May 25, 2011
Henry Luce, Organized Labor, and the current Republican Party
Posted by Peter Conti-Brown

This post doesn’t have anything to do with business law, so I hope you’ll bear with me.  

I’ve been reading Alan Brinkley’s biography of Henry Luce, The Publisher, the (in)famous founder and publisher of Time, Life, Fortune, and a number of other highly successful ventures. Among Luce’s many famed attributes, he was a noted conservative, whose politics often influenced the editorial policies of his magazines, much to the annoyance of FDR and his liberal supporters, including many on the Time editorial staff (though, emphatically, not folks like Whittaker Chambers or Laird Goldsborough, who Luce championed, at least initially).

There’s plenty to say about Brinkley as a biographer – stylistically and methodologically, I can’t think of anyone better. Methodologically, there’s never a doubt about Brinkley’s evidence – he lets the sources speak for themselves in almost every instance, which makes me tired thinking about the time Brinkley must have put into his research. Any contested conclusions he reaches are fully explained and appropriately modest. Stylistically, Brinkley is not Johnson’s Boswell, but nor is he Reagan’s Morris: he’s a superb, but not an adventurous writer, which I think is to his great credit. And his subject is very cooperative. Luce is sometimes infuriating, sometimes brilliant, sometimes downright daft, but always fascinating and complex.

One passage that I thought particularly interesting was when, in 1943, Luce outlined his political platform to his wife, seeking to distinguish himself from the FDR Administration, which he loathed. Brinkley and Luce write: 

“He presented [Clare Boothe Luce, his wife] with what he called Time Inc.’s ‘Fourteen Points,’ even though they were his alone, never shared with his editors. He was ‘for the United Nations in prosecution of the war,’ ‘anti-administration in nearly everything,’ ‘pro-Chinese,’ ‘pro-Indian freedom,’ ‘pro Civil Rights including for Negroes,’ ‘pro, if not the Republican Party, at least many Republicans,’ ‘pro air power,’ ‘pro free enterprise,’ ‘pro-collective bargaining and labor’s just rights,’ ‘pro Henry Kaiser’ (the progressive and widely admired aluminum executive), ‘pro art,’ ‘pro Free French and anti-Vichy,’ and ‘against the Imperial House of Japan.’” (Brinkley, 310, emphasis added)

There’s plenty that is dated here – being for or against the Imperial House of Japan isn’t exactly a polarizing issue today (I’ll confess that until the tsunami, I didn’t realize that Japan still had an Emperor), and who today remembers Henry Kaiser? (I didn’t, though he sounds like a pretty terrific boss, and the Conti-Browns have nothing but love for Kaiser-Permanente’s excellent assists in the early hours and days of our boys’ lives) – but at least with respect to Luce’s 1943 attitude toward labor, there’s a stark contrast from that of leading politicians within the Republican Party today. Labor has taken a pummeling in the last forty or fifty years, and the question of collective bargaining rights is hugely controversial today. Why is that so? Is it accurate to say that Luce represents a consensus view within the Republican Party in 1943 with respect to labor? My sense is yes, though I could be wrong. If I’m right, when and why did the shift occur? 

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