It is a matter of no small amusement for the journalist and agitator Nicholas von Hoffman that his beloved mentor, Saul Alinsky, learned the craft of “organizing” at the feet of Chicago’s most notorious mobsters. This was nearly eighty years before the self-proclaimed radical became a household name, having posthumously inspired an up-and-coming organizer who went on to become the forty-fourth president of the United States. Alinsky’s entrée to the Al Capone gang (which, tellingly, he called a “public utility”) was neither his ruthlessness nor his penchant for rabble-rousing, though a surfeit of both qualities surely impressed his friend Frank (“the Enforcer”) Nitti. It was, instead, his academic credentials.(from newcriterion.com)
A freshly minted doctor of criminology from the University of Chicago, Alinsky sought out, bonded with, and closely studied anti-social types. His experience proved invaluable in his lifelong pursuit of “social justice,” the organizer’s panacea. Alinsky even found a Depression-era job at Joliet’s hard-knocks penitentiary, assessing the suitability of inmates for parole. Not every crook had the panache of the Enforcer, and the work soon bored Alinsky, whose promiscuous mind was easily given to boredom. Yet there was an oasis in this desert: the evaluation of an occasional con man. In an unintentionally hilarious vignette, von Hoffman relates that “one of the flim-flam men initiated Alinsky into the secrets of his trade.” We’re never told to which “his” the trade-secrets in question belonged—the flim-flammer or the organizer. It turns out not to matter. They’re both frauds.
• Summary of Saul Alinsky's 'Rules for Radicals'
• More Saul Alinsky stories: here
• 'Rules for Radicals' at amazon.com