The Alinsky/Goldwater Axis

Before he was a journalist, Nicholas von Hoffman was an activist trained by the godfather of community organizing, Saul Alinsky. Von Hoffman's new book about Alinsky, Radical, includes a passage that should raise some eyebrows in an era when Alinsky is a demon figure for the right and Rand Paul is a demon figure for the left:

Although Alinsky is described as some kind of liberal left-winger in actuality big government worried him. He had no use for President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society with its War on Poverty. He used to say that if Washington was going to spend that kind of dough the government might as well station people on the ghetto street corners and hand out hundred-dollar bills to the passing pedestrians. For him governmental action was the last resort, not the ideal one.

He felt that when the government, via one or another of its poverty programs, put the smartest and most energetic on its payroll it made an independent civic life next to impossible. He would point out that it opened up avenues of social and political control that could be used by the government to stifle independent action. In the worst case thousands of government-paid organizers could be turned into police spies. Writers like George Orwell and José Ortega y Gasset, men of the Left, now seem chiefly read by conservatives but for Alinsky their thinking was central.

He feared the gigantism of government, corporation and even labor union. The hope of his life was democratic organizations which could pose countervailing power against modern bureaucracies. It was only in that way, he thought, that personal freedom and privacy could be maintained. He did not trust the courts and legal protections to preserve individual liberty. It had to be backed up by countervailing power. For him, as he would often say, it was the struggle of the little man against big structures.

For these reasons he was less than enthusiastic about much civil rights legislation, though he kept his misgivings to himself. Around the time of Barry Goldwater's run for the presidency he was contacted by the senator and the two men had at least one meeting. Goldwater or perhaps one of his people had heard of Saul and wanted to see if there was some common ground. The conversation, he told me, was about Goldwater's opposition to pending civil rights legislation. Saul shared the conservative misgivings about the mischief such laws could cause if abused, but he told Goldwater that he should not morally and could not politically oppose the legislation unless he had a better idea himself. The country was blowing up over civil rights. To stand mute with nothing to offer except opposition to the one legislative proposal on the table was untenable.

Bonus reading: My column arguing that ACORN wasn't Alinskyan enough.

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  • ||

    Like John Maynard Keynes, Saul Alinski, while mistaken in many ways, was nothing like either side portrays him to be.

  • ||

    And Alinsky understood one thing that liberals today don't; you can't be for the little guy and also be for the government.

  • PIRS||

    +1

  • Van||

    It's sad that none of our socialists here in America are Anarchists. You have to go to Europe for that.

    Back in the Sixties we had some, but these goddamn kids nowadays don't remember that.

  • jasno||

    I dunno... I think 'anarchist socialists' describes a lot of the new generation of asshole homeless kids.

  • Van||

    They are always protesting the IMF.

    I suspect they may be "useful idiots" in a CIA sponsored disinformation campaign. Like the kids were in the Free Tibet movement.

  • ||

    They are always protesting the IMF.

    ...and smashing up private businesses, burning cars, etc.

    I suspect they may be "useful idiots" in a CIA sponsored disinformation campaign.

    Is this from one of your sources on European society at the strip club?

  • Van||

    Mann, Jim,"CIA funded covert Tibet exile campaign in 1960s" The Age (Australia) Sept. 16, 1998.

    www.friendsoftibet.org/databank/usdefence/usd5.html

  • Van||

  • Van||

    Anyone knows that if you want to know when a Navy Ship is leaving Port, you ask the Bar Girls who work down at the waterfront where the ships are docked.

  • ||

    You do a disservice to homeless kids when you paint them all with just the one brush. The ones I work with are escaping violent homes, homophobic parents, their mother's rapist boyfriend, prostitution, gangs...

  • Van||

    jasno used the term "homeless" which is inaccurate because many of them are college students.

    I understood him to mean the type of kids who show up for protests like this: http://reason.com/blog/2010/06/29/g20-roundup

  • ||

    +1

  • ¢||

    Forgetting for a moment the hundreds of small and dozens of immense counterexamples (almost all co-funded by GiantGov, GiantCorp, and the Giants' Union), there must be an instance a hagiographer could point to where Alinsky openly "countervailed"—or his ideas were put to use to "countervail"—any of these gigantisms he supposedly so deplored. Because summaries of unrecorded conversations between the dead aren't all that persuasive.

    Is there anything there? Just this?

  • Jesse Walker||

    Forgetting for a moment the hundreds of small and dozens of immense counterexamples (almost all co-funded by GiantGov, GiantCorp, and the Giants' Union), there must be an instance a hagiographer could point to where Alinsky openly "countervailed"—or his ideas were put to use to "countervail"—any of these gigantisms he supposedly so deplored.

