All Commentary
Friday, April 1, 1966

A Reviewer’s Notebook – 1966/4

King of the Road

Jimmy Hoffa is the current devil among labor leaders. But a close reading of Hoffa and the Team­sters: a Study of Union Power, by Ralph and Estelle James (Van Nostrand, $6.95), leaves you won­dering whether he is any worse or better than other professional brokers of the workingman’s “in­terests.” The Jameses make you feel that Hoffa differs from others in the guild mainly by his con­tempt for public relations. He has been ruthless in his drive for power, and he uses his pension fund to build influence, and he is cynical about the law (which he regards as something to be ma­nipulated). But if you accept his premise that society is a battle­ground of warring interests, ev­erything that he does falls logi­cally into place. His end, which is to get good contracts for his truckers, is the excuse for the means, which are elaborated in terms of Chinese-style “fight, fight, talk, talk” military cam­paigning.

The genesis of this book about Hoffa is curious, and explains a good deal about Jimmy’s “take it or leave it” character. When Dr. James was teaching industrial re­lations at the Massachusetts Insti­tute of Technology in 1961, he in­duced Hoffa to give a talk to his students. Hoffa accepted on condi­tion that he might quit after get­ting two “unintelligent” questions in a row. He spoke for three hours, complaining that govern­ment investigators, reporters, and academicians do not depict how the world really operates. Finally, after defending certain notorious figures involved in corruption cases, he challenged Dr. James to travel with him for six months, disguised as his assistant, to learn the “truth” about unionism.

Dr. James took him up on the offer, insisting, however, that he pay his own travel bills. As he and his wife dug deeper into the Teamsters’ activities, Dr. James constantly expected Hoffa to call the deal off. But, possibly because he felt he had less to fear from two objective academicians than he had to fear from investigator Bobby Kennedy (whom he calls the “little monster”), Hoffa let the Jameses carry their project through. Hoffa registered some personal objections to the Jameses’ characterization of him as “an ex­tremely competent, complex, and ambiguous individual, subject to rapidly changing moods and sub­stantial self-deception.” But, other than to say “you make me look like a bum,” he did nothing to get them to change a word in the manuscript.

Exploiting the Situation

As a matter of fact, it is not Hoffa who “looks like a bum” in this book, it is the American peo­ple. The truckers, whether they are local carters or long-distance delivery men, travel on roads that are the property of federal, state, and municipal governments, and “society,” as the owner of the highways, could presumably make its own rules for road use. But the “owner,” in this case, has stood aside. The “rules of the road” don’t insist on an open road for anybody.

In his campaign to control the use of the roads insofar as com­mercial haulage is concerned, Hoffa has been a great military strategist. Though he cut his eye teeth in the labor wars of Detroit, Hoffa really went to school under Farrell Dobbs and the three Dunne brothers of Minneapolis. Dobbs and the Dunne brothers were Trotskyite Marxists who thought of assailing the capitalist system at its crucial bottlenecks. The road system of America, to Dobbs and the Dunnes, was of jugular importance. Anyone who could impose his will on the high­ways could obviously dictate his terms to society as a whole.

But where Dobbs and the Dunne brothers were ideologues, Jimmy Hoffa is a pragmatist. His idea is not to overthrow capitalism, but to milk it for all that it will yield for the teamsters. Instead of be­ing a revolutionary, he is a twen­tieth century robber baron, reach­ing for control of the “narrows” in the interests of his own band of followers.

Coming and Going

Crucial to Hoffa’s strategy is his notion of “leapfrogging.” By or­ganizing over-the-road truckers, he can dictate what goes into the towns to be picked up by local carters. Or, by organizing at the local end, he can impose his terms on long-distance carriers who need access to the town. There is “lev­erage” in all this, for the right to “interline”—i.e., to transfer cargo from one carrier to another — is essential to most business survival. All you have to do is to cut the cartage connections at a single point to get the whole circuit un­der your control.

Having picked up the “leapfrog­ging” concept from Farrell Dobbs’s first operations in the Middle West, Hoffa has applied it on a na­tional scale. Nobody can stand out against it. If the businessmen of Omaha, say, resist dealing with Hoffa, they may wake up to dis­cover that shipments into Ne­braska have been cut off at Denver and Cheyenne, and that nothing is coming up from a strike-bound Kansas City.

