"READING and experience have taught me that when governments prepare for war, the first unit they mobilize is the liar's brigade," wrote Clarence Darrow in "The Story of My Life," which is extracted in the new collection "The Essential Words and Writings of Clarence Darrow" (Modern Library: 256 pp., $14.95 paper). His remark rings truer today than when Darrow first made it in 1932. But then, Darrow's thought, like George Orwell's, reflects an always-purposeful and relevant moral compass, even if you happen to disagree with it.
Like Orwell, Darrow was a man of passionate contradictions, a pessimist who believed that the human spirit could overcome anything, a corporate lawyer who turned renegade and became the fiercest champion of the American labor movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Trouble, and a jury-tampering trial for Darrow himself, came when he defended the McNamara brothers in 1911 for dynamiting the Los Angeles Times building, a mistake that would have finished his career but for another legendary attorney, Earl Rogers, who concluded that Darrow loved the masses but didn't like people very much.