Framing the Dialogue

Rules For Radicals

Hardly a day goes by without some pundit describing the lefts’ playbook written by Saul Alinsky.  Based on the descriptions, I half expected to be treated to a barrage of 1960’s “kill the establishment” claptrap.  Being born in the early part of that decade, I was more worried about tomorrow’s pick up baseball game than world politics, but I was aware of the strife.  Much of my perceptions of the period was formed in front of the television. 

You may have noticed that I used the word “perception.”  I have come to read articles that put a different spin on the events of those times.  I suspect in another decade or so, we will really come to understand that period in our history.  I recently read The Forgotten Man which told the other side of the Great Depression and how FDR may not have been such a prince.

Published in 1971, Rules for Radicals claims to be “a pragmatic primer for realistic radicals” and Mr. Alinsky delivers on that promise.  It is a rather practical guide for community organizing.  That is a very popular term these days, but as I read Rules For Radicals, you can see how Alinsky’s methods are deployed by some groups, mostly on the far left.  I believe, however, that the other side is starting to learn the “rules.”

After reading Rules, I would tend to disagree with using the term “rules” as a description of the methods encouraged.  The term “rules” gives the impression of some sort of boundary or structure.  The book really should be called “Tactics For Radicals.”  This Alinsky quote from the author is on the opening pages:

“Lest we forget at least on over-the-shoulder acknowledgement to the very first radical:  from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom – Lucifer.”

I find it very interesting that a radical like Alinsky would use the anti-Christ on the first pages of his book.  He sort of has a disclaimer, but to acknowledge Lucifer, you must also acknowledge Christ and God.  He does list some of the great leaders of change including Moses, Martin Luther, St. Paul, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Mahatma Gandhi.  He also includes in this list; Nikolai Lenin, Robespierre, Fidel Castro, and Mao Tse-tung.  That’s diversity!

In Alinksy’s world, he describes the “Haves” (the rich), the “Have-a-Little, Want Mores” (middle class), and of course the “Have-Nots” (the poor).  In Alinsky’s world, the “Haves” not only want to keep what they have, but want to actively prevent others from achieving their status.  The “Have-a-Little, Want Mores” are torn between becoming a “Have” and maintaining their status and are described at “political schiziods”  and “Do Nothings.”  The “Have-Nots” are obviously the downtrodden.

To what end does Alinsky ascribe beyond change?  It seems like change is the desired result or end and he lays down a number of “rules pertaining to ethics of means and ends.”

  1. One’s concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one’s personal interest in the issue – if it does not affect us, we do not care.
  2. The judgement of the ethics of means is dependent upon the political position of those sitting in judgement – History is written by the victors so win and your tactics are heroic.
  3. In war the end justifies almost any means – self explanatory.
  4. Judgement must be made in the context of the times in which the action occurred and not from any other chronological vantage point – “You had to be there.”  “You would have done the same thing.”  “I was just following orders.”  Seems to conflict with number two.
  5. Concern with ethics increases with the number of means available – If you have no other choice use “any means” to achieve your ends.
  6. The less important the end to be desired, the more one can afford to engage in ethical evaluations of means – be nice if it is not that important to you anyway.
  7. Generally success or failure is a mighty determinant of ethics – Once again history is written by the victors so do whatever it takes, but make sure you win.
  8. The morality of a means depends upon whether the means is being employed at a time of imminent defeat or imminent victory – if you are desperate, anything goes.  Remember #2 and #7.
  9. Any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical– if it works the other side will not like it.  At this point I am thinking that this Alinsky is really into his rules and this one is bogus.  It really is a repeat of number two.
  10. You do what you can with what you have and clothe it with moral garments – Anything goes, but claim that you have no choice and the other side is evil.  
  11. Goals must be phrased in general terms like “liberty, equality, Fraternity,” “Of the Common Welfare,” “Pursuit of Happiness,” or “Bread and Peace.” – So it is not what you do, but how you pitch or spin it.  I believe that this one is Alinsky’s way of taking a shot at our Founding Fathers, Declaration of Independence, and Constitution.  These radicals equate their societal disruption with what our Founders did to begin our country.  Sorry Saul I do NOT accept that equivalence.

Alinsky also equates the effective radical with one who is an organizer or as is popular today a “community organizer.”  Do these descriptions, written nearly forty years ago sound like anyone?

“The organizer must become schizoid, politically, in order not to slip into becoming a true believer.  Before men can act an issue must be polarized.  “

“His acceptance as an organizer depends on his success in convincing key people – and many others – first, that he is on their side, and second, that he has ideas, and knows how to fight to change things; that he’s not one of these guys “doing his thing,” that he’s a winner.”

More famous than Alinsky’s rules are his tactics:

  1. Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.
  2. Never go outside the experience of your people.
  3. Wherever possible go outside of the experience of the enemy.  It is interesting that the opposition is the “enemy” while they might just be someone with an opposing view. 
  4. Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.  This is one the left have used very effectively.  While Republican Mark Foley was forced to resign for sending e-mails to pages, while Democrat Gerry Studds went unscathed for actually having sex with underage pages. 
  5. Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. – Dan Quayle
  6. A good tactic is one that your people enjoy.  – If you must destroy someone have fun doing it.
  7. A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.  – Remember hippies used to use words like “drag” man.  Maybe he should have thought of whether having too many rules would be a drag?  I think I just did a number five on him.
  8. Keep the pressure on. – This is most effective when you have a willing media. 
  9. The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself. – This has been used very effectively to shake down major corporations.
  10. The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.  – Brevity did not seem to be his thing as this is an extended number 8.
  11. If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside. – Like constantly saying how bad the economy was under George Bush when it really was not people will actually believe it.  Once again this is most effective when you have a complicit media.
  12. The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. – Be careful that your enemy agrees and asks for your solution.  He actually considers it a “trap” if the “enemy” agrees with a demand and has the nerve to ask for you to have a solution.
  13. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. – This is easily his most quoted tactic and is used very effectively.  I promise to have a whole post on this rule soon.

I would imagine or hope that Saul Alinsky’s personal “community organizer” workshops were more animated than his book.  It is actually rather dull and dreary.  It is, however, a peek into a twisted mind bent on overcoming the establishment.  As someone who was not part of it, but was a witness to it, I am very amused that the Alinsky radicals have actually become the establishment. 

It is even more amusing to see the younger, and somewhat conservative, generation use their rules and tactics against them.  This stuff works both ways.

“They don’t know what will work but they do know that the prevailing system is self-defeating, frustrating, and hopeless.  They won’t act for change but won’t strongly oppose those who do.  The time is then ripe for revolution.”

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