Open-end Grievances

Since local unions are dependent on handling “interlined” goods from the outside world, Hoffa has the key to total union discipline in his hand. He has used the key to “level up” wages in depressed trucking areas, as in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, and to restrain union exuberance in the high-wage San Francisco Bay region to the end of making his deals in Oregon and Idaho look better. Much of Hoffa’s power comes from his detailed economic knowledge of what employers will be able to bear. (“It’s a lousy contract,” he said in one instance, “but if we take any more he’ll go broke.”) This general concern with profitability has led to charges of “sell­ing out to management.” But Hoffa lets his critics talk.

The laws prohibiting secondary boycotts have not restrained Hoffa’s application of “leapfrog­ging” techniques. By insisting on his own patented “open-end griev­ance procedures,” Hoffa can al­ways threaten a strike wherever one is necessary in order to affect a decision elsewhere. The “connec­tion” between a strike in Okla­homa City over the application of freight interchange rules and a campaign to adjust wages some­where else may not be admitted, but Hoffa works his “coincidences” with supreme contempt for gov­ernment lawyers. If there is al­ways an “open-end grievance” to take up, there can be nothing but a series of “legal primary dis­putes.”

The Jameses make it plain that Hoffa’s organizing and bargaining strength derive from a canny man’s ability to use the existing social codes to his own advantage. In doing this he does not differ from a Walter Reuther, or a George Meany, or a Mike Quill. The “law” may be circumvented, but if courts won’t issue injunc­tions and governors won’t call out national guards, then there is little use in putting new laws on the books.

Changing the Climate

But what are we to do about monopolistic union power? What if Jimmy Hoffa were to tie up the country? Hoffa himself derides the possibility of a “national strike.” He has studied the tran­sit systems of the United States, and has it figured out that he could substantially halt trucking all across the country by striking “six strategic terminal cities.” The Jameses say that in case of a “six city” terminal strike, the main body of Teamsters, thrown out of work as “a consequence of inter­rupted interlining, would collect unemployment compensation from the government instead of drain­ing strike benefits from the IBT treasury.” Thus the citizens of a nation would find legality used against them. They would be feed­ing the union that was throttling their production.

The Jameses say that “Hoffa is unlikely to test this plan.” But this is just another way of saying that Hoffa will get what he wants anyway. Even if he goes to jail it would hardly make any difference, for Hoffa is the product of a way of thinking about unions, and someone would quickly move up to take his place.


PUBLIC REGULATION OF THE RELIGIOUS USE OF LAND by James E. Curry (Charlottesville, Virginia: The Mitchie Company, 1964), 429 pp. $12.50.

CHURCH WEALTH AND BUSI­NESS INCOME by Martin A. Larson (New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1965), 120 pp. $3.95.

Reviewed by Edmund A. Opitz

New church construction is go­ing on all over this land, at the rate of about a billion dollar’s worth a year. Every one of these new churches needs a suitable site for its buildings, parking lot, and grounds, so church committees go into the real estate market and dicker with potential sellers of land for the location of their choice. This is as it should be. But then they bump into the local zon­ing board, an agency operating in just about every major commun­ity in the nation except Houston. The church building committee may have completed arrangements with the architect, the bankers, the builder, the real estate men, and then be told by the zoning board backed by the authority of the police power: “You can’t build your church here!” At which point the famed partition between church and state erodes a bit.

This is where Mr. Curry’s unique book comes in. The author is a veteran of more than thirty years of law practice, specializing in the kind of cases treated in this book. Actually, this is several volumes in one, each aimed at a different category of reader. Seri­ous students of the church-state relationships are familiar with po­litical impairments of religious liberty, but lack knowledge of the kind of impairments that go on at the level of mere zoning. This book’s careful legal analysis of one hundred court cases involving churches with location problems makes it an indispensable text for the lawyer, and a church group about to build might save itself a lot of grief by consulting this book.

