Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who died in March 2003, was one of the most compelling American figures of the 20th century. He was a brilliant and irascible contrarian who managed nevertheless to bestride establishment halls as Harvard professor, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and United States Senator. A lifelong Democrat with what may be fairly called conservative instincts about many social issues, he was one of the original neoconservatives at a time when that term still meant something. As is well appreciated among those who knew him, he defied every category, straddled every boundary, transcended every limit seemingly placed before him.
What is less well known is that one of Moynihan’s early passions was the history of the American labor movement. Moynihan’s doctoral thesis at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, submitted on August 1, 1960, was entitled “The United States and the International Labor Organization, 1889–1934.” It bears unmistakable sympathy for the nobility of work and for the interests of workers, but avoids all cant and any hint of romanticism about the labor movement itself. This is what one would expect from someone who as a youth in New York City shined richer people’s shoes to support himself.
Neither the dissertation as a whole nor any part of it has ever been published. The American Interest is pleased to bring a part of that thesis to light—a small sampling of a 600-plus-page book, but enough to give the flavor of a work that is eclectically part history, part sociology and part social philosophy. Our editing has been limited to the function of excerpting, of creating section titles and of correcting a few typographical errors in the original.
The Secretary of Labor, in his annual report for 1951, declared: “Historically the outstanding example of United States participation in an international body has been its membership since 1934 in the ILO.”11. U.S. Department of Labor, Mobilizing Labor for Defense, 39th Annual Report of the Secretary of Labor (1951), p. 16. Whatever precisely this may mean, it is significant as an indication of the way many Americans over the years have felt about the International Labor Organization. Of the three international organizations established by the Treaty of Versailles, the only one the United States was ever to join was the ILO. That the supporters of the Labor Organization succeeded in their effort to bring about American participation in the ILO, where the far more numerous and influential partisans of the League and the World Court failed, is a fact of more than passing interest, just as is the fact that, of the three organizations created by the Treaty,...