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Monday, August 16, 2010

When Saul Met Barry

Opposites attracting?

An even more surprising revelation is that Alinsky admired Sen. Barry Goldwater, whose libertarian objections to the proposed 1964 civil-rights act he shared. Countervailing power from organizations, not decisions made by courts, Alinsky thought, was the only way to achieve permanent change. Thus, von Hoffman tells us, “he was less than enthusiastic about much civil-rights legislation,” and during Goldwater’s run for the presidency, he had at least one secret meeting with the conservative senator, during which they discussed Lyndon Johnson’s civil-rights proposal. “Saul,” von Hoffman writes, “shared the conservative misgivings about the mischief such laws could cause if abused,” but would not publicly oppose the bill, since he had no better idea to propose in its place.

This makes somewhat more sense when you consider this:

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.

In other words, Saul Alinsky may simply have been skeptical of bigness, and an advocate of low-level civil society building. I don't know enough about Alinsky to pronounce on his alleged libertarian credentials, but it is an interesting take on a controversial figure.

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 16, 2010 | Permalink


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