Zoned for Worship

Those concerned with the prob­lem of zoning as such will find much meat here. And those who raise such philosophical questions as What is religion? and What is the Church? will note well the im­propriety of dumping such ques­tions into the lap of the courts. No branch of government, however well disposed, is equipped in the nature of the case, to tackle ques­tions of this order. Small wonder, then, that the results are so gen­erally unsatisfactory! We have reached the critical point in at least one state where the Court of Appeals has declared, in effect, that a community may actually ban churches by refusing a con­gregation the right to buy land and build! Simple religious or an­tireligious prejudice is always with us, and we can take it in stride — unless it joins forces with the police power. But this is some­thing different. Zealots willing to invoke nonreligious means to further their one true faith were once the problem; but now the threat arises from the mindless, noiseless, impersonal processes of zoning laws, or appears in the wake of “urban renewal.”

Raise our sights and it becomes evident that the denial of religious liberty by means of a zoning or­dinance is but one instance of a growing disposition to turn all sorts of social problems over to government. Government is unique­ly an agency for redressing injury. Confine it to this difficult job and the peaceful relationships of men in society are no longer its con­cern; it merely acts to deter and punish acts of aggression, and men are free to administer their private affairs. The public sector is small and well defined. In a so­ciety so organized, power is dis­persed and limited; there is no one big lever by which society is moved, and so the opportunities are minimized for evil men to seize control and do a lot of harm. Such an attitude toward govern­ment — characteristic of the old Whig-Classical Liberal tradition — cannot but appear mean and niggardly among a people afflicted with ideas of grandeur.

The Man in Charge

Modern hubris dictates that the political problem be conceived as the task of concentrating power in society into one gigantic lever capable of getting the whole show into operation, then putting virtu­ous men in charge in order to achieve great good. Once such a political scheme gets going the people will be permitted one last decision; they will be allowed to decide who will, from now on, be given power to make their deci­sions for them! This is Tocque­ville’s “democratic despotism,” and it is a measure of our decline that we insist on calling it “freedom.”

The tumult and the shouting about Church and State goes on at the level of Bible reading and prayers in the classroom. Genera­tion after generation of Ameri­cans violated the First Amend­ment, we are to believe, but virtu­ally no one noticed it — until now. Then, all of a sudden, and with the help of some eminent jurists, we were made aware that the wall was not in place; and we joined forces to prop it back by banning religious exercises in the tax-sup­ported schools.

But while our attention is engaged at this largely theoretical level we have been backed into a much more serious problem. Few, if any, local zoning boards are an­imated by antireligious feelings; they simply accept the commonly held belief that most folks don’t know how to use their property or plan their lives, and therefore somebody else should tell them. As the cartoon character, Peanuts, says: “The world is full of people who long to act in an advisory ca­pacity.” Better yet, in a manager­ial capacity.

The First Amendment to the Constitution places a restriction on Congress. Congress, it says, shall take no steps leading to an official religion. No national church may be established here, nor is any man to be impeded in the exercise of his religious prefer­ences. Heresy is not a crime. Jeff­erson’s phrase, “wall of separa­tion,” came later, and although it is repeated on every side today, it does not accurately reflect Amer­ican mores or practices, nor the mind of the First Congress. These men, after passing the First Amendment, actually voted money to send four missionaries to the Indians; for they believed that sound morals are necessary for the civil order, and that religious instruction is the indispensable basis for morality. It was in this context that religious, educational, and charitable institutions were granted certain exemptions from taxation.

Taxation then was a means of financing the operations of gov­ernment; now, taxation is largely an instrument for accomplishing social change. Political exactions employed for this purpose are nec­essarily unfair, and in order for the governing class to secure the compliance of the educational and religious communities it must in­troduce some “sweeteners” in the form of exemptions. At the same time, this iniquitous tax structure will provoke other sectors of so­ciety to invent all sorts of ingen­ious schemes for living with an impossible situation. If the present system of taxation were applied rigorously across the boards to all men and organizations alike it would not last a week, and if any­one had thought it would be so applied it never would have been foisted upon us in the first place!

The Growing Scope and Problem of Tax Exemption

Mr. Larson, author of the sec­ond book under review, does not see it this way at all, but rather regards the various loopholes in the tax laws as beating govern­ment out of what rightfully be­longs to it. Nevertheless, he has brought together a host of fasci­nating and disquieting statistics, nearly all from unimpeachable sources.

