Rules for Radicals

I went to the bookstore tonight and picked up a copy of Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals,” which is the handbook for political action of the American left.   I’m about halfway through now, and plan to write a review of it, and provide some choice quotes.  So far I’m actually enjoying the book quite a bit, and despite the fact that I disagree with Alinsky’s politics, it’s a very insightful handbook for political action in general, and the lessons taught are not at all limited to action on behalf of left wing causes.  Take this bit from the preface:

In the midst of the gassing and violence by the Chicago Police and National Guard during the 1968 Democratic Convention, many students asked me “Do you still believe we should try to work inside our system?”

These were students who had been with Eugene McCarthy in New Hampshire and followed him across the country.  Some had been with Robert Kennedy when he was killed in Los Angeles.  Many of the tears that were shed in Chicago were not from gas. “Mr. Alinsky, we fought in primary after primary and the people voted no on Vietnam.  Look at that convention.  They’re not paying any attention to the vote.  Look at your police and the Army.  You still want us to work in the system?”

It hurt me to see the American Army with drawn bayonets advancing on American boys and girls. But the answer I gave the young radicals seemed to me the only realistic one: “Do one of three things. One, go find a wailing wall and feel sorry for youselves.  Two, go psycho and start bombing — but this will only swing people to the right.  Three, learn a lesson.  Go home, organize, build power and at the next convention, you be the delegates.”

The book is littered with quotes and wisdom that are just as relevant to Second Amendment rights as they are to left wing causes, and as much as this book may be a considered a tome of the left, I think it’s something anyone who wants to make a difference should read.

5 thoughts on “Rules for Radicals”

  1. I had to read that book in high school. i’m actually surprised it has not been in regular use by any political activist group, though his flexible morals leave something to be desired. Some people do have core values that must not be compromised in pursuit of a political goal.

  2. I could never wrap my head around one of the fundamental contradictions in it: he seemed to have a genuine affection for the country but still wanted to completely up-end it. It just never made sense.

  3. I think Alinsky was a radical, but I also think he believed strongly in working within the American political and moral tradition. Most radicals become very frustrated by the limitations of the political system. It’s a fundamental contradiction in any activist, really. You can either end up frustrated and jaded by it, or you end up recognizing the limitations, accepting them, and working around them. Alinsky was an advocate of the latter.

    I think Alinsky is not really all that different from Orwell in a many senses. Both were men of the left, but both had a deep understanding of human nature, and the limitations that flow from it, along side a belief in the fundamental dignity of the individual.

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