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Book discussion: Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” – Part 1, Introduction

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.

Opening comments

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!


  1. THANK YOU!!! SHELLEY!!!!!! Keep up the great reporting!!!

  2. I am the author of “Let Them Call Me Rebel: Saul Alinsky, His Life and Legacy,” a New York Times Notable Book. You might find the book helpful because of the discussion of “Rules for Radicals” in the context of Alinsky’s life and the political times when it was published. –Sanford D. Horwitt

  3. Hello Shelley?

    My name is Ralph Benko. Greetings from DC. I’m a former deputy general counsel in the Reagan White House, My conservative credentials are widely respected. (Google me.)

    I am intimately familiar with the life and work of Saul Alinsky, who I never met but greatly admire. I do know David Alinsky (who doesn’t like me very much).

    David is far to my left. Unlike his father.

    Saul Alinsky made it clear more times than I can count, including in Rules for Radicals, that he hated Big Government. There is zero evidence that he was a socialist. The FBI exonerated him from false charges that he was sympathetic to communism.

    Alinsky NEVER said there were eight levels to gaining socialist control of a nation. He never said that “Number one” on his list was healthcare.

    This is just fake news. Don’t fall for it.

    I’ve researched Alinsky’s life and writings and found zero evidence that he believed that if government controls healthcare it can control people. He was passionate in his propounding that the people should control the government, not vice versa. He said and wrote this many times and lived by that creed.

    Hillary Rodham (later Clinton) wrote her undergraduate master’s thesis on Alinsky. She admired but rejected him. Alinsky was on the side of the people. Hillary coveted insider status. And got it. She made her choice. It wasn’t Alinsky.

    Obama never met Saul Alinsky (who died while he was a child) but spent a weekend with one of Saul’s successors at the Industrial Areas Foundation (whom I interviewed and have written about). Per Saul’s successor Obama rejected Alinsky too.

    Both Hillary Rodham and Barack Obama believed they should go into the system rather than organizing citizens to pressure it from outside. Which is what Saul Alinsky prescribed.

    I am a well known archconservative, a hardened anticommunist Cold War veteran, and an arch-nemesis of progressives and socialists, and, yes, of communists. I played a small role in bringing down the USSR, and am proud to have played any role at all.

    You have Saul Alinsky all wrong. He was an anti-big-government pro-liberty guy who has been latched onto and appropriated by the left.
    Yes, he was a provocateur, a provocateur for “liberty and justice for all” to which we have all pledged allegiance, fighting racial injustice.

    That’s a cause that all Conservatives can support.

    Saul Alinsky was no socialist. The evidence is conclusive.

    Spread the word!

    Kind regards,

    Ralph Benko
    The Capitalist League
    Washington, DC

    1. Author

      Mr. Benko,

      Thank you for reading Orange County Breeze, and for taking the time to comment on this article.

      My first reaction on reading your comment was: “Hey! He’s conflating my article with the original article by Robin Itzler!”

      My second reaction was a quick and dirty search for the phrase “eight levels to gaining socialist control of a nation.” I found nothing online prior to the 2016 presidential election. A prime example is an article by Esther Goodday published at MesquiteLocalNews.com that lists the eight steps and asserts that Alinsky was the subject of Hillary Clinton’s these (true) and mentioned in Barack Obama’s book (doesn’t say which book, Dreams from My Father or The Audacity of Hope).

      I also found a fact-check article published by Reuters.com that deemed the claim of authorship by Alinsky to be false.

      So I am inclined to believe that whoever dreamed up the eight steps was not Saul Alinsky.

      This finding does not deter my resolve to continue reading Rules for Radicals and commenting here.

      Also: if anyone can find a credible source for that eight level pyramid scheme to build a socialist state, I would love to hear about it.

      Again, thank you for reading Orange County Breeze, and for defending Saul Alinsky against what appears to be a false charge.

      Stay safe, stay healthy!

      Shelley Henderson
      editor, Orange County Breeze

      PS: Broadening my search, I found an article at Snopes that asserts the eight-level list is a new version of Communist Rules for Revolution.

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