Mr. Larson focuses on four cities, Buffalo, Baltimore, Washington and Denver, which collectively typ­ify America, and then he argues convincingly that he has valid grounds for extrapolating to ar­rive at a reliable estimate for the country at large. The figures are well nigh incredible, even as per­tains to the market value of the plant owned by religious, educa­tional, and charitable institutions used for those particular purposes; but these enterprises also own and operate various businesses, and they have enormous holdings of stocks and bonds. These chunks of real estate and other property, and the income deriving from them, are largely tax exempt, and percentage wise they increase year by year. During the past genera­tion in Buffalo, for instance, the ratio of exempt to taxable real estate rose from 19 per cent to 44 per cent; and more than half of this exempt property is held by churches and other religious institutions. The picture in every part of the country is much the same, but there’s no way of straightening out this mess short of confining government within its proper boundaries so that freedom might perform its remedial work in the economic, educational, and religious sectors of society.


SCIENTIFIC MAN VERSUS POWER POLITICS by Hans J. Morgenthau (Chicago: Phoenix Books, 1965), 245 pp. $1.95 (pa­per).

Reviewed by Robert M. Thornton

The men who had most to do with launching this republic had no illusions about human nature. They viewed man as a flawed crea­ture, and hence not to be trusted with power over his fellows; and they sensed the tragic dimension of human life. As John Jay put it in one of his Federalist papers: “I do not expect that mankind will, before the millennium, be what they ought to be; and there­fore, in my opinion, every political theory which does not regard them as being what they are, will prove abortive.”

This realistic view of human nature, dominant in our tradition since the days of the Greeks, was already giving way to another out­look even as Jay wrote. The opti­mistic rationalism of the Enlight­enment equated evil with igno­rance. It held out the promise that a perfect human society was at­tainable just as soon as the boun­daries of knowledge were pushed back to the edge of things — in a generation or two at most.

Professor Morgenthau criticizes this philosophy in no uncertain terms: “Rationalism misunder­stands the nature of the world, and the nature of reason itself. It sees the world dominated by reason throughout, an independent and self-sufficient force which can­not fail, sooner or later, to elimi­nate the still remaining vestiges of unreason. Evil, then, is a mere negative quality, the absence of something whose presence would be good. It can be conceived only as lack of reason and is incapable of positive determination based upon its own intrinsic qualities.

“This philosophical and ethical monism, which is so characteristic of the rationalistic mode of thought, is a deviation from the tradition of Western thought. In this tradition God is challenged by the devil, who is conceived as a permanent and necessary ele­ment in the order of the world. The sinfulness of man is likewise conceived, from Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas to Luther, not as an accidental disturbance of the order of the world sure to be over­come by a gradual development toward the good, but as an in­escapable necessity which gives meaning to the existence of man and which only an act of grace or salvation in another world is able to overcome.”

Lacking this sober view of hu­man nature, people think in ex­uberant terms of Man taking charge of his destiny — which means in practice that some men will ride herd on their fellows. Pol­itics will be regarded as a science of control, rather than an art. The social engineer, coming to the fore, will try to impose a rational order on society, and any problems which arise will be submitted to “fact-finders,” “neutral parties,” or other “experts.” People must never be allowed to work out and re­solve their problems in freedom and by their own devices. Shep­herded by those who know best, they will be protected from the consequences of their own folly.

Some people are wiser than the rest of us, and many people are foolish indeed; but none are so foolish as those who think them­selves wise enough to assume con­trol of human affairs. 

BURKE AND THE NATURE OF POLITICS by Carl B. Cone (Lexington: University of Ken­tucky Press, Vol. I, 1957, 415 pp.; Vol. II, 1964, 527 pp.), $15.00 the set.

Reviewed by Edmund A. Opitz

Edmund Burke may have suffered from misinterpretation during his own lifetime as well as from com­mentators since his death, but no one can say he has been neglected. Controversy swirled about him while he was alive, and has not ceased. The note on which he ended his public career, his fierce an­tagonism to the revolution in France, still sounds above the tumult of modern politics. For there is a sense in which the French Revolution is the fountain­head of the various social move­ments which today claim men’s allegiance and divide their loyal­ties.

