Russell Davenport was one of the founders of the early World Citizens’ Association along with Quincy Wright, professor of international law at the University of Chicago. Davenport was a resolute opponent of the isolationist movement then strong in the Republican Party and among some Democrats as well. As he wrote "There come times in history of every people when destiny knocks on their door with an iron insistence
the shape of things to come depends on us: our moral decisions, our wisdom, our vision and our will."
However, it was less because of his role in the world citizens’ movement than because he was the editor of Fortune in Henry Luce’s publishing empire that early supporters of Wendell Willkie brought the two men together in the summer of 1939 at a brainstorming session that Fortune held once a month with industrialists, bankers, labor union leaders, economists, and sociologists.
Willkie had been a Democrat most of his adult life and was considered as "a wild card" among the Republican elite. Moreover, he had never run for a political office and to start out by wanting to run for President struck some, especially Republican senators and governors, as premature. Willkie was disliked by Democrats as a renegade and by Republicans as an interloper. Willkie was a lawyer for large corporations of the sort that advertised in Fortune and had defended the big electric-generating companies against government regulations. Since the TVA and its state-sponsored creation of energy was one of the major projects of FDR’s New Deal, Wendell Willkie became an opponent of Roosevelt’s policies but without any base among Republicans whom he had joined only at the end of FDR’s first term.
Russell Davenport was one of the fellow Yale graduates that Henry Luce had brought first to Time, then Life and Fortune. Davenport was more of a writer and idea person who could visualize what others should write rather than an editor. He was considered disorganized by his fellow editors and nearly never ready for a deadline. As a fellow Luce editor John Jessup wrote in the preface of The Dignity of Man (1), a posthumous book of Davenport’s unfinished writings "Davenport was in important ways the best managing editor Fortune ever had; in unimportant, the worst. As an executive, he was a fountain of anarchy, indecision, and disorder. He inherited a small staff of able and somewhat pampered writers and researchers who were used to a good deal of autonomy in fulfilling their assignments. Davenport took this machine apart and put it together again his editorial antennae, so readily agitated by remote inscrutabilities, often led him to change signals in mid-story, and in view of his noon-to-midnight working habits, there was not always time or occasion for him to make the signals clear to his staff. In the resulting crises he sometimes rewrote whole stories himself overnight, offending the writers and researchers who considered themselves responsible." Davenport had imagination, and Fortune under his editorship produced a number of indepth reports on world economic conditions. Davenport also edited and published in the April 1940 issue Wendell Willkie’s campaign credo "We, the People."
Davenport put his energy, writing skills, and contacts in the publishing world at the service of Wendell Willkie in 1940. The political amateurs, but with access to considerable money from publishing and other business sources finally overwhelmed the Republican political establishment who were divided in their support between Robert Taft, Senator from Ohio, and Thomas Dewey, Governor of New York. The political professionals did not see the Willkie train moving down the tracks until too late.
In the 1930s and 1940s, primary elections for party candidates had not taken on the role that they have today, and party conventions were times of political deals in "smoke-filled rooms." The Willkie campaign, with Davenport as "personal representative" because he needed a title – in reality chief speech writer – filled the visitors galleries and balcony with Willkie supporters who were not delegates. They took up the chant "We want Willkie" at every occasion with growing force. Davenport, at 39, was the oldest among the "young guard" that was Willkie’s inner circle. The Floor Manager was Harold Stassen, then the 32 year-old Governor of Minnesota. On the sixth ballot, Willkie was nominated for President and began his campaign just as World War II broke out with the German attack on Norway and France.
Davenport took leave from Fortune to be chief writer on the campaign train that crossed the USA several times, bringing Willkie to many towns. Davenport wrote speeches which attacked FDR’s internal policies while supporting his international role in helping England under Nazi attack. Yet after the campaign, Willkie said realistically "In moments of oratory in campaigns, we all expand a little bit." Franklin Roosevelt won easily, but Willkie received more votes than had Republicans in the two earlier presidential contests of FDR.
Willkie’s style and the fine prose with which Davenport had filled Willkie’s speeches had impressed Roosevelt and his circle, in particular his "right hand man" Harry Hopkins who was a personal friend of Davenport. In 1942, Roosevelt decided to send Wendell Willkie on a round-the-world tour to meet allied leaders to show that the USA was united on world policy across the political party divisions. Thus Willkie began a series of meetings with world leaders, in particular the new Soviet partner, Joseph Stalin, as well as going to Africa, the Middle East and China. On his return, Willkie had notes and impressions that Russell Davenport pulled together along with Gardner Cowles Jr. a publisher, and Joseph Barnes, reporter and later foreign editor of the New York Herald Tribune, who had been on the trip. Davenport suggested "One World" as the title.
Russell Davenport was deeply influenced by the German theosophical writer Rudolf Steiner who believed in a "world spirit" much on the lines of the more recent James Lovelock’s Gaia (2). The "world spirit" at work was what Davenport called "destiny", and destiny called upon everyone to move, to respond to the "spirit of the times". As Steiner had written "Man is not a being who stands still; he is a being in the process of becoming. The more he enables himself to become, the more he fulfils his true mission." For Davenport, the "world spirit" was calling to a realization of "One World". Steiner had stressed that internationalism springs from a love which radiates out to all peoples and races, in order that the light received from them may be kindled in the deeds, conceptions and creations of one’s own people. "Each individual nation must so find its place in the great chorus of the peoples of the earth that it contributes to the full understanding which can alone unite them all in real and mutual knowledge." As Davenport wrote in a less-Germanic style "the inner knowledge that American policy cannot be merely national, but must, to be valid, relate itself to humanity as a whole."
Willkie’s One World (3) became a best-seller and the term "one world" became part of the everyday vocabulary. World citizens were called "one worlders", and the isolationist wing of the Republican Party became largely powerless. Unfortunately, Wendell Willie did not live long after the publication of his book. He died in the autumn of 1944 at the age of 52. Davenport’s writing skills and imagination were also largely absent from the organized world citizens’ movement which began structuring itself at the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War. His health declined, and most of his writing projects were left unfinished. The more developed were published as The Dignity of Man after his death in 1954 at the age of 53. A little like "We want Willkie", Davenport’s contribution to cosmopolitan thinking has faded from the scene, his skill with words often replaced by more academic styles. Yet destiny keeps knocking, and the shape of things to come still depends on our moral decisions, our wisdom and our wills.
(1) Russell Davenport.The Dignity of man (
(2) J.E. Lovelock. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979)
(3) Wendell Willkie.One World
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1943)
Rene Wadlow is the editor of the journal of world politics