This series of articles discussing Saul Alinky’s influential book Rules for Radicals sprang from comments about an article written by frequent Orange County Breeze columnist Robin Itzler. In the article, “Marketing and more: Do you see the warning lights flashing?”, the author wrote about the danger of socialism in the United States.
In particular, the author cited Saul Alinsky’s book, asserting:
Alinsky said there were eight levels to gaining socialist control of a nation. Number one on his list was healthcare. He believed that if government controls healthcare it can control people. Is that why former President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lied their way through passage of Obamacare?
A commenter on that article, David Alinsky, objected:
It’s too bad that the author has never read Alinsky – or anything else! Alinsky never said or wrote “8 levels to achieve socialist control.” This is completely untrue. Just repeating what other uneducated, ignorant people have parroted. She has no concept of what he said or wrote and would be ashamed if she had the capacity of mental capacity.
In turn, I responded to his comment requesting that he provide documentation of what Saul Alinsky truly wrote:
Most of your comment is assertion and personal insult without supporting documentation. We encourage our commenters to state arguments rather than merely attack. For instance, if the statement quoting Alinsky is untrue, give us what Saul Alinsky actually wrote, with a citation that can be checked.
David Alinsky replied:
Read the book! He composed 13 rules. I’m not going to do your homework for you. I’m not going to iterate or copy the rules. It’s all in black and white already. If you want the truth, learn it for yourself, don’t take my word for it. Read the book!
From where I sit, the commenter is not attempting to persuade because he fails to provide support for his view. He is instead trying to browbeat, or shut the discussion down, by insulting both the original article’s author, and myself as responder requesting documentation. He is foisting what should be his own task onto others — he does not even link to an easily found list of Saul Alinsky’s rules.
Weighing his comments, and pondering the list of Rules, I judge that he is applying Rule 3, “Whenever possible go outside the expertise of the enemy.”
Irked by his tone, I decided to revisit the book myself — I read it as an undergraduate in college when it was first published. (Yes, I am that old.) My original copy of the book has been lost, misplaced, or donated so I had to buy a new (digital) copy.
So this article starts a series of my responses to Saul Alinsky, since our commenter, David Alinsky, refused to engage in a discussion.
Written in 1971 and published by Random House in 1972, Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals was written 49 years ago. World War II had been won a mere 26 years earlier.
To get you in the year’s mindset, here is a short list of major events from 1971, courtesy of The People History:
- invention of the microprocessor and hand-held digital calculators
- North Sea oil begins to flow
- the United Kingdom moves from the Imperial System to decimalisation
- Greenpeace is founded
- The 26th Amendment was ratified, lowering the voting age to 18
- Disney World in Florida opened
- The Apollo 14 moon mission successfully visited the moon (following the Apollo 13 disaster)
- Mariner 9 entered Mars orbit
- The New York Times began publishing what became known as The Pentagon Papers
- The Sylmar Earthquake shook the San Fernando Valley
- Attica Prison riots resulted in the death of 10 hostages and 29 inmates
- Amtrak was created
- “Ping Pong Diplomacy” was begun by a visit to China by the U.S. Table Tennis team
- Fred Smith started Federal Express
- Televised ads for cigarettes ended
- National Public Radio began broadcasting
- Jim Morrison of The Doors died in Paris
Mindset is vital because a lot of Saul Alinsky’s words and phrases are sweaty late-60s cant. Your choices are to jump into the warm broth and simmer until soft and tender; crab backwards to avoid stewing; or don goggles and hot mitts to allow neutral consideration.
I will try for neutrality but must admit that, when I first read the book forty-ump years ago, I softened towards radicalism. However, my current reaction on reading the first chapter was to crab backwards.
Before closing, a remark on argumentation: Saul Alinsky likes to lump things (events, people) together as though plainly similar. Lumping dissimilar things advances his argument. Beginning with the epigram for his book, it is all the more slick because he gives few citations. Readers trust an author to tell the truth, and infrequently put in the effort to either analyze the lump’s contents (if the reader has sufficient discernment and knowledge) or to trawl through other sources in order to better understand those contents.
In other words, Saul Alinsky is a seducer and provocateur. He depends on Rule #3 to beguile converts to his cause. Caveat lector.
Please feel welcome to add your own comments… and watch for following installments!