Saul Alinsky… Republican?

Can you tell I am bored with hurricane preparations?

I recently picked up a copy of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals – and yes, I realize that does not seem like typical reading for a cultural conservative like me. Alas, I am a big believer in reading promiscuously, meaning I read a read a heap of stuff I do not agree with to test my own beliefs and to respond better to intelligent criticism (which is becoming increasingly rare these days). It can also be highly entertaining.

Anyway, the following are all observations from Alinsky. I have to say, I am somewhat surprised so many Republicans passionately hate the guy. In the context of current events, he reads… more like a Republican than a Democrat. In our society right now, the mavericks are not on the left. In fact, Alinsky sounds downright Trumptastic.

I especially like his comments on how an organizer cannot become humorless or doctrinaire. The American left would make Alinsky vomit right now, with its Puritan cancel culture and good-morning-who-should-I-scold-today attitude. If they love the guy so much, they are sure doing a miserable job at following his advice.

Political realists see the world as it is: an arena of power politics moved primarily by perceived immediate self-interests, where morality is rhetorical rationale for expedient action and self-interest.

A revolution without a prior reformation would collapse or become a totalitarian tyranny. A reformation means that masses of our people have reached the point of disillusionment with past ways and values. 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.

Love and faith are not common companions. More commonly power and fear consort with faith….Power is not to be crossed; one must respect and obey. Power means strength, whereas love is a human frailty the people mistrust. It is a sad fact of life that power and fear are the fountainheads of faith.

One of the most important things in life is what Judge Learned Hand described as ‘that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you’re right.’ If you don’t have that, if you think you’ve got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated. The greatest crimes in history have been perpetrated by such religious and political and racial fanatics, from the persecutions of the Inquisition on down to Communist purges and Nazi genocide.

Humor is essential to a successful tactician, for the most potent weapons known to mankind are satire and ridicule. A sense of humor enables him to maintain his perspective and see himself for what he really is: a bit of dust that burns for a fleeting second. A sense of humor is incompatible with the complete acceptance of any dogma, any religious, political, or economic prescription for salvation. It synthesizes with curiosity, irreverence, and imagination. The organizer has a personal identity of his own that cannot be lost by absorption or acceptance of any kind of group discipline or organization.

All of life is partisan. There is no dispassionate objectivity. The revolutionary ideology is not confined to a specific limited formula. It is a series of general principles, rooted in Lincoln’s May 19, 1856, statement: “Be not deceived. Revolutions do not go backward.

They have seen the almost unbelievable idiocy of our political leadership—in the past political leaders, ranging from the mayors to governors to the White House, were regarded with respect and almost reverence; today they are viewed with contempt. This negativism now extends to all institutions, from the police and the courts to “the system” itself. We are living in a world of mass media which daily exposes society’s innate hypocrisy, its contradictions and the apparent failure of almost every facet of our social and political life.

The history of prevailing status quos shows decay and decadence infecting the opulent materialism of the Haves. The spiritual life of the Haves is a ritualistic justification of their possessions.

What I am saying is that the organizer must be able to split himself into two parts—one part in the arena of action where he polarizes the issue to 100 to nothing, and helps to lead his forces into conflict, while the other part knows that when the time comes for negotiations that it really is only a 10 per cent difference—and yet both parts have to live comfortably with each other. Only a well-organized person can split and yet stay together. But this is what the organizer must do.

The standards of judgement must be rooted in the whys and wherefores of life as it is lived, the world as it is, not our wished-for fantasy of the world as it should be.

Thus the greatest enemy of individual freedom is the individual himself.

We are not here concerned with people who profess the democratic faith but yearn for the dark security of dependency where they can be spared the burden of decisions. Reluctant to grow up, or incapable of doing so, they want to remain children and be cared for by others. Those who can, should be encouraged to grow; for the others, the fault lies not in the system but in themselves.

What is the alternative to working “inside” the system? A mess of rhetorical garbage about “Burn the system down!” Yippie yells of “Do it!” or “Do your thing.” What else? Bombs? Sniping? Silence when police are killed and screams of “murdering fascist pigs” when others are killed? Attacking and baiting the police? Public suicide? “Power comes out of the barrel of a gun!” is an absurd rallying cry when the other side has all the guns.

The setting for the drama of change has never varied. Mankind has been and is divided into three parts: the Haves, the Have-Nots, and the Have-a-Little, Want Mores.

Why stroke the hypersensitive ears of our modern weaklings? Why yield even a single step … to the Tartuffery of words? For us psychologists that would involve a Tartuffery of action … For a psychologist today shows his good taste (others may say his integrity) in this, if in anything, that he resists the shamefully moralized manner of speaking which makes all modern judgments about men and things slimy.

Anyway, I am going to start working the word “Tartuffery” into conversation thanks to Alinsky now, because it is perfect. Tartuffe was a play by Molière, where the main character pretends, in an exaggerated way, to be virtuous.

5 thoughts on “Saul Alinsky… Republican?

  1. Yes! Apparently only you and I have actually read Alinsky. What’s not to like?! He’s just a dude who wound up making a nice living at political consulting, who never left his fervent student do-gooder leftism behind—all of which was, evidently, also part of his charm to a lot of people particularly in the Sixties. The guy was college educated in the way they used to, but no longer do, with all the classics, and he brought his basic Machiavelli and the rest of it to the jobs he managed to eke out over a long career of making it up as he went along. He actually seems like a nicer guy than any of the Dems who interviewed Barr the other day. They’re obvious sleazeballs, a few of which I wouldn’t mind seeing shot by a firing squad. Alinsky’s more your David Axelrod type. Kind of just a nice guy, getting a job done.


    1. You nailed it there. It had not even occurred to me that his book is in many ways a solid remnant of the “old” liberal arts education. The thing I am always preaching about recovering from the asylum higher education has become.

      I had a powerful sense of cognitive dissonance when I finally got around to reading the book. My conservative relatives (who have not read it, but have been instructed by Sean Hannity et. al. to despise it – and dutifully comply) talk about the book like it is Satan’s manual for collecting lost souls. It seemed like a collection of common sense that isn’t so common anymore to me.

      Though to be fair, that was always my take on Machiavelli too. I was assigned Machiavelli’s Prince by three separate professors as an undergraduate. My white, liberal college professors all talked about Machiavelli like my relatives talk about Alinsky. But Machiavelli was pretty much just stating the obvious too, and not at all evil. It’s a matter of how to persuade people do behave in a way that is for the common good. You say that in a college classroom now and pearls will be clutched!

      I used to have lefty friends who communicated like Alinsky, but they’ve all be re-educated now. I miss the days when you could just have a beer and bitch about greedy politicians like normals. His entire book is a cautionary tale about how not to turn into the Salem bullshit we are experiencing now.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. (And the “common good” is the endurance of an aggressively functional state, or replacing a dysfunctional state with an aggressively functional state. Such a scandal.)


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