    The most obvious example -- many examples, actually -- would be Alinsky's efforts to organize against urban renewal.

    Now please point me to one of those "hundred of small and dozens of immense counterexamples" in which an Alinsky group was "funded by GiantGov" while he was involved in it.

  • ||

    Ah, the "while he was involved in it" might well make it hard.

    Still, the issue of Alinsky reminds me of the old leftist game of picking some Marxist who never made it into power (e.g. Trotsky) and using him as a vessel for all the wonderful things Marxism could do in theory, and conveniently lacking all the awful things Marxism does in practice.

    In short, while a leader is perhaps not responsible for what his followers do after his death, I think it may well say something about the basic philosophy if "real world Alinskyism" turns out to mean ACORN and the SEIU.

  • Jesse Walker||

    It's not like Alinsky never did anything in practice, Papaya. And ACORN very consciously adopted a community organizing approach that broke with Alinsky on a lot of basic issues. The fact that they're also community organizers doesn't make them "real world Alinskyans" any more than the fact that George W. Bush is a Republican makes him a "real world Goldwaterite."

  • ||

    Wouldn't you say that Alinsky was as much of an anarchist than anything else. I really can't imagine a government that was run on Alinski principles or run by Alinski. The whole thing is about tearing down not building up.

  • Jesse Walker||

    He was too anti-ideological to be an anarchist. "Decentralist radical" would be a good label.

  • ||

    Point taken. I don't know the details of what Alinsky personally accomplished. Decentralization and communities solving their own problems are fine, but it's still a bit like some old revolutionary who altruistically organized voluntary coops in Moscow in 1919: the intentions may have been laudable, but I don't think the awful legacy is a totally separate issue.

  • affenkopf||

    Still, the issue of Alinsky reminds me of the old leftist game of picking some Marxist who never made it into power (e.g. Trotsky) and using him as a vessel for all the wonderful things Marxism could do in theory

    Trotsky had power for a considerable amount of time and managed to kill quite a lot of people (Kronstadt etc.). Trotskyists might just be the most hypocritical, annoying kind of communists (e.g. Hitchens).

  • ||

    True, I just meant as official head of state, because many apologists claim that if only Trotsky had taken over after Lenin, everything would have been peachy.

  • ||

    I love the word hagiographer :)

  • ||

    that really makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

    lou
    www.anon-surfing.at.tc

  • ||

    When did Phoebe from "friends" die and be reincarnated as a bot? Who's next? The Geddy Lee bot? The Chuck Norris bot?

    Why couldn't it be the Ke$ha bot? It would have to mean she's dead, right?

  • PIRS||

    I think the software scours the Internet, picks a random name it finds and goes with it. Friends was a popular show, it was only a matter of time before someone from that show was picked up. That is my theory.

  • ||

    So, somewhere, on some distant message board, most likely in the middle of a TEAMBLUE / TEAMRED flame war is "me" talking about how to get "v1.Agra, Ci,Alis from Canada" or anonymity?

    Fuck. Nothing's sacred anymore.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Don't like sharing your stash?

  • ||

    NO!

  • PIRS||

    Kool, doesn't that make a lot of sense when you think about it?

    --lou

  • ||

    +1!

  • Maverick||

    I once received a spam email from myself. Male enhancement. Jerk email account!

  • PIRS||

    Was José Ortega y Gasset really a man of the left (in the United States political spectrum I mean). I have read some of his work, though I admit not all of it. He seems more like a "liberal" in the sense of Thomas Jefferson, not Al Gore. In fact his place in the history of 20th Century Spain seems to paralell Jefferson's place in the 18th Century American Colonies very much. If this seems strange to you do not forget that "democracy" did not come to Spain untill the 20th Century.

  • alan||

    To stand mute with nothing to offer except opposition to the one legislative proposal on the table was untenable.

    Rhetorically, this is a bit of overwrought dramatics. There was no middle ground feasible? How about ending Jim Crow without fucking with property rights? Or, if that was not enough solutioning (I like it, I'm not changing it, Palin be praised), how about a middle ground between that point and the CRA? Where 'public accommodation' was defined in a limited time frame as a solution to a specific problem at a specific time that doesn't fuck up the defining meaning of private property for all time. There is no real reason to conclude it was either do this, write the CRA word for word transcribed from the original copy in Heaven, or suffer an America torn asunder by Racist by the Knights of the White Camellia as that passage above would suggest.

