Alinsky, Saul David

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Community organizer and sociologist; b. Chicago, Ill., Jan. 30 1909; d. Carmel, Calif., June 12, 1972. The son of Benjamin and Sarah (Tannenbaum) Alinsky, immigrant Orthodox Jews from Russia, Saul enrolled in the famous Chicago School of Pragmatic Sociology (19151950) at the University of Chicago in 1926. Upon graduation in 1930, Alinsky received a fellowship for graduate studies in criminology that led him to the Capone gang and Clifford Shaw's Institute for Juvenile Research (IJR). In 1931, he became a staff sociologist and parole classification officer for the Illinois State Penitentiary. He returned to IJR in 1936 and was assigned by Shaw to the Chicago neighborhood known as "Back of the Yards" in 1938 to organize the community on delinquency issues (the classic description of Chicago's stockyard and immigrant life in the Back of the Yards is Upton Sinclair's The Jungle ). In 1939, along with Joseph Meegan, Alinsky organized the "Back of the Yards Council," a unique community organization built by the use of democratic power with the support of organized labor and the Catholic Church, the two chief power blocs in the Back of the Yards.

Alinsky authored three books and numerous articles. His most popular work, Reveille for Radicals (1946), became a bestseller. (One reviewer called it the filthiest piece of writing since Tom Paine.) His other published writings include, "A Sociological Technique in Clinical Criminology," in Proceedings of the Sixty-fourth Annual Congress of the American Prison Association 17-21 September 1934, 176187, (Chicago); "Community Analysis and Organization," American Journal of Sociology 46, 6 (1941):797800; John L. Lewis: An Unauthorized Biography (New York 1949); "The Urban Immigrant," in Roman Catholicism and the American Way of Life, ed. Thomas T. McAvoy, C.S.C., 142155 (Notre Dame 1960); and Rules for Radicals (New York 1971).

Alinsky is regarded as the founder of modern community organizing and his work continues through the Industrial Areas Foundation, a national organizing network, he founded in 1940. Alinsky's enduring contribution is the melding of John Lewis' labor organizing principles with those of the Chicago School of Pragmatic Sociology. The result was and is a distinctive experimental organizing model focused on the attainment of institutional power.

It is clear that Alinsky, a self-professed agnostic, had a profound impact upon American Catholicism. His influence has been noted in the development of such organizations as the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Charities, U.S.A., and in parish ministry and leadership-development programs. Criticized from both the left and the right, Alinsky has been variously identified as a dupe of the Catholic Church, a mastermind of a Catholic conspiracy, a Machiavelli in modern dress, and an authentic revolutionary. Prominent Catholic friends included Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Bernard Sheil, Neo-Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain, Urban Affairs Director Monsignor Jack Egan, and Catholic Charities Director Monsignor John O'Grady.

Bibliography: Alinsky Papers. Special Collections, University of Illinois at Chicago; Saul David Alinsky Collection, Watkinson Library, Trinity College; unarchived papers located at the Chicago office of the Industrial Areas Foundation. c. e. curran, "Saul D. Alinsky, Catholic Social Practice, and Catholic Theory," in Directions in Catholic Social Ethics (Notre Dame 1985) 147176. b. e. doering, "Jacques Maritain and His Two Authentic Revolutionaries," in Thomistic Papers III, ed. l. a. kennedy, C.S.B. (Notre Dame 1987) 91116. b. e. doering, ed., The Philosopher and the Provocateur: The Correspondence of Jacques Maritain and Saul Alinsky (New York 1989). l. j. engel, "The Influence of Saul Alinsky on the Campaign for Human Development" Theological Studies 59 (1998): 631661.

[l. j. engel]