thumbnail of World of the Paperback; Felix Frankfurter's "The Public and its Government"
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
The world of the paperback the University of Chicago invites you to join us for this series of 15 minute programs dedicated to the discussion of literary topics and the review of significant paper bound books each weekly program will bring to the microphone a different author authority or educator with his particular viewpoint towards the topic for discussion. The book selected for today's discussion is the public and its government by Felix Frankfurter. Our guest reviewer is Philip Courland professor of law at the University of Chicago. Here is your discussion host from the University of Chicago Robert C. Albrecht. Justice Frankfurter opens his book the public and its government with this quotation from Perry please. We differ from other states in regarding the man who holds aloof from public life not as quiet but as useless. We decided to bait carefully and person all matters of policy holding not the words and deeds go we'll together. But the acts are foredoomed to failure when undertaken undiscussed.
This quotation from Perry please rightfully belong at the opening to a book on the public and government at the opening of the book but I think it is a model for Felix Frankfurter it certainly contains the essence of what he was. But as a patient public life thought before action. I think of the themes that he most heartily. First thing that struck me first was the title. It might have been the public and describe the relationships between the two. I think it was important that he chose the public in it because it is. Testimony I think to his belief in democracy he did believe that the government belonged to the people. One of his reasons for writing the book was that he felt that there was at least a measure of distrust between the public and its government. Did you feel this. Well I don't have any doubt that when he wrote the book which was based on a series of lectures he gave that yeah what he was trying to overcome
was what he thought was a dying perhaps and the notion that should be killed rather than a dying notion that the government had no business carrying on doing anything except acting as a referee among private interests. Does this do you think this new is still commonly held. I think it's disappeared to a large extent I think my memories of that era are not quite clear. There was more of a problem. I'm not sure that what we would regard as commonplace was regarded as possibly true by a very large number of influential people in the community. I thinking of a statement of the book The government is no longer merely to keep the ring. To be a policeman to secure the observance of elementary decency. It is now looked upon as one of the energies of civilization that is being drawn upon for all the great ends assert it. I think right through the time of the Roosevelt court packing plan a lot of people would regard this as
socialistic heresy. And today of course it seems that one people accept another functional government as its proper sphere. Is it the same function that got the same function the frankfurter envisioned in 1030 vision that he had in 1930 I think is probably best expressed in the New Deal. What we think the New Deal stood for although actually I suppose it really had a single philosophy but that there are problems which are not solved of individuals or by local governments of states that it was the function but the obligation of the national government to take. But I think he had a countervailing thesis which you expressed in this value to the extent that the problem is a local. The proper area for resolution is at the local level at the National.
Did Frankfurter during particularly during the thirties seem to stand for this position on the court. Well you didn't get to the court in time I think what you have to look to when you ask what he did on the court is his notion that a. It is not the function of the judiciary to express the function of a legislator or a commentator on legislation to express what he was talking about here is what legislatures should do what executive the executive branches should do. So far as he was concerned the court was not a formulator power. It was a protector against imposition on the rights of individuals. But it was not its function to undertake the leadership and the creation of national policy. And so as a judge I think you would say that it was none of his business to put into effect the various suggestions that he makes here just as he said it
was none of his business to interfere with those plans when the legislature didn't like them. And one of the things which he seems to emphasize a chapter of the book is the function of the Supreme Court to review the legislature and the state. Bodies still seem that this is one of their most important functions of the Supreme Court. I don't think that community question about what's happened between the time he was talking here and the problems that the court now faces and did face during most of the time that he was a member of the court is the difference between the Question of the power of state governments to control economic activity which the court was limiting such an extent that both the national and the state governments as a matter of fact became powerless to deal with an economic catastrophe like the depression. But what we have now
is a problem of limitations on state power in the areas that affect individual freedoms and liberties as distinguished from. Although I don't think any sharp line can be drawn but a distinguished prophet. Well the concern with that is today in the court as a meaning of due process of law with relation to life and liberty and what they were concerned with at this time was primarily due process with relation to property Frankfurter was one of those judges who did not have a great deal of faith in the utilization of the Due Process Clause to effectuate appropriate ends of government. This is part in part due to is there's a real feeling about the undemocratic nature of a court its lack of political responsibility in part due to the failure to find any guidance in the words due process and in part to the notion that to the extent that you read strict concepts into the due process clause you limited the capacity
both of the states and the national government to experiment in the resolution of problems. Frankfurter it to one point in this book mentions the problem I suppose in his college and the divided court. This does not seem to bother him. This time you never barring one Islamic court having control of it once it got to the court I suppose having contributed to the great number of dissenting opinions. It would be hard for him to complain that this was going on but he's spoke frequently about public and private ques and essentially what he asked anybody who raised the price of a Why does the court ask the question of what hard problems are there and which there are two points of view and the fact of the matter is that the court is not a device of the newspapers would reveal because the court divides on the hardest problems of the Getz which also happen to be the problems that make the newspapers the
majority of decisions are unanimous decisions. They were them. That is before Frank put it on the court they were while he was on the court and they have been since he left because he was a great believer in the obligation of the justice to express his own views. Where they differed from that of the majority. I think in part this derives from the fact that he saw the individual expression of opinions by Justice Brandeis and eventually become dominant. I expect he would have shouted the thing got whatever might have happened if they had remained silent and not stated that. Did Frank for any time seem to to question the position of the court in a democratic society or did he always see it as a real integral part of a democratic government. I think you have to divide the court's function into several parts. I think what you're talking about and the public image is concerned with the power of judicial review.