  • Wind Rider||

    Oh, to see Saul rise from the grave, appear in DC, grab Skippy by the collar, and demand "what the fuck are you doing???"

  • PIRS||

    LOL, to my Right is a paid ad for Charlie Crist - former big government Republican, now big governemtn Independent running for U.S. Senate from Florida. Does he actually think he can pick off libertarian votes?

  • ||

    Crist is only technically an independent these days. More like a crypto-Dem, as he chases Dem votes and formal Dem Party support.

  • ||

    Crist is going to lose if he is the only candidate in the election.

  • ||

    I heard where he was up in the polls. If Florida votes for that rat bastard, we need to give it to Cuba.

  • PIRS||

    I will work hard to make sure we don't elect him to the Senate. I will work my ass off if I have to. From what I have learned about Rubio he would be far preferable. I am sure there are issues I disagree with him on but at least he would oppose a new "stimulus" package which is more than I can say for Crist.

  • ||

    I would vote for Ralph Nader before I would vote for Crist.

  • PIRS||

    "I would vote for Ralph Nader before I would vote for Crist."

    At least Ralph Nader has principles; I do not agree with those principles, but at least he has some.

  • ||

    Rubio will win and win big. I think even Crist's fake wife is voting for Rubio.

  • PIRS||

    "Rubio will win and win big. I think even Crist's fake wife is voting for Rubio."

    I very much hope you are right. Crist needs to go down in a humiliating defeat.

  • SIV||

    Does he actually think he can pick off libertarian votes?

    Hey, it worked for Obama!

    (Charlie Crist will legalize weed and forgive your student loans)

  • PIRS||

    The ratfucker David Weigel does not count.

  • ||

    How 'bout Bailey, Cavanaugh, and Drew Carey?

  • ||

    OT, but interesting (especially to Warty):

    http://www.burststudio.com/kitten.html

  • ||

    Jesus dude, poor kitten.

    (My high score is 700 feet).

  • ||

    scratch that, 783 feet.

  • ||

    Impressive. I only made it to 475 feet.

  • Warty||

    I refuse to engage in violence against cartoon kittens unless it's more fun than this.

    My best is 532 feet.

  • ||

    Nanaca Crash

    3709 meters, bitches.

  • nobody||

    My favorite game of 2005.

  • Steve Nash Equilibrium||

    836 feet.

  • libertytexan||

    1219 bitches. I used to waste hours on that thing. Occasionally you'll get a good string of dynamite hits and that kitty goes a long way.

  • Gray Ghost||

    2344. Low and fast seems to be the key, along with multiple explosive landings.

  • ||

    http://www.technewsworld.com/s.....1278005617

    Sorry for the threadjack. But this is an interesting article on the coming BIOTECH revolution. Arison is pretty sharp. I am surprised Reason never links to her. She is very libertarian and has a couple of PHDs including one in babeology.

  • ||

    How is she at posting links?

  • ||

    Better than I am sure. The Reason comment system is very odd. Sometimes you can cut and paste a link and it will appear as a perfect live link. Other times, it will put up the correct link but not make it live. And still other times, it will not only make the link dead but also delete out a middle portion. Just bizarre. Lets try again.

    www.technewsworld.com/story/70314.html

  • robc||

    I have a 100% success rate when I use the a tag properly. Of course, I SF up the tag half the time.

  • SIV||

    You know how to use tags but it isn't like John gets paid to post on H&R all day.

  • Paul||

    Saul shared the conservative misgivings about the mischief such laws could cause if abused, but he told Goldwater that he should not morally and could not politically oppose the legislation unless he had a better idea himself. The country was blowing up over civil rights. To stand mute with nothing to offer except opposition to the one legislative proposal on the table was untenable.

    One of the most reasonable and wise things I've ever read on the subject.

  • alan||

    Political violence escalated after the passage of the CRA, so the statement you quote is sentimental mush, and neither reasonable nor wise.

  • ||

    This makes sense - I always thought Alinsky was a wobblie - in fact thats who I bought my first copy of Alinsky from - during my time in the Libertarian Party in the 90s I actually met several wobblie LP activists who saw no contradiction between the IWW and the LP - nice people, had emotional intelligence - hated by right winger LPers, made me like them more - old geezers these lot were, dead now...

  • Van||

    I have difficulty explaining to friends and coworkers that this type of unionism, while not offering a free market ideal, is infinitely preferable to the the brand of socialism we have in the U.S. today and are headed to tomorrow.

  • ||

    Alinsky existed in a different world than we do today. For that reason I think it is really hard to pigeon hole him as left or right in today's context.

