Donald Harrington

A Man for All Seasons: Norman Cousins, Part I

VTR Date: April 29, 1991

Guest: Harrington, Donald


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Donald Harrington
Title: A Man for All Seasons: Norman Cousins, Part I
VTR 4/29/9 1

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind, Now, a friend died in late 1990, Not just my friend; rather a friend to all mankind, Norman Cousins was 75 years young when he died, and his was surely an untimely death, for everything about this extraordinary man’s life was timeless, was of and for all the ages of mankind. As accomplished as he was in so many seemingly disparate areas of human endeavor, his life of course was all of a piece. Author, editor, and editorialist, publisher, organist, sportsman, world federalist, friend and advisor to presidents and other world leaders, healer, family man, advocate for the family of man, indeed the answer to his question, ‘Who speaks for man?” always could be, “Norman Cousins.” And today on THE OPEN MIND, where he was himself so often my guest, I present one of a series of programs on different aspects of Norman Cousins’ varied life and many achievements, Today concerning his search not for a new world order, but for order on our planet. And joining me today is his dear friend, the Reverend Donald S. Harrington, senior minister and minister emeritus of the Community Church of New York. Now, Dr. Harrington himself has been president of the United World Federalists, for 20 years chair of the Liberal Party of New York State, and like his friend, involved all his life in the quest for world peace.

So, Dr. Harrington, I would begin our program today in a sense by asking the question that I asked of Norman on this program once a number of years ago, and that was whether his involvement in his later years with the question of internal health and the question of personal health, the relationship of the mind and body in warranting personal health, whether it was a sign of his sense of failure in the world outside that he turned inside because of what he sensed despairingly about the possibility or lack of possibility of achieving the world peace that he sought.

HARRINGTON: I would have to say very definitely not, because he really never despaired. He never despaired of the ideal of peace or the ideal of world law and the necessary institutions for it. Right down to the end. I think rather he began to see the, and become concerned about, personal individual pathologies, and how they might affect world peace, how they might have some effect upon how people reacted and responded to world events. And he became quite interested because or course he himself had suffered very, very serious illness. And with his courage and his innovative ideas, he had been able to overcome serious illness. But I wouldn’t say that he for one single moment became discouraged. He once said, I thought very, very interestingly, that you didn’t need to despair, because if you had an ideal that was enough.

HEFFNER: Well, he and I used to talk about pessimism and optimism, and I remember one magnificent Saturday Review editorial in which he said, “We humans don’t know enough to be pessimists. We haven’t searched far enough the nature of the world to conclude that we couldn’t achieve what we should achieve.”

HARRINGTON: Yes, I think that was a rational argument. He would also have added that a person with an ideal doesn’t have any time for despair.

HEFFNER: Tell me what you mean by that and what Norman meant.

HARRINGTON: Well, what I would mean by it – and it would be about the same, I think, that Norman meant – if you see something that needs to be done, has been done actually here In the United States, and needs now desperately to be done for the world, you don’t have any time for despair. You set about doing it. And that’s what he believed.

HEFFNER: I gather when you say, “Has been done here in the United States,” you’re referring to our form of government…


HEFFNER: …and our suggestion that we could do the same on a world scale.

HARRINGTON: Well, you know, we have this crazy situation in the world today where almost everybody would like to come to the United States. Norman would put it this way, I think, and he would say, “Do they want to leave their homelands? Are their homelands not beautiful? No. They don’t want to leave their homelands. What they want is something that we have: our way of life. We can take that to them. Why don’t we do it?”

HEFFNER: Do you think that that way of life essentially has to do with the formal structure of government?

HARRINGTON: Yes. Representative government. Democratically organized, representative government is what lets these 50 states live at peace with each other. Look at the difference between the United States and Latin America, or Eastern Europe and Western Europe, which is very rapidly coming together in a federal system. The Middle East or South Asia. The difference between our country and Latin America is that we have been united now for 200 years, and we have learned how to solve our problems without fighting about them and without arming against each other and wasting all that money In armaments. This is what Norman meant by world federation Applying the federal principle to the larger area of the world.

HEFFNER: We’re too cynical to find too many of us involved with that thought. Isn’t it true? I mean, I don’t mean to downplay the contribution federalism has made.