There can be no question of the desirability of the necessity of the court for many other functions such as the interpretation of legislation the supervision of the administration of justice in the courts in the area of public review of judicial review. I think Frank believed that it should be accessed only under the most extraordinary circumstances. I think he had little doubts about joining in the school segregation cases. On the other I think he would have given a lot more leeway to state legislatures as well as in the legislatures and most of his brother and have come to believe as appropriate. One of the old questions. That one always thinks of I suppose it's a lame Halas things that regard the court as a narrow and broad interpretation of the Constitution. I suppose there's that this is really a dead question his need for members of the court.
No they continue to argue about it. I think it is meaningless for our purposes and always has been meaningless there is no doubt that it is a constitution and as a constitution is not to be construed as literally as a statue. On the other hand it is also true that there is some history and content to the Constitution which means that the justices aren't free to write anything they please as constitutional law. There's vacillation between the two poles and sometimes you call it tends toward one and other times tends toward the other and sometimes it will depend on the subject as before and as to whether you have a strict constructionist or a broad constructionist with Frankfurter usually. Could he usually be denominated a broad constructionist. Not in modern terms. He was considered a more limited constructionist if you
think of the Constitution as being less of a restraint through his government action than it was in the US. He as I think we've indicated already has faith in democracy was such that he had a belief that except in these extraordinary circumstances the will of the people spoken through their legislature had to be done. And yet he also said that the the court and the Constitution serve also as a kind of protectors of the of the people protected primarily of minorities and of individuals. But even in the area of individual freedoms here and the reputation among. Liberals close quote as a as a reactionary because he had hoped for reform through the at the local level rather than attempt to impose reform from above. He was not a great believer in edict from the court was going to reform individual view. And he believed that.
You had to convince an educator who was ultimately responsible for the election of the officials rather than the officials themselves to accomplish what should be accomplished. He places great emphasis in his closing remarks in this book on the function of educational institutions with regard to the public good. Did he see this. Well I did see this as a necessity for proper relations between the public and government and he certainly did. I thought that first of all you needed a group with specialized difficult problems that this group would cover could come out of university training. But you also believe that it was necessary to communicate to everybody who participated in the electoral process. I think it would shock him to think that anybody was
World of the Paperback
Felix Frankfurter's "The Public and its Government"
Producing Organization
University of Chicago
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-3r0pwg27).
Episode Description
This program features Philip B. Kurland discussing Felix Frankfurter's "The Public and its Government."
Series Description
This series is dedicated to the discussion of literary topics and of the publication of significant paperbound books.
Broadcast Date
Talk Show
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Guest: Kurland, Philip B.
Host: Albrecht, Robert C.
Producing Organization: University of Chicago
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 66-23-7 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:14:26
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “World of the Paperback; Felix Frankfurter's "The Public and its Government",” 1966-07-19, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 28, 2022,
MLA: “World of the Paperback; Felix Frankfurter's "The Public and its Government".” 1966-07-19. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 28, 2022. <>.
APA: World of the Paperback; Felix Frankfurter's "The Public and its Government". Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from