    No matter what you think of his politics overall, he was right about a few things and had real balls.

  • Van||

    "Where are the Anarchists of Yesteryear?"
    -- Francois Villion

  • Ryanxxx||

    Just goes to show that "left" and "right", "conservative" and "liberal" are meaningless. People like Goldwater, Alinksy, Paul, Nader, etc. are allied more than opposed

  • marlok||

    I was with you until I saw Nader's name. I think we'd live in a regulatory nightmare of a completely de-industrialized country if he ever got behind the wheel.

  • Cap'n NoStar||

    This facet of Alinsky is easy to understand when you remember this: Marx said that the state would "wither away" once the last traces of capitalism was destroyed. A marxian true-believer , then, is ultimately an anarchist, albeit a naive utopian anarchist.

    It is interesting that the stateless no-government goals of Marx are no longer mentioned by his champions today.

  • PIRS||

    "It is interesting that the stateless no-government goals of Marx are no longer mentioned by his champions today"

    I am an anarco-capitalist and whenever I debate a true-blue Marxist I mention his anarchistic leanings. They usually try to change the subject. What I like to do is ask them "Wouldn't it make more sense to reach anarchy by reducing, rather than growing, the power of government?" Again, they try to change the subject. Sometimes they just shake their heads and walk away. I live near one of the most left-leaning colleges in the entire Untied States, New College of Florida. I get opportunities to meet these people now and again.

  • SIV||

    Is New College still offering a degree in Psychedelic Studies?

  • PIRS||

    That is probably included under this:
    "Special Program Areas of Concentration
    With the approval of faculty, you can create your own Special Program Area of Concentration in an area that is not regularly offered at New College. Examples include cultural studies, entomology, and gender and ethnic studies. Usually these special areas are modeled on similar programs offered at other colleges and universities."

    Here is the link:
    http://www.ncf.edu/academics/areas-of-study

  • ||

    The average SAT score for first-year students admitted to New College is over 1300

    What do you think? Is that 1300 out of a possible 1600 or 2400? Or have I just embarassed myself again by having no idea about the SAT with essay. (I am an old guy that took the SAT long before the scoring was "realigned" or essay added.)

  • ||

    Wait - Nick Von Hoffman is still alive? I thought he was sealed in Nixon's tomb.

  • ||

    The biggest problem with Objectivist libertarianism is the inherent, kneejerk opposition to even voluntary collectivism. That does not mean sacrificing your individualism nor does it mean supporting statism, but that working in tandem, and if necessary compromising, in order to attain shared political, social or economic ends will always be more effective than a diaspora of disenfranchised individuals working separately. Alinsky understood this and that is why his philosophy, misunderstood as it may be, has been so successful and will continue to be more successful than a bunch of libertarians acting independently. If left-libertarians could target their messages directly towards the disenfranchised (against eminent domain, the Drug War, gun control, corporate welfare, etc. and arguing that welfare state Leftism disempowers racial and economic minorities from advancing), they could collectively organize a political realignment. After >35 years of fun but useless philosophical debates about the right to private nuclear weapons or the right of parents to starve their children to death - to hardly any political benefit - isn't it time libertarians tried something different?

  • PIRS||

    "- isn't it time libertarians tried something different?"

    We are and we do. Objectivism and libertarianism are two different things. Ayn Rand did not even consider herself a libertarian. She called the libertarian movement "hippies of the right". That is not to say her works have not influenced the libertarian movement, they have. But George Orwell's novels have also influenced the libertarian movement and he was a socialist.

  • alan||

    ++

    I recall my feelings for Rand as a young New Republic reading Democrat consisting of vehement hate. Twenty years later, being much more influenced by Uncle Milton, Hayek, Hazlitt and Rothbard, and only having read We The Living and Fountainhead, as far as her work is concerned, my feelings are more of apathy, as in she is not an influence, but I don't discount the views of anyone who considers her one.

  • Van||

    You've read her two best novels as far as I'm concerned. I got bored reading Atlas Shrugged and couldn't finish it.

    If you want to deconstruct her read "The Virtue of Selfishness."

  • ||

    I'm fully aware of the differences, but it is virtually impossible to argue that Rand/Objectivism doesn't have a disproportionate influence on the libertarian movement. I find her philosophy to be about justifying social Darwinism and not feeling guilty about it than about maximizing freedom. I think her influence has been to the detriment of libertarian progress.

  • Van||

    Objectivism has many flaws recognized by educated philosophers. Rationalism is nonsense compared to say, Karl Jaspers Existenz Philosophy.

    Libertarians need to read the German Idealists.

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