HARRINGTON: Were cynical, and we think it’s sophisticated not to believe that such things are possible. The extraordinary thing is that we have proved that it is possible to bring disparate kinds of people together in peace under a system of law. Of course you have to have representative institutions that can create and can administer and can adjudicate and can enforce that law, yet these are not impossible to create. What is impossible is to do the kinds of things we do almost every day. Go into, for example, a place like Iraq. Do about 60 or $80 billion worth of damage, create three or four million refugees, kill a hundred or two hundred thousand people, and then expect to walk out and everything will be okay. Now, that’s what I call stupid.

HEFFNER: And your solution or your response?

HARRINGTON: Well, the solution has to be to bring those people also into the rule of law in the world. Now, maybe they will need a regional grouping first, but eventually, because today we have a world economy, we have world communications, everything that every single one of us does affects everybody else, and perhaps most of all – and Norman would underline this – because we are literally looking at the annihilation of the human race in the face whenever we dare to. We are looking down those orbits of those intercontinental ballistic missiles with their multiple warheads, some ten or fifteen thousand of them. And we watch the Soviet Union getting shaky, and we wonder who has the finger on the triggers of all of those missiles.

HEFFNER: Well, it was Hiroshima, Nagasaki that not initially triggered Norman’s concerns, but they certainly strengthened that concern, they exacerbated it.

HARRINGTON: Yes, yes. He said modern man is obsolete.

HEFFNER: Do you think that’s true?

HARRINGTON: I think it is true. We’ve got to… You know, the curious thing is that America all the time has had an answer to this problem. It’s in our concept of sovereignty. We hear a lot of talk about national sovereignty, but nations don’t have sovereignty, Sovereignty belongs to individuals as children of God. And individuals in our concept here in America delegate sovereignty because they can’t exercise their sovereignty all by themselves in these complex relationships of life. And so we delegate some sovereignty to a city government, to a state government, to a national government) and now we have real problems pressing upon us and we don’t have any international sovereignty. And we’re not going to have any until we create adequate international institutions.

HEFFNER: Which leads me to ask you, as I, if Norman were sitting at this table I would ask him again because asked the question many times, what did you, all right, perhaps a poor word, what is your reasoning in assuming that it is possible or likely that we will come to adopt this point of view, Certainly at this time there is such a rejection of this notion of sharing sovereignty, If that’s the way you want to put it.

HARRINGTON: Well, we are going to do it. I’m absolutely convinced we’re going to do it, because we have to. We cannot go on the way we have been, by running the kinds of risks, Look at Chernobyl. Chernobyl rendered a big piece of the Soviet Union uninhabitable, And not only the Soviet Union. I happen to have relatives in Romania whose children are showing signs or illness, the kind of illness that you get from radioactive fallout. And we know that the Chernobyl accident affected lives all the way up into Scandinavia. Were living in one world today, and we’re going to have to do these things.

HEFFNER: Yes, but to say we’re going to have to do these things without the realization at the same moment that we’re going to have to do these things on the part of extraordinary numbers of people, massive numbers of people, what difference does it make? And my sense — and if you would contradict me, I would be delighted – my sense is, well, I told you before that I first met Norman almost 40 years ago and his concerns and his interests then in world federalism seemed at that point to have more of a positive response on the part of the public than today.

HARRINGTON: I think part of the problem is that we really don’t like to think about the dangers that we are running with nuclear energy. But the fact of the matter is that every single thing that happens in the world today is pushing us in the direction of some kind of world government. Do you think, for example, that the Kurds, the three or four million Kurds think that national sovereignty is adequate? No. They would like to have the United States come and protect them forever. But the United States isn’t in the position to protect everybody forever. And so were asking the United Nations to do it. Now, we have not given the United Nations the kind of structure and the kind of power and the kind of financing that It would need, but were going to have to.

HEFFNER: Yes, but when we did that in our own nation, and you said before that we have the perfect example inside our own country…


HEFFNER: when we did so we had a better grip, it seems to me, on the nature of big state versus little state, on the nature of popular state versus a state that had a very meager population. More importantly perhaps, there was not the same kind of developing an undeveloped state conflict that we find in the world today. What makes you sanguine about using the example of what we did at the time of the Constitutional Convention?

