaper Guild of the followers of Stalin and Satan?

The Manton Case

Up to a few months ago, Martin Thomas Manton was the tenth ranking judge in the Federal judiciary system, coming next in line after the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. The revelation that Judge Manton for years had been selling his decisions to the highest bidder was the most sensational of a whole series of scandals which have been suddenly breaking out in all parts of the judiciary system. After months of delay, Judge Manton has finally been put on trial. His defense is in the competent hands of Mr. Noonan of Albany and Mr. Golder of Philadelphia. Mr. Noonan used to be Arthur (“Dutch Schultz”) Flegenheimer’s lawyer, and Mr. Golder used to represent Al Capone.

There are two episodes in Judge Manton’s long career on the bench which the press seems to have overlooked so far. One is the second Masses trial during the last war, the one in which Max Eastman made his brilliant three-hour speech against war and for socialism. The presiding justice was none other than Martin T. Manton, who had just been appointed to the bench by President Wilson. A more recent, and typical, episode was the Associated Gas & Electric case. For years A.G.E. was the major scandal of the utility industry, which is a large statement. Its corporate structure, for good reasons, was of a complexity remarkable even for a utility holding company, so complicated, in fact, that it used to be said that only the little-known and rather sinister Howard C. Hopson, mastermind of A.G.E., could really understand it. Sitting spiderlike in the middle of the great web of interlocking subsidiaries he had created, Mr. Hopson successfully defied investors and consumers for years. The Securities Exchange Commission has finally, after a long struggle, forced A.G.E. to some measure of house-cleaning. But back in the days when Mr. Hopson had things his own way, his trail crossed that of Judge Manton.

In June 1934, certain security holders of A.G.E. filed suit under Section 77-b to reorganize the company. It took Federal Judge Julian W. Mack a year to cut sufficiently through the legal red tape put in his way by the A.G.E. lawyers to declare there was a prima facie case of insolvency and to issue an injunction. It took him another year, until June 1936, to issue an order calling for the examination of the company’s books. Alarmed, Hopson’s lawyers asked for Judge Mack’s disqualification on the ground of “bias.” Another Federal judge dismissed this charge as “frivolous.” Then, at last, the desperate utility magnate played his last, and as it turned out, trump card. The tenth ranking Federal judge in the land suddenly stepped into the case and over-ruled both Judge Mack and Judge Patterson.

It would be interesting to know what galvanized Judge Manton into action.

Book Note

Thorstein Veblen wrote a number of important books which are now out of print, notably The Theory of Business Enterprise and The Engineers and the Price System. So far as I know, indeed, the only one of his books that is still in print is The Theory of the Leisure Class, which can be had in the Modern Library edition. It should, therefore, be great good news that Viking is reissuing one of Veblen’s books. But the volume selected turns out to be one of his minor works: Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution. This was written during the last war, and Viking makes it quite clear that it is now being revived as part of the cultural preparations for the next war:

“When Lewis Mumford in Men Must Act said, ‘Veblen’s book should be reissued as a contemporary document, which it is,’ Viking decided the time had come to heed the suggestion.”

To quote the Bard: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

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