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Saul Alinsky was well aware of the advantages of living in a reasonably free society like the U.S. In “Rules for Radicals,” he said:
“Let us in the name of radical pragmatism not forget that in our system, with all its repressions, we can still speak out and denounce the administration, attack its policies, work to build an opposition political base. True, there is government harassment, but there still is that relative freedom to fight. I can attack my government, try to organize to change it. That’s more than I can do in Moscow, Peking, or Havana. Remember the reaction of the Red Guard to the ‘cultural revolution’ and the fate of the Chinese college students. Just a few of the violent episodes of bombings or a courtroom shootout that we have experienced here would have resulted in a sweeping purge and mass executions in Russia, China, or Cuba. Let’s keep some perspective.”
This is the Saul Alinsky I respect. He was not a wild-eyed, flag-burning, firebombing Bill Ayers type at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. As I have previously pointed out, he was pragmatic to the core.
But at this juncture, my question to brother Saul would have been, “If we already have the freedom to speak out and denounce those in power, if we are allowed to politically oppose them, why would you want to change the current system?”
Based on his words in “Rules for Radicals,” I believe that Alinsky’s answer to that question would have been that there are still injustices in America that need to be corrected. But his idea of “injustice” was kind of fuzzy. Like all crusade leaders, he clearly had a huge ego – an ego that made him comfortable in the role of arbiter of right and wrong.
Universal health care, environmentalism and all redistribution of wealth schemes are examples of crusades that cry out to self-anointed moralists to take charge and make things “right.” This is the Saul Alinsky I do not respect – the man who constantly spoke about righting wrongs. On the surface, “righting wrongs” seems like a noble objective. The problem lies in people’s differing definitions of right and wrong.
In this vein, I find the following words from “Rules for Radicals” to be helpful in psychoanalyzing Saul Alinsky:
“Men don’t like to step abruptly out of the security of familiar experience; they need a bridge to cross from their own experience to a new way. A revolutionary organizer must shake up the prevailing patterns of their lives – agitate, create disenchantment and discontent with the current values, to produce, if not a passion for change, at least a passive, affirmative, non-challenging climate.”
My question is: If people’s lives are so miserable, why the need to “create disenchantment and discontent”? It is at this point that I began to see the fuzzy, not-so-intellectual side of Alinsky. Like true believers throughout history, he seemed to be a man in search of a cause. He wasn’t in search of a cure for cancer or for some kind of spiritual awakening. He was in search of a following to carry on an ill-defined campaign against the power elite.
To be a community organizer is to be a non-productive citizen – an “agitator,” to use Alinsky’s own word. His future student, BHO, succeeded at becoming a master agitator who emphasized “change,” which ultimately led to the empty slogan “Change you can believe in.”
But there was one huge difference between Alinsky and Obama. In his book, Alinsky clearly comes across as a warm, deep-feeling, albeit misguided person, whereas Obama comes across as a man without a soul. To speak of him as simply “misguided,” as so many conservatives naively continue to do, is to believe that his intentions are well-meaning. Let me assure you that he is not misguided; he is, in fact, soulless.
It is ironic that a soulless individual like Obama would be handed the Alinsky torch to carry on the fight against “injustice.” Clearly, Alinsky did have a soul, and showed it when he said, “I salute the present generation. Hang onto one of your most precious parts of youth, laughter. Don’t lose it as many of you seem to have done. You need it. Together we may find some of what we’re looking for – laughter, beauty, love, and the chance to create.”
In Obama, I see no laughter, no beauty, no love, and no creativity. But I do see an understanding of Alinsky’s views on power. Though naïve and, to a great extent, passé – Alinsky summed up the central philosophy of “Rules for Radicals” and the subject of power thusly:
“What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. ‘The Prince’ was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. ‘Rules for Radicals’ is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.”
The whole notion of playing musical chairs with the reins of power is, of course, a yawner, because the result is always the emergence of a new power elite. Since Alinsky was clearly aware of this reality, the fact that he spent his life playing this nonproductive game could only have been driven by ego.
I say it’s a yawner, because George Orwell, Alvin Toffler and many other great writers and thinkers have written about this never-ending game of role reversals between the Haves and Have-Nots, which I’ll get into in more detail in Part IV of this series.