HARRINGTON: You know, a lot of what I would say about this, let me say I learned from Norman. We have to go back really and look at what those 13 sovereign colonies or states looked like Back In those days a very large part of Pennsylvania was German-speaking. Maryland was a Roman Catholic state. Georgia had been settled by a criminal colony. And it was a slave state. These 13 states were not alike at all. And who were the last to agree to join? The big ones, of course. New York last of all and Virginia. They were big enough they didn’t feel that they needed any such thing. But as soon as a formula was found giving all of the states equality in the upper House and proportional representation in the lower House, the little states overcame their rear, and when the big states saw that the others were going to go ahead anyway, they went along.

HEFFNER: But you know, one can look back at the period between the end of the Revolution and the Constitutional Convention and say there was a basis in fear at least on the part of the well – born, the rich and the well-born, essentially economic concerns that motivated them to take that step at Philadelphia What do you think…

HARRINGTON: Especially they were afraid of England. And they had reason to be, too.

HEFFNER: But what do you think would motivate us here to do what you feel we can do following the example, our own example in this country, what will motivate mankind?

HARRINGTON: Well, I feel a lot of motivation, and I suspect a lot of Americans do. I don’t want to see us have to go through something like the Persian Gulf War again. Now, I think it was proper and right for us to do something really drastic to stop Saddam Hussein from going on, not only taking Kuwait, but what he could’ve done probably quite easily, taking Saudi Arabia, and having command of the world’s oil. I think It was important that he should be stopped, and I think it was very Important that this should be the United Nations that somehow was the agency of it with the United States having to give support because the United Nations wasn’t strong enough.

HEFFNER: Well, George Bush achieved that, didn’t he?

HARRINGTON: But George Bush, I think, made a great mistake, myself, in thinking that more was necessary beyond the embargo and the boycott. Because the war brought this fearful destruction. Who is going to pay for the rebuilding of Kuwait? Who is going to pay for the damage done by the 500 oil fires? As a matter of fact, we should ask the question: If George Bush had known that the whole of the Kuwaiti oil fields would be set afire, threatening the ecosystem of the world, and if he had known that the big oil spill would deliberately take place, threatening the Persian Gulf itself, would he then have felt that he had to hurry into that war? I suspect.. Let’s look at another illustration. Simply a boycott of export goods and a more or less voluntary refusal to send capital into South Africa brought that powerful nation to its knees. Why should we not think that the embargo and the boycott of Iraq would have succeeded? I believe it would have succeeded without the tearful cost and destruction. But you know, this is hindsight, of course.

HEFFNER: But Dr. Harrington, I looked back earner today on a transcript of a program that Norman and I did just a decade ago, and in it he touched, he just barely touched on the notion – and that’s why I started our program today with the question of whether Norman had shrugged his shoulders and had to some extent if not given up at least moved inside mankind rather than searching for health outside – he seemed to say, to touch upon the notion that maybe it was going to take a very great, a major catastrophe, another war to bring about the understanding that you and he have concerning the need for world federalism.

HARRINGTON: Well, you know that that’s something that Glenville Clark used to say. He used to say, “Man seems to have to go right to the edge and look over and see the horror before he will step back.” But he always said, “He will step back.” I think that Norman felt, and I know I feel, that today we are seeing more and more clearly that nothing else is going to suffice, and it Isn’t just going to be a catastrophe. The next one may be the last one.

HEFFNER: He seemed to be saying, and one shouldn’t, couldn’t put words in his mouth, but he did back away as I read the transcript, he seemed to be saying that he didn’t really want to be trapped into indicating that it would take a Third World War. But, and then a verbal shrug of the shoulders.

HARRINGTON: Well, you know, a Third World War, what really does it imply? If a Saddam Hussein could torch the 500 and odd oil wells of Kuwait, what justification has any one of us for thinking that the atomic weapons would not be used? It only takes one accident. Somebody has to press one of those buttons by mistake to set off the whole thing. It reminds me a little of when I was a child. My father must have dropped a spark Into the big wooden box with all of the fireworks, for the night fireworks, and the whole thing went off right on the front lawn, and people scattered as far away as they could get from it. Well, if this thing ever gets going, If there was a Third World War, we can doubt that there will ever be a fourth one.