The collectivist ideology appears in several guises today, but its parentage may be traced to the ideas unleashed in eighteenth cen­tury France. Likewise, there are several varieties of anticollectiv­ism, but each owes something to Burke’s response to the challenge to European civilization posed by the Philosophes. Stated differently, it may be said that there are, broadly speaking, two conflicting philosophies of man and social or­ganization; today’s neoliberalism, with its offshoots and extensions, and conservatism-libertarianism similarly developed. The former stems directly from the French Revolution; the latter’s point of departure is Burke’s mighty an­swer to that revolution.

Differences Ignored

Neoliberalism overlooks the “ac­cidents” that divide human beings into male and female, English­men and Frenchmen, Moslem and Hindu, and the like; it reduces every unique person to a mere unit of humanity. Its advanced think­ers, struck by the evils which plague mankind and regarding so­ciety as a mere artifact, draw up a blueprint for a form of social organization in which every hu­man unit has its place and awaits only the political command which will cause it to function properly in lock step with every other unit. There will, of course, be recalcitrants who obstruct the march to­ward utopia, so the Plan includes an active enforcement agency to take care of such people! But one day, when all the lingering effects of ancient class antagonisms are beaten and bred out of the citi­zenry, Man will have his utopia!

The opponent of this nightmare, whatever he chooses to call the banner he serves under, takes ac­count of the variety and complex­ity of human beings, regarding them as imperfect and imperfect­ible in this life. Of course, there are evils in human affairs and, of course, we should work to dimin­ish them by restoring justice. But the human situation at best will be only tolerable, never perfect.

Samuel Johnson says in the Preface to his English Dictionary that it “was written with little assistance of the learned, and without any patronage of the great; not in the soft obscurities of retirement, or under the shelter of academic bowers, but amidst inconvenience and distraction, in sickness and in sorrow.”

His distinguished contemporary and friend, Edmund Burke, made his noble contributions to politi­cal philosophy under similar con­ditions. Burke was no cloistered thinker, but quite the opposite; his philosophy was hammered out to meet the exigencies of an active and abrasive political career. It dealt with real people and not with bloodless abstractions; with Englishmen pursuing their ances­tral ways amid institutions half as old as time, not with Man living up on cloud nine — the target of the Philosophes across the chan­nel.

Something for Everyone

Burke in his natural political habitat is the subject matter of Professor Cone’s two massive vol­umes. They are obviously the fruits of prodigious research, and are addressed as much to the pro­fessional historian of the period as to the interested amateur. They are detailed but readable, and the author respects Mr. Burke’s pri­vacy; only his public career is dealt with, and we learn as much as anyone needs to know about that career.

Learning about a public figure is all we want to know of most of them, but this is not true of Edmund Burke, a master of rhetoric as well as one of the great political philosophers. Whether he is read as literature, or philoso­phy, or for the role he played in the history of his nation and ours, matters not at all so long as he is read. Go to Dr. Cone for the back­ground, then pick up one or more of the several anthologies of Burke’s writings now in print.

Start with the fat Anchor paper­back of selections edited by Peter Stanlis, well remembered for his book, Burke and the Natural Law. Or, if you wish to add a handsome volume from Knopf to your li­brary shelf, look up the large selec­tion of Burke’s writings skillfully edited by Hoffman and Levack. These will do for a starter.




Civilization progresses at about the rate at which mankind abandons superstition in favor of thinking.

It should follow that the greatest benefactors of mankind are those who teach others to abandon the blind fears of superstition and to seek natural causes of natural phenomena.

When men realize that they are dealing with natural and not supernatural causes, they bestir themselves to improve their environment.

As superstition is pushed back, human thinking and achieve­ment get their chance. So long as the ocean was thought to be a fringe of black horrors around the land, men clung to the shore and let superstition have its way.

When Columbus exploded the superstition and discovered that the ocean was just more water extending to more land, the men of the Old World became explorers, built ships, and settled a new hemisphere.

WILLIAM FEATHER, from the William Feather Magazine, January ¹966 

  • John Chamberlain (1903-1995) was an American journalist, business and economic historian, and author of number of works including The Roots of Capitalism (1959). Chamberlain also served as a founding editor of The Freeman magazine.