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Blogging Alinsky's Rules for Radicals: Prologue

Regrettably, I know that had I gone to my 10th, 15th, or 20th reunion, I would have scoffed at my former classmates leading empty and shallow lives -- a la Alinsky, whose sophisticated focus is on:

The absurdity of human affairs and the forlornness and emptiness, the fearful loneliness that comes from not knowing if there is any meaning to our lives (p. xvii).

My guess is that the poor schlemiels Alinsky judges are absurd enough to believe their lives have meaning. And when you get right down to it, who the hell is he to judge? Isn't this, as my husband would tell our 12 children, cutting off others' heads to make yourself taller? Is Alinsky's -- along with those who claim his blessing -- the only life worth living?

Credit where  it's due:

  • Alinsky does not mince words about his contempt for the Weather Underground (personified today as Obama buddy William Ayers and his wife Bernardine Dohrn) (xvii). He takes 60s radicals to task for trashing the American flag (xviii) and for setting up any barriers to communication through attachment to counterculture symbols like long hair. Alinsky's pragmatism means that if long hair means fewer converts to radicalism, the radical should cut his hair (xix).
  • Alinsky does not worship leftist icons like Mao, Che, and Castro, "which are as germane to our highly technological, computerized, cybernetic, nuclear-powered, mass media society as a stagecoach on a jet runway at Kennedy airport." He appreciates the freedoms we share as Americans, scolding young radicals, "Let's keep some perspective" (xxi). Alinsky radicals like Anita Dunn seem to have missed this memo.
  • While he is about fomenting discontent to accomplish his ends, he warns: "Parts of the far left have gone so far in the political circle that they are now all but indistinguishable from the extreme right." (Wonder what he would make of O & Co. and their repressive tactics with FOX News and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.)

Alinsky strongly believes in working inside the system, instructing young radicals that their task is to change the attitude of the masses:

They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go the past and chance the future (xix).

When he speaks of cozying up to the "blue collar" or "hard hat" class (and I need to point out here that in the 60s these occupational class distinctions were much starker than they are today, when you do find college graduates working as contractors), at first I was impressed with Alinsky's egalitarianism (xx).

But just one sentence later, it is clear that the intent was not recognition of fellow human beings in their diversity, but exploitation of another class which might otherwise be lost to the radical agenda. Almost 40 years later, we've seen solidarity between the radicals and working class -- delivered by union bosses -- become an almost impenetrable political fortress. Think SEIU.

Alinsky's naked contempt for his fellow man begs the question: Is it the American way of life that dehumanizes man? Or is it the radical/elitist view of Alinsky and his followers? (As well as Nazi Germany, Russia, and China?) In 2009, one certainly sees this naked contempt from the highest White House echelons to the teensiest trolls who prowl conservative blogs with vicious personal attacks and little substantive discussion.

Alinsky wraps up his prologue with such inspirational lines as:

  • The spirit of democracy is the idea of importance and worth in the individual (xxiv).
  • There can be no darker or more devastating tragedy than the death of man's faith in himself and in his power to direct his future (xxvi).

Alinsky -- insofar as he's revealed himself in the prologue -- shows no respect for the individuality of man and thinks of them only in terms of masses waiting for the direction of enlightened radicals.

Thirty-eight years later, we are confronting the legacy of this elitist and empty philosophy.


It has already been suggested by a reader that Alinsky's political strategies have merit for conservatives and I can't help but agree. For organizational purposes, I will save this discussion for a postscript, but feel free to indulge yourselves in the comments as you see fit.

Chapter One, pages 3-23, on Monday.