HEFFNER: This seems obvious to you. It seemed obvious to Norman. It seems obvious to me. And yet we go on as a people without that idea pressing down upon us as one might assume it would. Therefore what hope is there? What hope is there?

HARRINGTON: I suppose the problem is, of course, we all have our own little personal problems. You know, there was a marvelous play on Broadway saw many years ago, Under the Sycamore Tree, Sam Spevack. Do you remember that play?


HARRINGTON: There’s a marvelous point at the very end when the two chief characters who are a queen ant and her consort are discussing the fact that they have fallen into a suicidal war in which most of the ants are getting killed. And the queen, she cries out to her consort, she said, “Why didn’t we see the problem? Why didn’t we do something about it when we could?” And he answers, “We were too busy; you with me, and I with you.” You know, it’s a marvelous little statement there. We are so darned busy with inconsequential things that we can’t pay attention to something so important. But thank God the Founding Fathers of this country weren’t too busy to think and to develop ideas to do something about this. I’m not a bit pessimistic about it because I see that in virtually everything that happens in the world community today is pushing us in this direction.

HEFFNER: What do you mean?

HARRINGTON: Well, I mean, for example, if you read today’s paper there’s an item about Hungary. Hungary wants to get into the Western European system. They want to get into the western community. Well, of course Hungary always was part of the west, as part of Austria—Hungary, and so there is some groundwork there. But actually the whole of Eastern Europe would like to get into a new Europa. Now, the Soviet Union can’t afford to see that happen unless it is open also to the Soviet Union, because they can’t afford economically. And therefore step by step they are going to be pushed into broadening that federal system.

HEFFNER: With this insight…

HARRINGTON: Then we’re going to want to get into it. (Laughter)

HEFFNER: With this insight, with this optimism, with this concern, why didn’t Norman ever get involved in politics? Real politics.

HARRINGTON: Well, I think Norman always felt that it was much more important to develop ideas and to show how they could be implemented. Of course he did get into politics. He did a lot of politicking. He was an advisor, unofficial, quiet, to Kennedy) to Eisenhower. And have a marvelous letter here from Dr. Albert Schweitzer daughter telling the story of how Schweitzer admitted that Norman Cousins, a journalist, had gone off to Africa to tell this moral giant what his moral duty was. And Schweitzer listened to Cousins and whereas he had not spoken out on the nuclear test ban, he began to speak out on it. Vs a great story I asked myself, what kind of a person do you have to be to go to an Albert Schweitzer and tell him what his moral duty is?

HEFFNER: Well, what kid of person do you have to be to put yourself further into the fray and participate in politics as candidates do?

HARRINGTON: Well, I think, you know, here you have to choose the role that you feel suits you best. I got into two roles: as a preacher, and a politician. I found the two roles very difficult to manage together, for obvious reasons. Nonetheless I felt driven to do that. Norman had in his view a different function. His role was to develop the concepts and sell those concepts to those people, who could apply them, and to assure them and to assure everybody else that they could be applied. And, you know, I think Norman was in a sense a master of the aphorism Probably the best since Ralph Waldo Emerson, And he had these marvelous little statements that he would make, Well, for example: The only safe assumption for human beings is that the world will be what we make it.” Well, there’s a whole philosophy) a whole sermon in that single sentence. Or he would say something like this: “Peace without freedom is unthinkable, Freedom without peace is impossible. The making of an enforceable peace that serves the conditions of freedom is at the top of the human agenda.’

HEFFNER: And it’s probably with an aphorism like that that we do best to end the program. And I do appreciate your coming to discuss this aspect of Norman Cousins’ life with me today, Dr. Harrington. Thank you again for joining me.

HARRINGTON: My great pleasure.

HEFFNER: And thanks too, to you in the audience. I hope you’ll join us again next time, And if you care to share your thoughts about today’s program, please write THE OPEN MIND, P.O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New

York, New York, 10150. For transcripts, send $2 in check or money order. Meanwhile, as another old friend used to say, Good night, and good luck.