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I finished Clarence Darrow's autobiography a few weeks ago. It was published in 1932, just three years before his death. Darrow, a defense lawyer, is known for his famous defense of Leopold and Loeb, the two wealthy young men in Chicago who kidnapped and killed a 14-year-old boy; and for his defense of John Thomas Scopes, the teacher in Tennessee accused of teaching evolution, which was illegal in Tennessee.

What I found most interesting about Darrow, for a famous American, was his refusal to fit the "famous American" mold. He was an atheist and thought religion was foolishness. He was not patriotic, at least not in the way most people think of the word. He did not believe the United States was the greatest country in the world; he preferred Europe, where he went often, and talked about his disappointment on returning to the U.S. He despised Prohibition and thought it showed all that was wrong with this country — its Puritanical streak, its moralizing and hypocrisy, its bland acceptance of a double standard for the rich (who kept drinking as they pleased) and the poor (who were, literally, poisoned by the government, which put poison into alcohol to prevent its sale).

He did not believe in justice, because he did not think justice was served in our "criminal justice" system. He hated capital punishment and questioned criminal punishment of all kinds. He saw that the system was corrupt and unfair, especially for people of color.

He was an astonishingly free thinker, by the standards of his day and the current day. I wonder whether he might be shunned nowadays by people in power because of his views, while back in the 1920s and '30s, he had friends among the rich and powerful as well as the ranks of the poor.

After an earlier post I wrote on Darrow, a reader commented that it was "pathetic" for me to try to jam Darrow into my own liberal mold. Actually, Darrow's views and politics were far more left-wing than my own. I can only assume that the reader had not read the book but commented anyway, which is common.

Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at will@poststar.com and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at

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